Rent a bike and cycle around Lake Kawaguchiko, in the shadow of Mt Fuji.
I’m the kind of traveller that plans their trips meticulously. The planning and looking forward to those plans is a part of the enjoyment. I don’t want to waste any time deciding what to do every day. But I have no problems changing my plans and carefully constructed itineraries if it suits me on the day.
Planned itineraries can wear you out if you forget to plan for down time. That’s why one day in my First Cabin hostel in Akasaka I woke up early, feeling a little tired of the city. I checked the weather forecast. It was a clear enough day, so I got up and hurried to the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to catch an early highway bus to Kawaguchiko.
Take the highway bus
Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (4F) is a 2 minute walk from the New South Exit of JR Shinjuku Station. From there you can catch highway buses to Kawaguchiko. Both Fujikyu and Keio Bus operate buses to Kawaguchiko Station from Shinjuku. You can book tickets online, or buy them from the counter at the terminal.
Kawaguchiko is one of the towns in the Five Lake area at the foot of Mt Fuji. I’d googled for buses in that direction and saw that the very early buses were mostly full. When I got to the station just after 7 AM, I was able to get a ticket for the 8.55 AM bus, but the man at the counter also put me on the waiting list for the one at 7.55 AM. He told me to come back to his desk at a certain time and stand in a certain place. The man had flash cards in various languages, but he spoke no English at all. This was, at the time, the longest and most complicated conversation I’d had in Japanese, but it all worked out. I stood in the place I was told to, at the time I was told to and lo and behold, the man beckoned me over with a smile. Off I went on the 7.55 AM bus.
Great views of Mount Fuji
The bus ride to Kawaguchiko is about an hour and forty-five minutes long. On a bright day, you get a good and long view of Mount Fuji the minute you drive out of Shinjuku to the West. You’ll barely lose sight of it until you arrive at your destination. The bus picks up passengers from only a couple of bus stops along the way and eventually passes through Fuji Q, the entertainment park, before arriving at Kawaguchiko station. There, the mountain looms impressively behind the station building. Trust me, at some point during your day here, you’ll start to feel like you can’t escape the damn thing!
Renting a bicycle
Right across from the station you’ll find an outdoor shop with a side business in bicycle rental, Soranoshita Kawaguchiko. They also carry an impressive line in cool T-shirts. I was able to rent a bike from them very quickly. You fill in a rental form and make your payment, including a deposit that you’ll get back once you return the bike. There’s a choice of regular or electric. I went for regular after consulting the staff member who said the ride around the lake wasn’t going to be too strenuous. She was right, it wasn’t.
Tip: I find that Japanese bikes tend to have their saddles a lot lower than I’m used to in my country. Instead of sitting up straight, you end up more slouchy and this makes it 1. hard on your knees and 2. more difficult to navigate. Make sure shop staff prepare the bike for you the way you are used to.
Cycling around the lake
Once they’d adjusted my bike, I set off for the 20km ride, counter clockwise around the lake. 20km is nothing and can be done in an hour, but it took me about five as I felt compelled to stop every few 100 meters to take in the spectacular views, and to take pictures.
It was too early in the year for the cherry blossoms, but right out of the gate, so to speak, I found a small strip of green with a couple of ume (plum) trees in bloom. So pretty.
The weather was amazing. Bright and sunny, with a cool breeze. I got sunburnt like I hadn’t been in a while. Bring sunscreen or cover yourself. Bring sunglasses too.
Take a break in Oishi Park
My first real break was at Oishi Park on the North shore of the lake. It has a wonderful view of the mountain and it is a popular rest area. I parked my bike, got some food and a glass of iced coffee and – as they say – smelled the flowers.
On the South shore of the lake, I took a break at Yagizaki Park. Closer to the town of Kawaguchiko, this park was being used for school year pictures when I got there. You can see them gathering on top of the hill on the right side of the picture below.
Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway
After my bike ride, I took the Lake Kawaguchi Mt. Tenjō Ropeway up Mount Tenjō (900 yen for a round trip). At the top, the observatory has a view of the lake as well as the infamous Aokigahara forest and Mount Fuji. By then, the clouds were coming in and Fuji-san became less and less visible. I’ve read mornings are always the best time for clear skies, so I suggest an early start is advisable if you too would like to cycle around Lake Kawaguchiko.
Buying a ticket back to Tokyo was relatively easy from the counter at Kawaguchiko station. I got back to the city around 7pm. On the bus all the Japanese passengers were fast asleep. I had an ear to ear grin on my face. Completely refreshed and ready to face the city again.