With my month-long trip to Japan in December of 2014 more than halfway over, it was time for more traveling! After a fun movie date and yakiniku the day before, my fiance and I were off on another adventure to Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県, and my Japanese hometown.
We had already been to Asakusa 浅草 and Tokyo Skytree 東京スカイツリー, Yokohama 横浜, Hakone 箱根 (Lake Ashi 芦ノ湖 & Owakudani 大涌谷) and Odawara Castle 小田原城, but now it was time to visit my Japanese hometown in Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県. This trip was an overnight trip with a stay at a ryokan 旅館, or traditional Japanese inn.
I studied abroad while I was an undergraduate at university in Yamanashi Prefecture. I consider it to be my Japanese “hometown” or furusato ふるさと even though I was born and have lived most of my life in America. A few weeks before the trip, I’d met up with my university friends in Tokyo for a reunion. Most of them work in and around Tokyo, with a few living a bit farther away. I only have one friend who stayed in Yamanashi Prefecture because that was her hometown originally. I let her know I would be in Yamanashi, but she had plans already and it was a Tuesday on a work week so we planned to meet up later.
My fiance and I drove from Tokyo to the town of Fuji-kawaguchiko 富士河口湖町, on the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖. It’s only about 3 hours away from Tokyo, and so we left in the late morning. We arrived at the Kawaguchiko Park Hotel 河口湖パークホテル in the early afternoon, which is just a block away from the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko.
After checking in, we visited the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖 and the nearby Lake Yamanakako 山中湖. From both lakes you have a majestic view of Mt. Fuji 富士山! Mt. Fuji looms in its stratovolcanic glory like a behemoth across both lakes. At Christmastime, Lake Yamanakako Illumination (a Christmas light event) is held every Saturday starting in late November and running until Christmas. They also have the Illumination on December 23rd, 24th, and 25th. The Illumination is held in Lake Yamanakako Park, and is set against the scenic view of Mt. Fuji starting at sunset.
In the summer, at the Lake Kawaguchiko viewing stop called the Kawaguchiko Shizen Seikatsukan 河口湖自然生活館 you can view Mt. Fuji with planted lavender in full bloom, as well as blueberries for picking. The soft-serve ice cream special is blueberry. Unfortunately, the flowers were dormant in December, as well as the blueberries. In June and July the flower viewing around Mt. Fuji is exceptional, and when I lived here I went to the lavender festival as well as viewing the tulips at Lake Yamanakako Flower Field
Another spectacular winter event is the sun setting behind Mt. Fuji as seen from Lake Yamanakako. The angle of the sun makes it so that as it sets, the sun hits the top of Mt. Fuji and sparkles like a diamond as it sets into the top of Mt. Fuji. It’s called “Diamond Fuji” and is a phenomenon that only occurs in the winter. It’s a top-photographed event, but I wasn’t able to capture it. My viewing angle was off, although I was set up next to a lot of other photographers, so if I want to catch it I’ll need better planning!
Watching the sun set behind Mt. Fuji in the winter is spectacular and can be romantic, but the wind that springs up around the lake makes watching from the car a much more enjoyable experience! Mostly the people taking photographs were out in the cold, while couples who had come to watch were sitting in their running, heated cars.
After watching the sun set behind Mt. Fuji, we still had some time to kill before dinner at the ryokan, and my fiance wanted to go to the game center, so we found one in town. The game center was not as big as the Adores or Taito Station that he usually goes to in Tokyo, but they had the Gundam Build Fighters game, and that’s the only game that matters to him. They also had some arcade style racing games, so I hopped on one of those.
The Kawaguchiko Park Hotel is for all intents and purposes a ryokan 旅館, similar to the one I stayed at in Hakone, but it is quite a bit smaller. There were no hot springs in the hotel (although there are hot springs in Kawaguchiko), and the rooms were Western style, with Western beds and a unit bath (shower & bath are combined into one, like in the US).
However, they do provide a traditional Japanese meal for breakfast and dinner. This is one of my favorite parts of ryokan stays. Rather than serving it in your room as in the larger one I visited (Hotel Kajikaso), they have a set breakfast and dinner time, and you eat a table in a dining room with other guests. Most of the other guests, including us, came down in the traditional yukata provided for each guest by the hotel. There was a family with a child, but mostly it was other couples staying at the hotel.
Since I had a lot of sightseeing planned for the next day, we relaxed in the hotel and planned out our route. I wanted to get up early to see the sunrise over Mt. Fuji at the lake before the ryokan breakfast, and then visit some shrines and my hometown on the way back.
Next time: Mt. Fuji mania in Yamanashi Prefecture! Stay tuned!
Have you visited Yamanashi Prefecture? What about Mt. Fuji? What is your favorite famous spot in Japan that you have visited or would like to visit?