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Must see beautiful view of Mount Fuji from Chureito Pagoda

Google “Mount Fuji” and your first search results are very likely to include the beautiful view of Japan’s sacred mountain from the Chureito Pagoda in Arakurayama Sengen Shrine Park, Fujiyoshida. Most of these search results won’t even mention the location – it’s just one of the default “pretty Japan” stock photos used in articles.

Mount Fuji at Chureito Pagoda
Chureito Pagoda, December 2019

This iconic location had been on my bucket list for a while, but since the view would be the main point of the expedition, good weather, or at least good visibility was paramount. In December 2019 I was in Tokyo for a week and the weather was perfect most days. Time to get on a train to Fujiyoshida.

I departed from my hotel in Otsuka and took the Yamanote Line to Shinjuku. From there I took a Limited Express train to Otsuki (1 hour) and continued on the Fujikyuko line to Shimoyoshida (50 minutes).

As I got nearer to your destination, I started catching glimpses of the mountain. It never gets old.

It was a week day, but the train was pretty full with mostly elderly Japanese hikers with backpacks and walking sticks. I was afraid they were all going to see the pagoda, but they all got off at another stop for, probably, a less touristy hike.

The train station in Shimoyoshida is small. Cross the tracks and you’ll see Mt Fuji behind the train station. You can get a drink from one of the vending machines there, or make use of its decent toilets.

Check out the map outside the station to get your bearings. To head for the pagoda, go to the right outside the station, straight on and eventually cross back over the train tracks, straight on, then go right underneath the overpass and straight towards Arakurayama Sengen Shrine Park.

There are clear signs pointing you towards the park and its pagoda. It’s a 20 minute walk and you will get to see Mt Fuji from many interesting angles as you walk through the village and the fields.

Once you get to the park you will have to either go up some 390 steps to the top, or take the winding road for a steadier ascend. I took the steps. The further you go up, the better the views become, so don’t forget to look over your shoulder once every while. Take care though, it gets pretty busy up there.

The shrine itself is halfway up Mount Arakura, you’ll see the red torii gate. Here you can rest for a bit and get some snacks from the stalls outside the shrine.

When you get to the five-storied pagoda, you’ll have to climb up behind it. Wow. Pinch yourself, you’re really there and it really is the most spectacular view.

The pagoda was built in 1963, as an addition to Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine. It is a memorial to peace, commemorating the war dead. The shrine itself was first established in 705.

I was there in Winter, so the trees were bare. Imagine being lucky enough to be there in Sakura season, when the pagoda is framed by cherry blossoms. It’s a lot harder to get clear skies then, that’s why I chose to go in Winter.

There isn’t a lot of space on the observatory deck behind the pagoda and you’ll be competing with a lots of people trying to get their selfies and group shots. You’ll have to be a little patient. Take your time. Maybe sit down for a bit, take it all in before you try to get your shot and return to the station.

From Shimoyoshida station you could head towards Kawaguchiko to cycle around the lake, for more amazing views of Mount Fuji.

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Visiting the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre

photo copyright CC BY-SA 4.0 – Sablier de Verrie

The Shizuoka Prefecture Fujisan World Heritage Centre is a museum in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture. A facility for protecting, preserving and maintaining Mt. Fuji. The Centre also has an academic research function.

In 2013, Japan’s iconic Fuji mountain was registered as a Unesco World Heritage site. I had read about the architect Shigeru Ban’s Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre, built to celebrate this event, before its opening in 2017. I jotted it down on my long list of interesting places to visit. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information around on how to actually get to this place. In the end, I stumbled upon it almost by accident. Coming back on the train from a trip to the Kuon-Ji temple in Minobu, Yamanashi prefecture, I caught a glimpse of a very large red torii gate. When I turned to get a better look, I recognised the cone-shaped building behind it. I got off the train at the next stop, Fujinomiya Station, and walked back to have a look.

‘Everyone (who entered the competition) designed a roof resembling the Fuji mountain, but I thought it’s impossible to compete with the Fuji mountain in front. So I did it the other way around!’

Shigeru Ban – architect

The red torii gate that drew my attention is part of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine which lies a little further behind the centre, towards the mountain itself. 1000 years old, it is the most important shrine dedicated to Mount Fuji and seen as the front entrance to the mountain. Admission to this shrine is free.

Ripples messing up the cool reflection.

It was a quiet day at the center, there weren’t a lot of people around. Shigeru Ban’s clever upside down design is striking and makes use of the same kind of woven lattice woodwork (8,000 bars of locally sourced cypress wood)  that Kengo Kuma makes use of so often in his work. Shigeru Ban’s competition winning design was based on water circulation and reflection.  There’s a plane of water in front of the building, a natural spring-fed water basin. If you’re lucky, the water will be still enough to reflect the shape of the building. When I visited, however, there was a strong breeze rippling the water.

It is 300 yen to go in. The building has a shop, a theatre, a library, a restaurant and an event space. Inside, you walk up a spiral ramp, as if you are ascending the mountain from within. Your ascent is specifically designed to make it seem like you are climbing all the way from the ocean to the summit. On the wall on your right hand side, images are projected such as the outlines of imagined fellow pilgrims and time-lapse videos of the mountain from various angles and in all four seasons. There are five floors, each with their own exhibitions, telling the story of the mountain, its resources and the devotion it inspired.

On the top floor of the building you find an observation hall that leads to an open-air deck. From here you get unobstructed views of Mount Fuji, that is, if the skies aren’t too cloudy. This is the best part of the museum. Personally, I think the best way to experience Mount Fuji in this area is from the train that runs from Shizuoka to Minobu on the Minobu Line, a long and winding track. While you are on that train, the mountain appears and disappears as if by magic. Sometimes on your right hand side, sometimes on your left. It is surprising and awe inspiring, and you’ll understand the ‘sacred’ part of it, more so than viewing it from a purpose built platform. Still, I enjoyed the visit and can appreciate Shigeru Ban’s innovative design of the building.

How to get there

By train: from Shizuoka, take the Tokaido Line to Fuji Station. From there, get on the Minobu Line to Fujinomiya Station. From Fujinomiya it is an easy 10 minute walk to the center.

More information

For more details and opening hours, check the Mt Fuji World Heritage Centre’s official website.

Shigeru Ban’s website