Exploring Fuji Five Lakes, Japan – Photography + Travel Guide
The five lakes of Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko and Motosuko are some of the best places to view the sometimes elusive Mt Fuji. The lakes were formed by previous eruptions of Mt Fuji. Lake Kawaguchiko and the main town of Kawaguchiko is easy to get to from the major cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, and local transport in the area is excellent. Many of the accommodation options are near the lake as well.
Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side during the two days we had here, with heavy cloud cover and rain obscuring any chance of seeing Mt Fuji. We were, however, rewarded with a brief view of Mt Fuji (from our hotel room window) as we were getting ready to depart. We only realised just how close we were to the mountain when she showed her face. As professional photographers, we have adapted to bad weather and used it to our advantage during our visit. We are very happy with the images we captured during our brief time here.
The ‘Location Guide’ below is what we covered and photographed over the 2 days in Lake Kawaguchiko and surrounding area. If you are blessed with good weather then you may want to extend your stay, as there is a lot to see and do in the area. Check out the map at the end of this post and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment. We hope this helps with planning your visit.
Above: Even with inclement weather there are still numerous photo opportunities
Planning & Getting Around
We found the easiest and most straight forward way to get to Lake Kawaguchiko from Tokyo was by bus. The bus usually takes about 2 hours from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (1950 yen) or Shibuya Expressway Bus Terminal (1800 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 Station which will cost 1140 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 to getting around was the Q Fujikyuko Bus 2 day bus pass (1500 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.
Camera & Lens
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 Fuji Five Lakes area we stayed at the Kawaguchiko Hotel which overlooks Lake Kawaguchi and is an easy 20 min walk from Kawaguchiko Station. The hotel has a retro feel about it and does not look like it has been renovated since the 60’s (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.
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 what we did have, is the location practically to ourselves. With a couple of fisherman out on the lake, the misty conditions gave us plenty to work with along the lakeside promenade.
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 2 images on this post which feature the tiny island of Rokkakudo (Hexagon Temple).
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 the 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 image above the Camera Gear was taken during this walk.
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 craft village located on the western shore of Lake Saiko. Catch the Green Line to stop 48. The entrance fee is 350 yen.
Ice & Wind Caves
There are a few caves systems around 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 Ice Cave (entrance is 600 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 site due to inclement weather, you should definitely add this one to your list. The Arakura Sengen Shrine & Chureito Pagoda is an iconic picture-postcard spot to photograph Mt Fuji with the pagoda in the foreground, especially during 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. This is definitely on our list for next time.
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
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