For more adventurous travelers, camping may always seem like an appealing and ideal way to explore a country – however, deciding where to go and how to go might bring forth enough stress to scrap the plan altogether. In Japan, camping is much more regulated, but can be just as fulfilling as your childhood memories.
Text and photos by Natalie Jacobsen
Should you find yourself short of camping supplies, or even unsure of where to go, consider checking out one of the locations surrounding Kawaguchiko, one of the famed five lakes that surround Mt. Fuji. Open during all seasons, you’ll find groups of friends, tourists, and couples utilizing the facilities and breathing in the fresh mountain air year-round.
Throngs of small hotels, inns, bed & breakfasts, resorts and cottage villages are neatly arranged along the shoreline. All provide a balanced combination of camping gear, hotel amenities, and even daily meals for the duration of your stay.
From Tachikawa, my friends and I boarded the Chuo Rapid to get ourselves out to Ootsuki, where we had the option of taking the Fuji Express, or the much cuter Fuji “Shinkansen.” Both take about the same time (about a one-hour investment), but the Fuji “Shinkansen” is a special train that is only two cars long, and is covered in cartoon images of the iconic mountain. With huge glass windows, it offers prime, complimentary views of rural Japan.
Kawaguchiko itself is a picturesque, tidy town that is neatly arranged in the valley between the Misaka mountain range and Mt. Fuji. Fuji Q Highland is just beside it, and a few of the major hiking trails from the base of Mt. Fuji start in the town itself. Although Kawaguchiko may not appear to offer much from first glance, it serves as a great pit stop for a supply run and last-minute items. It’s equipped with the usual convenience stores, but also has a few local joints serving local takes on the perennial udon and ramen favorites. We also spotted a very appealing-looking jazz bar named “New York Cocktails,” but we decided that even the flashing neon lights couldn’t bring even us inside at one in the afternoon.
As it is in many small towns scattered across Japan, public transportation is limited in Kawaguchiko. Buses run for a limited number of hours a day, and only once an hour at that. Most hotels and resorts in the area offer a shuttle (reserved in advance), but taxis tend to be readily available.
The real estate we’d gotten for our stay was prime: the hills slope directly to the shore of Kawaguchiko, with only a bike trail separating our stay from the wee beach. The home-away-from homes are a quiet and ideal haven, tucked into small pockets in between larger slopes of neatly grown, tall and slender pine trees. Sunlight was pouring over the resort area; we could watch both sunrise and sunset over the lake from our cabin’s balcony and windows.
Each cabin was in its little cove, providing us with the privacy and solitude we’d been craving – but there were plenty of hiking trails in the area as well. It’s relatively steep along the immediate hills, but at the base there is a more flat trail that wraps around the lake. Both have stunning views and breathtaking scenery. Above all, the area is supremely quiet, with soft lights at night, and sounds of nature that echo through the valley. The city lights are far across the lake, allowing guests to observe Mt. Fuji quietly poised beneath the stars. Between mid-January and the end of February there are fireworks on weekend evenings. Seeing the mountain and the ground sparkling in snow, with the fireworks reflecting in the lake is something special, and is well worth the winter trip.
Should you be taking a trip during warmer weather, you will find plenty of little rickety docks jutting into the lake, each with canoes and swan boats anchored nearby. All are rentable, and the crystal-clear lake is ever inviting. My friends and I made one of our more questionable decisions and took a plunge – breaking some ice along our way – but we can assure all visitors after us that we survived, and that swimming in the lake was actually quite glorious. Be wary of the senior citizen tour bus that may stop to allow riders to ogle before continuing on its way.
We were sad to pack our things and go; we could have stayed in our two-story, rustic cabin for probably the rest of our lives if Tokyo life hadn’t coaxed us back, persuading us with elusive yens and the promise of sakura season just around the corner. Until next time, Kawaguchiko.