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.
How to get to/around Lake Kawaguchi
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).
- From Tokyo Station: Take a Fujikyu or JR Kanto Bus from Tokyo Station (Yaesu South Exit) to Kawaguchiko Station.
From Kawaguchiko Station, take the retro bus around Lake Kawaguchi.
- A 2-day pass costs 1200 yen. (There is no one-day pass, unfortunately.)
- A one-time journey from Kawaguchiko to Itchiku Kubota stop is only 380 yen.
- Momiji Kairo is a 1-minute walk from the Itchiku Kubota Museum stop.
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!”