Exploring Fuji Five Lakes, Japan – Photography + Travel Guide
The five magnificent lakes of Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Motosuko offer unparalleled views of the sometimes elusive Mt Fuji. These stunning lakes were formed by the powerful eruptions of Mt Fuji in the past, creating a remarkable landscape that is a sight to behold. Among these lakes, Kawaguchiko stands out as a popular destination easily accessible from major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. It’s the perfect base for exploring the area with excellent local transport options and a wide range of accommodations near the lake.
Our first visit in May 2018 was plagued by unfavourable weather conditions, with thick clouds and relentless rain concealing Mt Fuji from our view. Nevertheless, as professional photographers, we have learnt to adapt to capture stunning images even in challenging weather. Fortunately, just as we were preparing to depart, luck was on our side, and we were treated to a fleeting glimpse of Mt Fuji through our hotel room window. It was a breathtaking reminder of how close we were to this majestic mountain. We re-visited Lake Kawaguchiko in November 2023 during the Autumn Season, and the weather was stunning for the couple of days that we visited.
During our brief time here, we were able to cover and photograph the incredible sights featured in the ‘Location Guide‘ below. But if you’re fortunate enough to have good weather, we highly recommend extending your stay as there is so much more to see and do in the area. Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure enthusiast, or a cultural explorer, Kawaguchiko and its surroundings offer a wealth of experiences.
Don’t forget to check out the map at the end of this post to get a better sense of the area and its attractions. And if you have any questions or need further assistance, feel free to leave a comment. We’re here to help make your visit planning a breeze.
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Above: Even with inclement weather there are still numerous photo opportunities
PLANNING & GETTING AROUND
We found the most straightforward way to get to Lake Kawaguchiko from Tokyo was by bus. The bus usually takes about 2 hours from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (2200 yen) or Shibuya Expressway Bus Terminal (2100 yen) to Kawaguchiko Station. If you have already activated your JR Pass you may want to catch the train. You can use your JR Pass to get you to Otsuki on the JR Chuo Line. From there, you take the Fujikyu Railway Line to Kawaguchiko Statio which costs 1170 yen one way. The JR Pass will NOT cover the trip from Otsuki to Lake Kawaguchiko. The JR Tokyo Wide Pass is the only pass that covers the whole journey.
Once there, unless you plan to hire a car, we found one of the best options for getting around was the Q Fujikyuko Bus 2 day bus Pass (1700 yen) that covers three different routes (Red, Green & Blue) and can get you to many of the other lakes and attractions. There’s also the Free Fujikyu Loop Shuttle Bus (Brown) but this will only get you around Kawaguchiko town. You can purchase this bus pass at Kawaguchiko Station. Your Pasmo/Suica Card may be valid on certain modes of transport here, however, we suggest you check this with the Fujikawaguchikokanko Tourist Information Centre at Kawaguchiko Station. If you are here in April or May consider visiting the Fuji Shiba-sakura Festival, especially if the weather is good as you can get some great shots of the colourful fields of flowers with Mt Fuji in the background. Make sure to check out what festivals and events are on during your visit so you can either avoid or add to your list of places to visit.
Want to travel from Lake Kawaguchiko to Hakone? Before we left home, we spent hours trying to find information on how to travel between these two areas. Considering the minimal distance we thought that it would be straightforward, but found that most people went back to Tokyo. However, we found that it is possible. Here’s how you do it.
There’s a Fujikyu bus that leaves Kawaguchiko Station and gets you to Gotemba Station or the Gotemba Premium Outlets – a 200-shop complex that has big name-brand shops at outlet prices (Bus: Y1750). If you catch a bus that terminates at Gotemba Station, you will need to catch a free bus to Gotemba Premium Outlets. From there you catch another bus to Gora (which is where most people stay in the Hakone area). You can also do this route in reverse if travelling from Hakone to Kawaguchiko. We strongly recommend the Hakone Free Pass if you are staying in the Hakone area for a few days as it will also include the bus journey between Gotemba Premium Outlets and Gora Station plus heaps of extras.
