A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take a ride on the new Experience Japan Gotemba Outlet Tour. It was a busy day, and the schedule was packed out with exciting activities.
The tour set off from Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, and our guide introduced himself over the microphone, and started to fill us in on bits and pieces of local knowledge about the areas we passed through on the bus leaving Tokyo. The first stop was The Fuji Visitor Center.
Fuji Visitor Center
The Center was a great place for those wishing to find out more about the famous mountain - which for as far back as records show, has been and important symbol of Japan. In fact, in ancient times, the mountain itself was worshipped as a deity. The Center had a lot to see, and there was a large screen showing documentary film footage about Mt. Fuji, a natural history section, as well as pamphlets in multiple languages. After exploring the Center and taking a short break, we jumped back on the coach - this time heading for the mountain itself!
As we were making our way to Mt. Fuji in the coach, all of a sudden, our guide leapt out of his seat, grabbed the microphone and told us to listen carefully. We all listened carefully, and could hear the faint hum of music coming from beneath the bus. Our guide explained, "The music you can hear is a Japanese song about Mt. Fuji. The tune is made by little bumps in the road and the sound comes from when a car drives over this road at 50 miles per hour!" We were all very impressed.
Mt. Fuji 5th Station
Upon arrival at Mt. Fuji's 5th station, unfortunately we were not greeted with the best of weather, and visibility was extremely low that day. So, we weren't able to see the mountain that day. I decided to go for a walk and explore the shrine at the 5th station.
There was a small red torii gate, so I took a wander up the street and came to a small temple on the side of the mountain.
The temple had a quiet and peaceful atmosphere to it, and it was a pleasantly calm place to wander and explore. It was a shame that it was so cloudy that day, as I know the view would have been lovely.
So, after a nice stretch of our legs at the Mt. Fuji 5th Station, we headed down the mountain path (back over the musical road), to eat lunch by Lake Kawaguchiko.
Everyone enjoyed tucking into the tasty food, and chatting about the day. After lunch, we had a bit of time to go down to the lake and take some photos.
The weather was still a little bit gloomy and cloudy, but everyone was smiling nonetheless. We weren't going to let the weather spoil our fun!
Next we jumped back on the bus to head to the...
Next stop on the itinerary was Benifuji no yu onsen. We would all have a chance to take a dip in the natural hot springs sourced from Mt. Fuji! And, just our luck... the weather cleared up and we could see the magnificent old mountain!
...not really. Only joking! haha... haha.... No, I spoke to the onsen staff, and they were kind enough to send this beautiful photo to me, to show what the view from the rotenburo (open-air bath) is like when the weather is nice. After seeing what I missed, I think I'll definitely be going back to check out the view again! The hot springs themselves were great, there were a number of baths of varying temperatures indoors, as well as two open-air baths - one made from stone, and one made from cedar wood (pictured above). The open-air baths were in a beautiful garden which visitors can admire with Fuji as a backdrop while they relax in the tub. There was also a sauna inside!
After taking a bath, I went to explore the rest of the hot spring building. The onsen had plenty of relaxation areas for guests to chill out after taking a bath - I spotted some people taking naps on the tatami floor after they had come out of the bath. Shame we didn't have more time, or I might have taken 40 winks...
Next was what everyone had been waiting for...
When we arrived at the Gotemba Outlet for 2 hours of shopping, unfortunately, the dark clouds overhead burst, and it really started raining heavily. So much so, that I'm afraid I couldn't take any photos. The outlet area had what seemed like hundreds of brand shops, ranging from electronics to fashion. Everything you could imagine was there. It turned out that there are actually 210 designer shops and restaurants in the outlet park! Our tour guide handed us a book of coupons giving discount at a number of the stores and we all went off in search of bargains.
After 2 hours of intensive shopping, everyone came back to the bus laden with their spoils. We all sat back and relaxed as the coach took us back to Shinjuku as the sun set on a perfect day.