The Tummy Train TV,  Traveling

Spring in Tokyo 2019: Touring around Yamanashi’s Fuji Five Lakes & Oshino Hakkai

It has become a standard practice for us to book daytrips on travel apps since we began making our own travel itineraries. This time we went with KKDay for a tour around certain spots in Yamanashi, like the Lake Kawaguchiko and the Oshino Hakkai. When my brother and I were discussing about where to plot this tour in our itinerary, I was desperately hoping that the day we picked would allow us to maximize this trip sightseeing-wise. I didn’t want clouds or rains, just clear skies and a not too sunny day.

Funnily enough, all that worry almost went to nothing as we nearly missed our KKDay bus when the day arrived! It’s pretty difficult to get on the subway during the rush hour (same is true everywhere) and we had to run through the station to make it– in the nick of time, I might add! I think most of us fell asleep in the bus on the way to Lake Kawaguchiko, our first destination of the day, because of the sudden drop of adrenaline lol.

Lake Kawaguchiko

Lake Kawaguchiko is located in the hot spring resort town of the same name. It’s famous among Tokyo-based tourists and residents for viewing Mt. Fuji because it’s the most easily accessible of the Fuji Five Lakes from the capital. For that same reason, it’s the normal inclusion in day tours. The peak of Mt. Fuji is notoriously elusive as it’s always obscured by clouds, but we were blessed with very clear skies that day. Very. Clear. I was shooting heart-eyes at this view!

From the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, we were able to marvel at the regal sight of Mt. Fuji in full. That really is one good-looking volcano, isn’t it? I’ve always loved the blue hue of it. It’s my first time seeing it from this angle, and frankly I would love to see it from here during the autumn as well.

The outer gardens of the Lake Kawaguchiko were pretty sparse on this spring day. We still spotted some cherry blossoms, and a tiny shidarezakura or weeping cherry tree that made me infinitely happy. Sadly, no kanzakura trees in sight. I think I only ever saw this variety in Korea so far, when we were there early in spring, but it’s a favorite cherry tree variety along with the dramatic shidarezakura.

Walking deeper into the garden, we found this quiet little pathway hidden among shrubs that offered up a sakura tree-framed perspective of Mt. Fuji. I can only imagine what this place looks like at the peak of cherry blossom season. I’m in love with the view as is.

Unfortunately, our ogling had to come an end. We didn’t have enough time to explore the art museum or the ropeway or any of the other garden areas due to the tour schedule. I remember making a mental note about how I had to somehow organize an itinerary that concentrated on the Fuji Five Lakes Region one day in the future, then boarded the bus as we headed for lunch.

Houtou Foodou

I guess Houtou Foodou is a popular spot for tour groups. They certainly have the space for it. I had been here several years before with my Dad and another tour group and I remember the food fondly, which is always a great sign. I didn’t mind eating the same thing I did all those years ago either— houtou noodle soup. It’s a specialty of the Yamanashi prefecture and really the only main dish you can get from this restaurant lol.

Some people call this restaurant a tourist trap. I call it the place that serves the giant bowl of noodles with the amazingly sweet pumpkin (and other veggies) stewed in miso broth. That’s how I introduced it to my brothers anyway, when I saw that we were having lunch here. If it’s your first time trying these super thick wheat noodles in this incredibly hearty soup, I don’t think you’ll have any complaints. (Unless you hate Asian noodles, in which case we can’t be friends lol.) Make sure to add in the shichimi chili powder provided for maximum experience.

With our bellies full and energies high, we moved on to the next locations.

Fugaku Wind Cave

Somewhere within the lush Aokigahara Jukai Forest sits the Fugaku Wind Cave. Designated a Japanese Natural Monument, this cave was historically used as a sort of natural refrigerator to store silkworm eggs because it constantly maintains an average temperature of 3-degree Celsius, even during the summer months. I’m sure it’s chillier in the winter, but you get the point.

This cave is just 200 meters long and mostly linear, so you can be in and out in less than 15 minutes, depending on how much fascination you hold for caves and icicles. Apparently, you cannot hear any echoes inside this cave because the basalt walls absorb all the sound. I wish I knew this while inside. I would’ve tested it lol.

Proper stairs have been built to allow tourists to descend into this underground hole on the ground, and before you reach the entrance, you are warned to watch your head as the ceiling is fairly low. Of course, everything inside is purely for educational purposes now, and you will get to see lighted ice pillars, lava shelves, and examples of how silkworm eggs were stored before to control their reproductive cycle.

It really is chilly inside so consider bundling up if you’re sensitive to cold. The steps are unpolished rock so they might be a little challenging to walk on, plus they’re usually a little dewy. Remember to watch your footing and keep within the pathway they’ve designed for tourists and you shouldn’t have any real issues.