Above: Early morning mist on Lake Kawaguchiko in November 2023
Camera & Lenses
As was the case in Tokyo, we found that the Sony A7Rii with the Sony FE 24-105 f4 lens was predominantly used. Our cameras are permanently fitted with an L Bracket that both protects the camera and is used seamlessly with our Arca Swiss clamp on our tripod ball head. The Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro, Sony 70-200mm f4 and the Sony 16-35mm f4 lenses also came in handy during our brief time here.
During our 2 days here we used our backpacks (we use the Vanguard Alta Rise 45 backpack and Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW). As it was a little cooler than Tokyo and drizzly weather, we had a bit more gear to carry. Both of our backpack camera bags are AW (All Weather) versions and keep the gear relatively dry. Also, as there were not as many people around, we didn’t have the worry of knocking our bags into people.
We both carried our carbon fibre tripods while in the Fuji Five Lakes region as there were more landscape photography opportunities. As mentioned above, the tripods are fitted with an Arca Swiss plate to use in conjunction with our Sony A7Rii camera L bracket.
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For our first visit to the Fuji Five Lakes area, we stayed at the Kawaguchiko Hotel which overlooks Lake Kawaguchi and is an easy 20-minute walk from Kawaguchiko Station. The hotel has a retro feel about it and does not look like it has been renovated since the 60s (at least during our stay). The rooms were large, clean, and had all the facilities we required. The hotel also had male & female indoor hot spring baths & saunas with views of the lake and Mt. Fuji (on a clear day). Check out the map at the bottom of this post for the hotel location. We found this a handy location as there is a bus stop just near the hotel for the Q Fujikyuko Bus. On our most recent visit in November 2023, we stayed almost next door to the Kawaguchiko Hotel at the Royal Hotel Kawaguchiko. Once again, probably not the nicest hotel in the area but it is an excellent location. The rooms were clean and spacious but make sure you carefully select the type of room you want as there are many Japanese-style rooms which can be awkward for older people.
Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Great spot fo that picture-postcard shot of Mt Fuji
Fugaku Wind Cave
Narusawa Ice Cave
Mt Fuji Ropeway
Iyashi no Sato
Kodaki Full View Point
Royal Hotel Kawaguchiko
Fujiyoshida Honcho Street
Iconic views of Fujiyoshida Honcho Street with Mt Fuji
During the Cherry Blossom and Autumn seasons, the walking paths, including the “Momiji Tunnel” around the western side of Lake Kawaguchiko is usually packed with people and photo opportunities, especially on a clear day with Mt Fuji as a backdrop.
As mentioned above, we did not have great weather during our time here, but we did have the location practically to ourselves. With a couple of fishermen out on the lake, the misty conditions gave us plenty to work with along the lakeside promenade. During our November 2023 visit to the area, we had magnificent weather, however, significantly more people to contend with.
Above: In all honesty, we had a clear blue sky in the image above, however, the sun was from the right-hand side and made the sky look uneven and boring. So we replaced the sky using ON1 Photo Raw 2024. If you are going to replace a sky in your images make sure that it looks natural. If you are interested in purchasing ON1 Photo Raw 2024 use WIDESCENES20 at checkout for a 20% discount.
Above: Autumn 2023 – this was taken on the western side of the lake with the mega-wide Voigtlander 10mm f5.6 lens. The extremely wide-angle makes Mt Fuji look quite small in the image.
However, do not discount the walking path along the eastern side of the lake that runs beneath the bridge. There are some great photo opportunities here as well, such as the first image on this post which feature the tiny island of Rokkakudo (Hexagon Temple). The images below were also taken on the eastern side of the lake during our Autumn 2023 visit to the lake.
This Shiba-sakura Festival was on our list as an alternative should the weather not be favourable during our visit. The festival had already been on for almost two weeks and unfortunately, due to the hot weather the week before, many of the Shiba-sakura (moss phlox) were not at their best. Nevertheless, the overcast weather did make it ideal for capturing what little colour there was.
