A word of advice for the uninitiated: Shinjuku Train Station (新宿駅) is a big place. A very big place. To the tune of 3.6 million people per day passing through.
Catching a train bound for Mt Fuji is done from the East side using the JR Chuo Line and can be quite a long way from the metro line that brought you to Shinjuku. It’s wise to leave yourself plenty of breathing space when making connecting trains.
As it is, I manage to board my 7am Express to Ōtsuki Station (大月駅) with a comfortable minute or two to spare. Lathered in sweat mind you. But I’m just warming up for the hike I have planned today.
Unlike last week I’ve done extensive research. I’m armed with a complete set of instructions on how to tackle this beast.
Nicknamed “The Dragon”, the walk up Mt Ryūgatake is supposed to be relatively difficult yet apparently the scenery is stunning.
I reluctantly leave my camera behind choosing instead to rely on my iPhone to capture my memories. I realise its nowhere near not the same quality but I’ve read that it’s a 6-hour walk and the temperatures are forecast to reach 31ºC. Combine that with the high humidity we’re experiencing at the moment and it will probably feel more like 34ºC. So I want to avoid carrying any excess weight; essentially food and water only as I can’t do much about my spare tyre at this point.
July – August is the time to climb the revered Mt Fuji. But I want to do a couple more hikes before I make the pilgrimage with the rest of Japan. It’s supposed to take several hours each way and requires a walk through the night to catch the sunrise.
I’m eager to do it but want to be as physically prepared as I possibly can be.
Mt Ryūgatake is in the same vicinity and is supposed to have fantastic views of Mt Fuji. Assuming, of course, it’s not shrouded in cloud.
At this time of year, foreigners can purchase a Mt Fuji Round Trip Ticket for ¥5500. You’ll need to show them your passport and carry it with you.
This provides you with a return trip on the Limited Express train plus transport to Mt Fuji. A connecting train is required from Ōtsuki plus a bus to the Fifth Station, the typical starting point.
I’m not climbing Mt Fuji today but I still need to catch a bus to one of the five lakes.
As we stop and collect a few more passengers I notice other hikers boarding. They appear to be carrying packs more suited to an overnight stay. Perhaps I’m travelling too light?
We initially pass through the residential outskirts of Tokyo but after 1/2 hour we’re already in the countryside. Forest. Hills. A landscape green and lush.
A network of steel and concrete expressways traverses beside our train tracks.
We occasionally pass through tunnels. Small mountains come into view after 45 minutes as well as some guys trout-fishing in a river visible when we pass over a bridge.
There are still buildings and houses. But they’re less frequent and it’s not as crowded as suburbia.
Shrines. Temples. Cemeteries. A used-car yard. Neat agricultural plots of land.
A bus depot with decrepit, rusty old buses. It would make a great photography subject!
The trip to Ōtsuki takes less than 1 hour. It’s a small station and easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
It’s then a 20 minute wait for the Fujikyu Railway 8.15am densha (電車: train) to Kawaguchiko (河口湖).
This train is quite a change from the last. It sways and rocks from side-to-side like a roller coaster ride.
Being a weekday neither trains are full but they’re not empty either. The crowd looks like a mix of hikers, young families seeing the sights for the day, and young high school children on their summer holidays.
One woman asks me to snap a photo of her using her iPhone. She must know I’m a professional.
Mt Fuji is visible in the distance and appears to have the last remnants of snow on it.
Wow! It’s high. An impressive sight. Quite the commanding presence.
As I listen to Coldplay’s “Life in Technicolor” I notice green rice paddies; red and white electricity pylons; blue tarpaulins and roof tops; a small red car; bright yellow sunflowers; a purple flower I cannot name.
Multicoloured washing hangs from balconies utilising the summer heat and sun.
This trip also takes less than an hour albeit at a much slower pace.
The families and teenagers all alight for the Fujikyu Highland theme park.
The last stop is Kawaguchiko. The bus stop (number 4) is immediately outside but you can see on a screen in the area where you buy tickets when the next bus departs and from which platform.
I’m fortunate as I still have several minutes before the Shin-Fuji 9.28am bus. My pass allows me to catch this without an extra charge. Cool!
When it arrives it’s comfortable, has air-conditioning, and a very friendly and helpful bus driver.
Beside the road every usable spare piece of land has something growing on it including corn and cabbage. But rice is the most predominant crop.
I can see some lumber. And windsurfer boards in a car yard filled with bicycles and motor scooters.
Growers sell their fruit & vegetables wholesale.
On a small lake (Lake Shojiko) several fishermen sit in their boats all in a straight line. Umbrellas keep the beating sun off. There are boats neatly arrayed on the shoreline below an amazing view of Mt Fuji.
The day is incredibly clear. Perfect for viewing.
As I head towards Lake Motosuko I can’t wait to start climbing Mt Ryūgatake.