Mount Fuji is 120km away from Tokyo and on a very clear day is visible from some of the city’s tallest buildings.

Fujikawaguchiko is a town located in the foothills of Mount Fuji and is home to one of the mountain’s five lakes, Kawaguchi. Today it’s a pretty developed area which makes camping incredibly boring as the lake is surrounded on all sides by hotels and resorts. The town feels fairly big, with its population of around 25,000 spread out around the lake. First thing in the morning, as I left reception, I was told that winter is the wrong time of year to visit the lake as it’s grey and cold. And indeed the day was monotone and rainy and reminiscent of scenes from the film Silent Hill.

Weird to see - a palm tree with icicles on it.
Weird to see – a palm tree with icicles on it.

The next day I was greeted by even worse news, which forced me to stay longer; all the local busses and trains in Fujikawaguchiko had been suspended due to fog and more snow. This seemed strange to me as such a large part of Japan is covered by snow for most of the year, so in theory these kind of disruptions shouldn’t be a problem. However, the fog had caused all Fujikawaguchiko transport to ground to a halt with only local shops and restaurants staying open.

Panorama of Lake Kawaguchiko on gloomy day.

After lunch I returned to the hostel where I met a female traveller from Australia. Snow being a rarity in Australia, she shared her impressions of seeing it for the first time in 30 years. She was lucky enough to have actually seen Mount Fuji, mentioning that I was unfortunate, because a week before the weather in Fujikawaguchiko had been clear and sunny. Taking pity, she offered to go to the fireworks with me, which take place on the lake twice a year.

Having already spent two days here I didn’t have high hopes for the weather the next day either. Fujikawaguchiko felt sad and wet the entire time and as if to verify this, I woke up early and looked out the window. I was right, the sky was even darker than the day before and so I went back to bed. The Japanese were introduced to dorms fairly recently and whether it’s a cultural tendency or something else, they have a special approach to them. The dorms I stayed in were fitted with wide, handmade, wooden beds, separated by walls and covered with curtains. These personal spaces had thick heated mattresses, plugs and lights. The curtains not only provide some sort of privacy but also keep the temperature warmer during the winter. Two hours later and sunlight filled the room, so much so that even the thick black curtains couldn’t contain the light from flooding in.

Realising that the day was clear I grabbed my jacket and ran out of the hostel to the lake. It was incredible, the gloomy scene had transformed and the clouds had dissipated to reveal the hidden landscape.

Panorama of Lake Kawaguchiko on a clear day.

The Japanese believe Mount Fuji to be a sacred mountain, firmly connected to God. But people come to Fujikawaguchiko for various reasons; some to climb Mount Fuji, some to visit Murayama Sengen Jinja temple, some to see the Cherry Blossoms surrounding the lake, some to take a tour of all five lakes. For me it was important to actually see this symbol of Japanese culture and what is considered by many to be the perfect shaped mountain — Mount Fuji.

A wise man climbs Fuji once, only a fool climbs it twice.
Clouds gather around the hills surrounding Lake Kawaguchiko.
Young sportsmen out for some early morning exercise.

The traditional worldview of the Japanese is often one of a culture strongly influenced by shamanism, where notable natural landmarks have been the subject of religious reverence for hundreds of years. Natural landmarks to which the Japanese typically have a special bond. Mount Fuji is perhaps the most notable natural landmark in Japan, and has long been a key symbol within Japanese culture. Its perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone has become a mythical-like national symbol and has been immortalised in countless works of art, such as Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. With its beautiful ridge lines and snowy peak it has always attracted visitors from around the world.

Mt. Fuji at sunrise, seen from Lake Kawaguchi.

Before I visited, I didn’t realise that Fujusan was an active volcano. I thought it wasn’t, mainly because its snow-capped top makes it look dead. It’s very much alive and there is evacuation plan in place just in case (not sure if it’ll work though). Researchers have warned of a potential violent eruption in the future, noting that pressure in the volcano’s magma chamber has been building for the past 300 years and a massive earthquake nearby could cause an explosion. So, before it happens and destroys nearby villages, I think it’s definitely worth travelling here to witness one of Japan’s truly picturesque icons.

More Fujikawaguchiko photography