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Author: A Potato in a Rice Field
Wanderlust Travel Blog of the Year ’13
For affordable Ryokan hotels at Mount Fuji, the best area would have to be Kawaguchiko Lake (fujikawaguchiko) found in the Fuji Five Lakes region. With its perfect setting next to Mount Fuji, the entire stretch of Fuji-facing lakeside has been taken over with ryokan hotels. There are plenty to choose from. But it is expectedly touristy and, even during lower seasons, when we travel, the lakeside is busy with local tourists strolling around in their yukatas (casual summer kimonos). While the area is touristy however the extent isn’t noticeable when tucked inside your traditional Japanese suites with unobstructed views of Mount Fuji. The setting is quite perfect. So when it comes to booking we found a number of varying options and packages using both Agoda.com (hotel list here) and Booking.com (hotel list here). In the end we plumped for a deal at Hotel New Century which doesn’t sound very Japanesee, but it was cheap. It was $250 per night, which is relatively expensive against our typical hotel stays but, a stay at Ryokan Hotels at Mount Fuji, is a lot more. It’s more like a bundle of Japanese bucket list experiences with traditional Japanese settings, two kaiseki feasts and unlimited use of the onsite onsen spring water spas. All on top of the perfect views of Mount Fuji.
Our stay was in a traditional Japanese suite with floors of tatami matting and sliding door partitions made from native woods and paper. The tatami mats feel kind of spongy, and in the center of the room is a sprawling shin-height table with traditional teaware and complimentary high-end green teas. The seats surrounding the table have no legs, more like cushions with backrests, so we are sat at floor height which is surprisingly comfortable. Another small seating area is partitioned next to the window with incredible views over Kawaguchiko Lake and the snowy peak of Mount Fuji. In the wardrobe we find a matching pair of yukata, casual summer kimonos, which are used when visiting the onsite onsen hot spring spas. When we leave the room in the evening, for our kaiseki meal, we return to find our room rearranged with the central table set against the back wall and two futon beds are spread across in its place on the tatami flooring. The views of Fuji disappear with darkness at night, but, come first light, they are unmatched as Kawaguchiko lake sits still and untouched, other than the reflections of mount Fuji which towers behind it.
At ryokan hotels there will always be unlimited use of onsen baths where waters are sourced from surrounding hot springs of the region. This is what sets ryokans apart from bog standard Japanese hotels. In our Ryokan there are actually two onsen baths; one on the ground floor, and a second on the top. They are then split during the day where women use the top onsen in the morning while the fellas use the bottom onsen. Come midday, they will flip vice versa. They do both have their perks where the bottom has a spring water jacuzzi and the top comes with views over Mount Fuji, albeit through steamy windows. Note the one rule you should always be aware of with onsens is that ‘no towels are allowed’. Also no swim wear. You have to enter onsens butt naked and all that is allowed is a tiny facecloth, which is meant to be set on the head. Obviously no cameras are allowed so I am forced to sneak in my GoPro in the palm of my hand to get the photos below. I only really see one other Japanese bloke on visits to both onsens and he barely notices me. Before entering the onsen there will likely be chairs on the perimeter of the room for scrubbing down at the taps. You also need to shower before entering the pools.
Two traditional kaiseki set meals are included in our stay one for dinner and the other at breakfast. For the evening meal we are asked to order in advance before arriving by email; Fanfan goes with the pork shabu-shabu, and I go with the beef suki-yaki. Both are quite similar, served as mini hot-pots at the table, only with different broths and ingredients. Mine was better, but they both weren’t overly exciting to be honest, or maybe they were just overshadowed by the rest of the feast. The kaiseki brought all sorts of weirdness but, to name some of the more obvious, it includes; sushi, sashimi, tempura, miso… the rest I’m pretty much clueless to. Either way I eat it and it all tastes surprisingly delicious. I was a tad squeamish with much of the dinner, but I see it as a one off experience…. until breakfast arrives the following morning.
Lake Kawaguchiko and the Ryokan Hotels at Mount Fuji are roughly 100 km from Tokyo and we travel on our our JR passes, although they don’t get us all the way. The journey takes a good 2 hours to reach leaving Tokyo’s Shinjuku station as we travel first to Otsuki (60 mins) before changing to the Fujikyu train line (non-JR 1,140 Yen 1-way at the time). We arrive after 50 mins on this line to the Fuji Five Lakes region at Kawaguchiko Station. From here there are shuttle buses which serve the Ryokan Hotels at Kawaguchiko Lake but we are in between shuttle times so we stuff our not-needed baggage into train station lockers and go by foot. It’s a fair distance to reach (30 mins or so) but it’s at least a scenic walk.
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