The bus pulled out of Shinjuku a little after 10am, and with clouds parting for peeks of sunlight, it looked to be a fine day for a snow romp. But although I say "romp", think of it as more of a fun play in the snow for kids, or a gentle introduction to snow for adults. With a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride, a genuinely delicious lunch and pretty lights, the whole family can enjoy this modest day out.
Stop 1: Fujiten Snow Resort
The sun was shining rather brightly by the time we arrived at Fujiten Snow Resort around 11:30am, allowing for a magnificent view of the Minami Alps and Mt. Fuji itself. We were given instructions to return to the bus at 1pm before being led straight to 'Chibikko (kids) Island', a section of the snow resort with gentle and safe slopes for children to play in. The staff handed the groups a light plastic sled, one for each pair, and were left to our devices for the next one and a half hours.
I watched the kids screaming in delight as they rode their sleds down the slippery slopes, sometimes rolling, sometimes crashing, but all in good, safe fun on the snow. Some adult participants of the tour, who had never seen snow before, also gingerly tried their hand at the sleds, and were enjoying themselves by the end of it. The conveyor belt-style lifts on the sides allow for easy and convenient return to the top, ensuring the little ones aren't tired out by having to climb up the slope each time. I also discovered that kids decked out in winter gear is a pretty cute sight.
Stop 2: Buffet Lunch
Our time at Fujiten Snow Resort was over before we knew it, and having worked up an appetite it was time to head to Fujiyama Terrace for an extravagant buffet lunch. After the guide told us that she considered this the best restaurant out of all the tours she had been on, everyone, including myself, had high expectations for lunch. We weren't disappointed! With a seemingly endless range of high-quality Western and Japanese food, we could eat to our heart's content for 70 minutes while gazing out at the always stunning Mt. Fuji. I gorged myself on salads, gratin, steak, Thai curry, German potatoes, fish, pizza, cheese, paella and anything else you can think of. Finishing off with an assortment of cakes, puddings, fruit and rosehip tea, I waddled back to the bus for the next stage of the tour.
Stop 3: Thomas Land train ride
Boarding the train at Kawaguchiko Station, we rode the 4 stops (approx. 20 minutes) to Shimo-Yoshida Station on a Thomas the Tank Engine-themed local train. Kids who are a fan of the character will no doubt be delighted by the colorful carriages and novelty seats, while adults can simply enjoy the experience of taking a local Japanese train. One of the stops on the way is Fujikyu Highland, and as the giant rollercoaster pulled into view, I made a mental note to cross this off my bucket list for next year.
Stop 4: Tokinosumika Winter Illuminations
The bus picked us up from Shimo-Yoshida Station, and we spent the next hour on the road to our final tour spot: the Tokinosumika Winter Illuminations, a popular illumination spot which has welcomed over 1 million tourists. The bus rolled into the grounds at Gotemba around 4:45pm, just as the last rays of sunlight fell below the horizon. We were then able to freely roam the park and behold the dazzling light displays and decorations. Those who weren't still stuffed from the buffet lunch could also sample the famous local beer and other palatable delights. We made it back to Shinjuku in under 2 hours, arriving just before the scheduled time of 8pm, thanks to the skillful driving of Mr. Tanaka. The guide roused the dozing passengers shortly beforehand, and the tour ended as we alighted into the cool night outside the bustling station.