The second and last day of my trip with my fiance to Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県, and my Japanese hometown, was on Christmas Eve. After our late arrival in Fuji-kawaguchiko the day before, it was time to explore the area before heading back to Tokyo.
One thing you should know about me is that I am quite a fan of Mt. Fuji. Yamanashi Prefecture is my adopted Japanese hometown because I studied abroad here during my undergraduate university studies. Being this close to such an amazing natural wonder quite naturally makes one a fan of its beauty. Thus, my second and last day at Fuji-kawaguchiko was spent trying to enjoy as much of Mt. Fuji as I could before we had to go back to Tokyo.
We awoke at 6 in the morning on Christmas Eve at our ryokan, or Japanese inn, near the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko 河口湖 in the town of Fuji-kawaguchiko 富士河口湖町. I wanted to get photos of the sunrise over the lake and Mt. Fuji 富士山, so we dressed in our winter coats, hats, and gloves, warmed up the car enough to defrost the ice from the windows, and drove over to a lakeside spot I had picked out during our drive the day before.
On the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko we watched the sunrise, and as those first rays of light began to hit the peak of Mt. Fuji, it was absolutely breathtaking.
There was no one else around at 6:30 in the morning, and the peaceful lake scene with Mt. Fuji towering overhead was just indescribably beautiful.
As the sun rose, cars began driving by and a family stopped at our turnout to take photos. The homes across the street from the turnout began to wake up and go about there day. But the first hour or so, quietly huddled together with my fiance for warmth as we watched the first morning light began to crawl over the lake, was one of the best experiences I had during my December Japan trip. Sometimes it really does pay to get up just a bit earlier, or to go somewhere just a bit uncomfortable, to get a unique experience!
Arakurayama Sengen Park/新倉山浅間公園
After watching the sunrise over Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko, we went back to the ryokan to eat breakfast with the other guests and to check out. Before heading back to Tokyo, I had picked out some more unique places to view Mt. Fuji. Our first stop was Mt. Arakura Sengen Park 新倉山浅間公園, a famous spot.
Note: Google Maps does not easily show you where this park is, and instead if you type it in English it brings up the Kawaguchi Asama Shrine. I’m not sure why the English translation doesn’t work, but the actual park is farther to the south and east. It’s just east of Mt. Tenjo 天上山, and if you enter the Japanese characters into Google Maps, you can find it.
The parking lot for Arakurayama is tucked away at the base of the mountain. Once you park, you start hiking uphill immediately. You reach the Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine 新倉富士浅間神社 first.
The shrine and the park were built on the side of a mountain, so everything is very steep, and the grounds of the shrine are not very large but consist of many paths that wind upwards. The views of Mt. Fuji are astonishing!
The most daunting staircase is the trip from the shrine level to the pagoda level. This day, there were some enthusiastic athletes training by running up and down the staircase. Just watching them wore me out, and since we were still wearing our winter coats we got hot and sweaty very quickly, and had to carry our coats instead. I later found out that it’s about 400 steps from the shrine level to the park level.
However, once you conquer those stairs, the view is amazing. You reach the park level, and there is a famous pagoda there. This pagoda is called the Chureitou 忠霊塔 and is a five-storied pagoda. It was built in 1963 as a peace memorial. The pagoda is an especially popular place to photograph during the cherry blossom season and the autumn color season, but on Christmas Eve there was only one other photographer who kindly took our picture as well.
We went up a little bit further from the pagoda on a less well-marked path, where there was still frost on the ground and still more views of Fujiyoshida (the city in the background) and Mt. Fuji. It was getting a little bit later, so the air was getting hazier. The best views of Mt. Fuji in the winter are earlier in the morning when the air is less hazy. Even so, we had a great view of Mt. Fuji and Fujiyoshida, and we could even make out Fuji-Q Highland 富士急ハイランド, an amusement park I frequented during the summer when I studied abroad.
Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine/北口本宮冨士浅間神社
The last place we visited was the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine 北口本宮冨士浅間神社, or, if that’s a mouthful, it is also known as the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine 富士吉田浅間神社. This shrine sits directly on the other side of the mountain across from the head shrine, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha 富士山本宮浅間大社 in Fujinomiya 富士宮市 in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The shrine was commonly the start of the pilgrimage up Mt. Fuji from the north side, although today most people (including myself) start at the Fuji 5th Station further up the mountain.
Since this post is already photo heavy, I will make a second post for the photos from Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine next time!
Have you been to Yamanashi Prefecture or Lake Kawaguchiko? Do you have a favorite view of Mt. Fuji from a different place in Japan? Do you like Mt. Fuji as much as I do? Let me know in the comments!