27 Jul 2014 Day 5: Driving around the Fuji Five Lakes
First Mt Fuji view from the grounds of Nippondaira Hotel.
Our morning started with exploring the large grounds in front of the hotel and getting our first glimpse of Mt.Fuji! It was foggy and there were clouds covering most of it but we were so happy to get any view of the elusive mountain. The main reason for staying at the Nippondaira Hotel was that it offered a great view including Mt.Fuji. With the mountain being visible for only a small percentage of the year, we wanted to take every opportunity we could to get a chance to see it. The hotels hilltop location gave it views of the bay area below and Mt.Fuji out in the distance. We took advantage of the large grounds and let Fletcher run around and burn energy before our car trip.
The hotel has a small chapel room for weddings.
The clouds fully covered Mt. Fuji so we went to our room and got organised to get on the road. After checking out, we got in the rental car. I entered a phone number I had for somewhere near Yamanakako into the GPS and checked the google maps route also. Then we began driving down the hill. We drove through town a little before stopping at the interchange (IC) and taking a ticket from the machine. This was the entrance for the Tomei Expressway which we followed for most of the way.
The road offered some nice views of Suruga Bay and we were able to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji between the moving clouds. For most of the way, the right lane was closed. We couldn’t see the reason why and were joking that they must have a huge supply of safety cones as they seemed to go on forever. After a while we were slowed down by a car that pulled out in front and we were crawling along with everyone else. We finally came across the reason for the lane closure. Workers were trimming the plants in the centre of the expressway. Read our guide to renting a car and driving in Japan.
At about 11:30am we arrived at our first stop, Lake Yamanaka. The largest of the Fuji five lakes. We had followed the GPS and found a park in front of the lake. There were some clouds around but they cleared enough to give us a great view of Mt. Fuji behind the lake. Yamanakako was a lovely lake with several water birds including swans. There were also some boats out on the water, one of which was shaped as a large swan.
We spent some time strolling along the path above the lake, met a Japanese family with a cute baby and seen many people with their dogs, most of which were dressed up. There was a toilet block across the road and it was here I had my first experience with a squat toilet. After taking in the view we drove up the road and bought lunch from a 7-11. After eating our sandwiches and sushi rolls by the lake, we got back in the car and continued on.
Our next stop was Oshino Hakkai, a short drive from Lake Yamanaka. Oshino Hakkai is a set of eight ponds fed by snow melt from Mt. Fuji. The ponds are on the site of a former sixth lake, that dried up several hundred years ago. We arrived in the village area and drove down very narrow streets following the GPS direction for the phone number I had entered. I also checked the route on Google maps as I wasn’t sure the phone number would be correct for the actual tourist site. Tim missed the road leading to a carpark and we ended up driving down the road leading to the ponds, dodging all the people walking. He found a spot to turn around and we headed back and parked the car.
We walked down the same road we had accidentally driven down. It was lined with small stores selling various things. We strolled around viewing each pond, one of which had a drinking area where people were using a cup to catch the water flowing into the pond. There is a large store selling all sorts of souvenirs and food items and also has an attached cafe.
We paid 300 yen each to enter the open air museum and were told we couldn’t push the stroller around the grounds. The open air museum had a nice garden area around a pond and some traditional thatched roof buildings. It was very small and the main farmhouse that can usually be entered was being renovated, which was disappointing. We didn’t feel it was worth the 600 yen it cost us to enter but may have been spoiled after visiting Shirakawago the previous year. We went up steep steps to a lookout spot that I believe would normally give a view of Mt. Fuji but we couldn’t find the mountain through the clouds.
Driving to more lakes
After walking around the open air museum, Fletcher was getting tired and cranky so it was our time to get back on the road. After changing his nappy on the back seat while he screamed and putting him in his seat, I forgot about the soft serve ice-cream I was going to try from the small stand across from the carpark.
We entered the number of our Kawaguchiko hotel into the GPS but it was only 13 km away and we knew Fletcher needed a decent sleep. Soon after driving out of the village he fell asleep and was still asleep when we got to Lake Kawaguchi. Thinking we may as well take advantage of the situation, we drove straight past the hotel. We decided we would keep driving and see at least one more lake. We ended up driving by Lake Sai and Lake Shoji, the smallest two of the five lakes. Close to Lake Sai is an open air museum and some caves, as our little one was sleeping we didn’t stop.
Mt. Fuji seen from Saiko.
Mt. Fuji seen from Shojiko.
After viewing the Lakes from the car, we drove back to Lake Kawaguchi. Our accommodation was at Hotel New Century and the parking was across the road in front of the lake. We spotted a sign for the hotel and a man approached to ask if we were hotel guests, he then directed Tim to a park. Once parked and unloaded, the same man helped us to get across the busy road, stopping traffic so we could cross. We checked in and were told to leave our room key when we left for dinner and they would make up our futon for the night. The hotel was very dated and tired inside. We rode an old elevator up to our room.
The room itself also felt dated with dark furniture and pink curtains. It was clean and tidy. Best of all, the glass door opened onto a small balcony that overlooked Lake Kawaguchi and had views of Mt. Fuji. There were some complimentary biscuits in the shape of Mt. Fuji so I made us some green tea to have with them. Fletcher enjoyed this and we had to take photos of him and his green tea.
We later went out, leaving our key as instructed. I had broken my glasses so we went to a large supermarket and bought superglue to fix them. We then ended up having McDonald’s for dinner as we had driven past it on the way in and we were now back out that way. Fletcher had a kid’s meal which at the time came with a cool toy. The collection was Bullet trains and each one came with track.
Returning to the hotel we found our room had not been set up with futons. We had been gone for quite a while. It was still fairly early so I waited a little while but no one came. We wanted to get Fletcher settled for the night, so I went down to reception to ask for our futon to be set up. I said we had already been out and just returned and was told someone would be up shortly. I went back to the room and after a while a man entered. He was very grumpy and huffed about while laying out the bedding.
A Japanese style room in a hotel certainly doesn’t carry the same service as a more traditional ryokan. We were also a little annoyed that we had been charged an extra rate for Fletcher. We weren’t eating at the hotel, so thought perhaps he would get his own futon. This wasn’t the case. This was the only place we had come across that charged for a 2 year old to share a bed. Luckily the room had such a great view.