It’s a late night in a hostel in Asakusabashi, Tokyo. For the past few nights, I had been looking at a forecast.
Why? Well, I went to Japan with a mission.
To see Mt Fuji.
Standing at 3,776 metres tall, the mountain is probably the most iconic symbol of Japan. You will have seen many lovely photos of it from lots of different angles, most likely from shrines and temples dotted nearby, with pretty cherry blossom trees in the foreground.
Sadly, Mt Fuji isn’t always like that, and you have to carefully pick your day if you want to get an opportunity to get a photo of the volcano. One day during our first week in Tokyo, I decided to risk the 90% visibility chance and organised a day out for myself.
With a bag containing my pocket wifi, a picnic and a good chunk of Yen, I made the journey from Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Fujikawaguchiko. Thankfully, I didn’t have to use any Japanese, most likely as the couch I was on was filled with other gaijins (that’s a foreigner to you and me!).
Getting away from the city is definitely a good idea if you go to Japan. Whilst the bright, ‘Bladerunner’ lights of Shibuya and Shinjuku may suck you in like an oriental version of Blackpool Illuminations, getting out of the city and taking in that fresh countryside air is a necessity.
And why wouldn’t you want to? There’s plenty to go out and discover away from the bustling cities, such as towering mountains, hidden shrines, deep lava caves and seas of trees.
For me, Fuji could tick all those boxes, and I was in for a fantastic day out.
Around the volcano, there is the famous ‘Fuji Five Lakes’. If you arrive in Fujikawaguchiko, you are a stone’s throw away from the most well-known of the lakes, Lake Kawaguchi. This is the one you will most likely see on glossy leaflets showing off how majestic and beautiful the area is (and to bring in all those tourists!).
To make the most of my day out, I rented a bike and set off on my trip. On my arrival, Mt Fuji was most certainly acting shy much to my disappointment, so I thought the clouds might clear up just after midday.
The route I chose was to go around two of the five lakes, Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Saiko. This meant I could visit, not just the tourist town that is now established at Mt Fuji, but the small traditional villages that are dotted around the area.
As you make your way around, you are met with so many things that you would just not see in a city centre. Cycling peacefully along the waterfront, you see fishermen going about their day, and painters creating remarkable watercolour renditions of the scenery around them. There’s no noise either, no metro jingles, no crossing songs and certainly no traffic. It’s time to think, time to meditate and rewind, and appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
Lake Saiko was the site of my picnic. Those roads around that lake were probably some of the prettiest roads I had ever seen. It was also there where I took the photo of the article’s featured photo, and that’s when Mt Fuji also decided to show itself a bit better.
I’ll never forget that moment of cycling around that corner coming out of Aokigahara Forest (yes, THAT forest) and it just towering over me, almost making the hills below it look like green speed bumps.
The Japanese countryside is really something else, and you most certainly have to get it ticked off if you ever visit the Land of the Rising Sun.
And it may be more important than ever to give the rural areas a visit if you can.
It’s no secret that Japan has a declining birthrate, and it will be a serious problem for the country in the future, if not incredibly soon. Alongside this, young people tend to not live in these parts of Japan anymore, with many making the decision to live in cities, such as Tokyo, and even Kyoto and Osaka. As this is the case, these villages around the shoreline survive off sources such as camping on the lakeside, which is excellently portrayed by the show, Laid Back Camp.
A quite surreal indication of the declining population in these parts can be found by the new residents that have moved in. Families of scarecrows live along the roadside and outside houses. What I thought were just amusing stuffed things to scare away any menacing birds, actually had a somewhat darker secret behind them.
These scarecrows have been made to represent people who have either moved away from the village, or those that have sadly passed away. This was something I only discovered when I was back in England, and I saw another village doing something very similar. On James May’s Our Man In Japan show, he visited the village of Nagoro. There, a woman named Tsukimi Ayano has created hundreds of scarecrows as a memorial-like project to remember those who have left the village behind. Do go read this article to see some of the work she has done.
Who knows how long people will be there to upkeep these villages for future generations to see? For now, they still stand, and deserve a visit.
On my way back to the station, I made sure to buy a water and another snack from a cute convenience store on the far edge of Lake Kawaguchi, which was tucked away in the hills a little bit away from the shoreline. It may have been small in the grand scheme of things, but I don’t know, I suppose it felt good for spending some money in the area!
My day out at Mt Fuji was coming to end. My bike had been a fantastic companion for getting me around those lakes, it was a fierce workout too, with a couple of windy, mountain roads to overcome!
I will most certainly return to this beautiful place, and look into more places to visit, out in the Japanese wilderness. Perhaps I shall have to actually climb the mountain one day!
Either way, remember to make an escape to the countryside a must on your to-do list!