Lake Kawaguchi: Fuji and Fall

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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Kairo 05 Logs and autumn leaves

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The appreciation of fall foliage is serious business in Japan. Just as with cherry blossoms, there is an entire industry devoted to predicting when the leaves would start to turn where. In my case, I was going to be in Tokyo on the second week of November — not exactly peak koyo season in Tokyo yet — so I figured my best bet would be a day trip to Lake Kawaguchi and its famous maple corridor, Momiji Kairo.

Lake Kawaguchi — sometimes called Lake Kawaguchiko, or just Kawaguchiko, since the -ko already indicates that it is a lake — is one of five lakes at the northern base of Mount Fuji. (That area, in fact, is called the Fuji Five Lakes region or Fujigoko and is part of the Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan.) Among the five lakes, Kawaguchiko is the easiest to access by public transportation and is therefore the one that is the most visited.
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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi 01

A bit of sepia before the color overload later

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How to get to/around Lake Kawaguchi

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From Tokyo, you can get to Kawaguchiko by bus or train, but the latter option is more complicated and — if I remember my research correctly — not cheaper even with a JR Pass. Take the bus.

  • From Shinjuku Station: Take a Fujikyu or Keio Bus from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (opposite Yodobashi Camera near the West Exit of Shinjuku Station) to Kawaguchiko Station (2 hours/1750 yen).
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  • From Tokyo Station: Take a Fujikyu or JR Kanto Bus from Tokyo Station (Yaesu South Exit) to Kawaguchiko Station.
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From Kawaguchiko Station, take the retro bus around Lake Kawaguchi.

  • A 2-day pass costs 1200 yen. (There is no one-day pass, unfortunately.)
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  • A one-time journey from Kawaguchiko to Itchiku Kubota stop is only 380 yen.
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  • Momiji Kairo is a 1-minute walk from the Itchiku Kubota Museum stop.
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Fuji-san! Fuji-san!

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Being at the base of Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi is, of course, one of the best places in Japan from which to view its most famous mountain. That said, there are no guarantees: Fuji-san is famous for being a tease. I know quite a few people who have intentionally sought out Mount Fuji but had to leave Japan sans a sighting. Clouds are known to surround not just the summit but the bulk of the mountain itself and indeed, when I arrived in Kawaguchiko, I didn’t even know in which direction to look for Mount Fuji. I got off the retro bus, walked to the lake, and didn’t even realize there was a mountain — much less the mountain — almost directly across me. It was an overcast day; I had zero expectations of seeing Mount Fuji.

After about an hour of snapping maple leaves, though, a fellow tourist came up to me, speaking in Thai. Upon realizing I wasn’t, after all, a fellow Thai, he switched languages. “Have you seen Mount Fuji?”

I thought he was going to ask for directions so I said, “No, I’m sorry. It’s cloudy, I don’t think –”

“No, no,” he said. “Look!” He pointed.

And there it was: Mount Fuji, just above the roof of one of the buildings of the Itchiku Kubota Museum. Clouds still hovered over its summit but it was there — I just hadn’t bothered to look up. I guess that’s the problem with setting low expectations: sometimes you don’t bother trying hard enough, even though it would have just been so easy.

I walked back towards the direction of the lake, now keeping an eye on the snow-capped cone. In the middle of taking more shots of the fall foliage, I realized there was now only a thin cloud covering the summit of Mount Fuji…and that it was slowly moving away…and then…

“Fuji-san! Fuji-san!” I wanted to shout, only I wasn’t brave enough. (I was alone.) It didn’t matter. Barely a second after I caught my first glimpse of the summit, a group of Japanese tourists shouted it out for me. “Fuji-san!”
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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Kairo 13 Mount Fuji framed by leaves

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Tokyo Notes: Cherry Blossoms and Fall Foliage

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Some of the best cherry blossoms and fall foliage viewing spots in Tokyo. Includes each place’s most picturesque features and short instructions for how to get there (especially for JR Pass holders).
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Sakura, Chidorigafuchi moat, Tokyo Imperial Palace (public domain)

SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchiko Momiji Kairo 04

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There’s something about the Japanese culture of appreciation for flowers and leaves. I was in Tokyo last November to view the fall colors, and when I went to the Momiji Kairo (Maple Corridor, or the “Walkway of Red Leaves”) near Lake Kawaguchi, most of the people there with me weren’t foreign tourists but the Japanese themselves. And you could tell it wasn’t just for something to post on Instagram — many had no cameras in hand. A spry white-haired lady was there with her granddaughter. There were elderly couples. Families. Many of them walked slowly, taking their time. Appreciating without feeling the need to keep. It reminded me of a poem we learned in freshman year of high school (hi Mrs. Aranduque!) — if, as Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in his Rhodora, beauty is its own excuse for being, then the appreciation of beauty ought also, by itself, to be enough.
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SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchiko Momiji Kairo 05

SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchiko Momiji Kairo 02 Grandma

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Momiji Kairo is in the Kawaguchiko district, 2 hours away from Tokyo (directions at the end of this post). However, there are spots within Tokyo itself that are perfect for viewing both the cherry blossoms and the fall colors.
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Rikugien Garden

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Known for:

  • Japanese landscape garden considered Tokyo’s most beautiful
  • Weeping cherry trees near the main gate that typically bloom from late March to early April
  • Autumn colors particularly beautiful around the stream that runs by the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse, around the Togetsukyo Bride and from the Fujishirotoge viewpoint

How to get to Rikugien Garden:

  • Take the JR Yamanote line to Komagome Station — 5-10 minute walk south leads you to main entrance gate

Hotels near Rikugien Garden

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