Since I’m not a cave person, I somehow have a greater appreciation for the Aokigahara Jukai Forest. But if you find out what this place is known for you’ll probably start feeling a little creeped out lol.

Narusawa Ice Cave

Within the same forest, about 1 kilometer away from the Wind Cave sits the Narusawa Ice Cave, also designated a Natural Monument by the Japanese government. It’s a slightly shorter and much more compact cave compared to the Wind Cave, and it’s also located lower underground so the steps are much steeper to descend and climb up. To enter, you are required to wear a hard hat because… Well, you’ll see when you scroll down.

This cave, like the Wind Cave above, originally served as a lava duct for Mt. Fuji. After a volcanic eruption more than 1,000 years ago, the lava that flowed through here hollowed out the duct and created a cave. This cave has similar characteristics as the Wind Cave, but I felt that it was much colder here, probably because it’s a more compact circular space. The air is trapped inside more effectively, and you get the feeling like you’re inside a refrigerator indeed.

As you go through this cave, you will find yourself needing to crouch-walk through an unbelievably low and narrow dark tunnel. Yes, this is why they give out the hard hats. It’s harder for tall people like myself, but it’s manageable enough if you have strong legs. Just imagine you’re an adventurous gnome! This was certainly like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Maybe a spelunker would find this quite fun.

On the other side is like an ice vault or storage room. Most look naturally formed, but some of the ice are piled high and are kept within these metal partitions. They used this as actual ice storage back in the day, when freezers were a thing of the imagination. In fact, they say ice was cut from here during the Edo period and brought back to cool down the shogun’s drinks. Somehow I thought the Ice Cave was more fascinating than the Wind Cave, but people usually visit both in one go since they’re so close to each other.

Interestingly, exploring these caves have a way of igniting the adventurous spirit. This is especially true for the Ice Cave, since you kind of experience the same thing people in the old days do when they squeeze through that tiny tunnel. That said, I definitely do not recommend these locations to anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.

Oshino Hakkai

If you’re not too keen on the caves, this last location will more than make up for it I think. Oshino Hakkai, or the Eight Sacred Ponds of Oshino, is a small village-like location between two of the five lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. Though the general layout of the site had been designed with tourists in mind, the waters of these ponds are authentic. They came directly from the melted snow off the slopes of Mt. Fuji, filtered naturally over the course of about 80 years through the porous layers of hardened lava surrounding the famous Japanese volcano. The resulting pristine waters became sacred to the locals, and that is how this place came to be.

Isn’t it kind of amazing that the Japanese were able to recognize the beauty in this natural phenomenon enough to revere it? Had they not, then this place would probably not have existed. If there’s anything my trips to Japan has taught me, it’s this: Nature does not owe us anything, and so when we are somehow gifted with abundance, we should know how to treasure it. Is this a Shinto teaching? Maybe we should all learn this nature-focused religion. Most countries only ever know how to destructively exploit these kinds of blessings– mine included.

Despite the fact that Oshino Hakkai has quite a lot of tourists, the lively energy doesn’t really take away from the tranquility of this place. It’s the type of place where even if you stand amongst a crowd, you would be able to spot something that could take your mind to a peaceful place. You could focus on the fallen sakura petals creating ripples in the water, or the koi playing around in the translucent water; and no matter how much chatter there may be, somehow your mind is able to tune it all out.

If you take time to explore all the ponds in Oshino Hakkai, you’ll probably find some unique characteristics in each of them. Their shapes are different for one, though that may have already been the work of man, but sometimes you can spot some sort of plant in one pond that the others do not have. There’s only one particular pond here that allows the actual drinking of said sacred water, if I remember correctly, and that’s where most people flock to. We did not go through with that though.

Walking around the Oshino Hakkai is akin to walking around a large garden. Soon you will find yourself hungry or thirsty, and since this is a tourist area, there are quite a number of food sellers around. You can take your pick of street food, whether you like savory or sweet, or something more traditional and healthy perhaps. I was very keen on the good looking sweet potatoes.

We also ended up buying some wasabi rice crackers from one of the shops we passed by. At first we only bought one pack and opened it right then and there to share, but it was so good we ended up buying a few more to take home! If you like rice crackers like we do, be warned that these are super addictive. Can you think of a better way to end a trip other than snacking all the way home on the bus?

I have to say, I’m overall quite happy with KKDay’s day-tour itinerary. I realized that when we go to Japan we somehow prefer booking with KKDay rather than Klook because their tour packages seem to cover more places in a day. The one caveat is we haven’t encountered a fully English-speaking guide so far. (This time we had a Mandarin-speaking guide, and we knew a little Mandarin. Last time in Nagasaki we had a Korean guide. They both knew some basic English though.) A little research before coming may help a lot.


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