If you plan to visit this festival, we suggest you purchase a ticket (600 yen) that includes transport (1200 yen) as it is not on the bus pass route covered by the Q Fujikyuko Bus 2 day bus pass and not easy to get to unless you get a taxi or drive. We chose to catch the Blue Line to Lake Motosuko (stop 97) and walk a couple of kilometres along the main road, however, this can be a little hairy in some spots as there not really a walking path (we actually ran for a few sections).
The Other Lakes & Surrounds
There are some great photo spots to get to around the lakes and if you plan it well you can use Q Fujikyuko Sightseeing Bus to get to most of them. For a good shot of Mt Fuji’s reflection on Lake Shojiko, get off the bus at the Kodaki Full View Point (Stop 86) on the Blue Line. Another pretty lake is Lake Motosuko, also on the Blue Line (Stop 97). Other notable sights in the area include –
The Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway – There are panoramic views from the observation deck (1000m above sea level) of the lake and Mt Fuji. Open daily from 9:00 to 17:00 (Mar-Nov) and 9:30 to 16:30 (Dec to Feb). Departures are every 5-10 minutes and the cost is 900 yen (round trip). To get there catch the Red Line from Lake Kawaguchiko Station to the Yuransen Ropeway Iriguchi bus stop (Stop 9).
Iyashi no Sato – A small open-air museum and traditional Japanese craft village located on the western shore of Lake Saiko. Catch the Green Line to stop 48. Open March to November 9:00 to 17:00 (last entry 16:30). December to February 9:30 to 16:30 (last entry 16:00). The entrance fee is 500 yen.
Ice & Wind Caves
There are a few cave systems in the area, however, we only chose to visit these two on this trip. You can visit them using the Q Fujikyuko Sightseeing Bus, they are a short walk apart. Use the Blue Line bus for the Narusawa Ice Cave (Stop 80) then walk to the Wind Cave) or use the Green Line bus for the Fugaku Wind Cave (Stop 51) and walk to the Ice Cave (entrance is 350 yen for both).
As it was a little cooler than Tokyo (went down to 7 degrees Celcius during the day), we found this was a perfect place to enjoy the baths and hot springs (onsen). Some ryokans or hotels may have baths or hot springs with views of the lake & Mt Fuji. Again ours did have a view of the lake and we are pretty sure Mt Fuji was somewhere in the background.
There are many other places to visit in the area that we just didn’t have time to get to on this trip. No matter where you go in the Fuji Five Lakes area you will have a great time with a multitude of photographic opportunities.
Although we didn’t visit this iconic attraction this trip due to inclement weather, you should definitely add this one to your list. We finally made it to the Pagoda on a November 2023 visit and the weather was stunning (see image below). The Arakura Sengen Shrine & Chureito Pagoda is an iconic picture-postcard spot to photograph Mt Fuji with the pagoda in the foreground, especially during the cherry blossom and autumn season. Plan to head there for sunrise and expect it to be busy. Depending on where you are staying, you will probably need to book a taxi or walk. By train, you can take the Fujikyu Railway line from Kawaguchiko Station to Shimoyoshida Station, however, it may not get you there in time for sunrise.
Shimoyoshido Honcho Street
Also known as “Honsho” Street, this destination is a very popular spot that you may have seen in pictures online. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to visit it during our trip in 2018 due to bad weather. However, we were lucky enough to visit in November 2023 when the weather was exceptional (see image below). If the weather is bad during your visit and Mt Fuji is shrouded in cloud then this location is not really worth the visit as the whole idea is to capture Mt Fuji at the end of the street. There is one particular intersection that most people take photos from, however, there is a security guard stopping people from stepping beyond the gutter to take shots. Further along the street there are ample spots to take images but usually from the middle of the street, so take care and be quick if taking photos. To make Mt Fuji dominate the scene consider shooting at a longer focal length.
Take the Fujikyu Railway line from Kawaguchiko Station to Shimoyoshida Station, and then walk a short distance to the location.
Before you leave the area, take some time to visit Barnum Crepê, a small crepê shop on Chuo Dori Street, Fujiyoshida and not far from Gekkouji Station. The crepês are absolutely yummy and the owner is super-friendly.
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