MT. FUJI (65 miles and two hours by bus from Tokyo) is the tallest, most beautiful and revered mountain in Japan. Rising to a height of 12,388 feet, it is also Japan's most well known natural landmark, its most enduring symbol after the rising sun, and an inspiration for generations of poets and artists who have attempted to capture its always-changing beauty which varies with the view, the time of day, the season and the weather.
Encircled by a halo of clouds and topped by streaks of white snow in the summer and early autumn and covered by a full snow cap the remainder of the year, Mt. Fuji is a perfectly-shaped deep -cratered volcano which presides over a plain south of Tokyo and measures about 40 kilometers around at its base. On clear days about a third of Japan's population can see it from near their homes; but most of the time it is shrouded in clouds or haze. Some of the best views of Fuji are from the Hakone area.
The Japanese once believed that Mt. Fuji was the center of the universe. It boasts over 13,000 shrines, and each year thousands of mantra-chanting pilgrims with jingling prayer bells, straw hats, pure white robes and white canvas foot mittens ascend to the top of the mountain, stopping at its stations to pray and traversing the rocky peaks around the crater. Buddhists believe they receive merit for climbing it, especially on the 33rd and 88th ascents. Some worshipers leave their sandals on the top of Mt. Fuji to raise its height. Some people have even committed suicide by leaping into the crater with the belief that reach nirvana after their death.
Hokusai view of Fuji The Mt. Fuji climbing season begins in July Before that time skiers and snowboarders ignore signs that say skiing and snowshoeing are banned to ascend the mountain climb the mountains with a snowshoes and look for a good run down. October is a nice time to visit the lower slopes of the mountain when the autumn leaves from beech and maple trees are at the height of their color and the first snows have fallen is found at the top. The Japanese government has applied for Mt. Fuji to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Websites: Mount Fuji Guide mountfujiguide.com/; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Picture Tokyo picturetokyo.com ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Sacred Destinations sacred-destinations.com ; Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park Government National Park Site National Parks of Japan ; Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Maps and Links live-fuji.jp ; Maps: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO ; Climbers.org climber.org Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
History of Mt. Fuji
Hokusai view of Fuji The precursor of Mt. FujiMt. Komitake volcanowas created just north of Mt. Fuji between 200,000 and 700,000 years ago. Old Mt. Fuji erupted with extremely massive explosions about 100,000 years ago and grew out of the south side of Mt. Komitake. New Mt. Fuji emerge from Old Mt. Fuji about 10,000 years ago with eruptions that generated large amounts of lava. The huge lava flows on the flanks of the mountain date to this period.
Today Mt. Fuji is regarded as dormant but still active volcano. It has erupted off and on for the last 2,200 years, with 10 eruptions since A.D. 781 and a large one in 864. Most these eruption spewed large amounts of ash and modest amounts of lava, with eruptions from the summit alternating with eruptions from the slopes. . Eruptions on the slopes occurred on the northwest, northeast and southeast sides.
The last eruption occurred in 1707 between the 5th and 8th station. Smoke and ash were thrust 10,000 meters into the sky and an estimated 850 million cubic meters of stone, sand, and ash was hurled out. Three meters of debris accumulated at the foot of Mt. Fuji and six inches of ash blanketed Tokyo. More fell in the countryside between Mt. Fuji and Tokyo. There were no casualties but hundreds of thousands of people fled the area with wooden buckets over their head. The eruption destroyed crops and farming areas. Famines and social upheaval lasted for 10 years.
A weather sits on the summit of Mt. Fuji. It is a sprawling complex with radar, monitoring facilities, a device that measures yellow sand, dust and soot carried on winds from China, and dormitories for the scientists and workers who manned the station year round. In 2004 the manned operation st the weather station was closed and replaced with an automated observation system. The observation station for a long was critical for predicting weather but had largely been made obsolete by weather satellites. Keeping the station going was also regarded as too dangerous. Four observers died while on duty The new system needs to be checked only once a year.
Japan is currently lobbying hard to have Mt. Fuji made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Poems about it appeared in Manyoshu (The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), Japans oldest collection of poems, and was immortalized in Hokusai woodblock prints Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji. Fujisan is such a part of the Japanese psyche one university even offers courses in Fuji-ology and members of a religion called Fujiko worship the mountain. Websites: Fuji Volcano /hakone.eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp ; 1707 Eruption PDF airies.or.jp ; National Geographic article news.nationalgeographic.com ;
Future Eruption of Mt. Fuji: There are concerns that Mt. Fuji may might erupt violently in the not too distant future. Concerns were raised when a series of low frequency temblors began early 2000 and reoccurred in 2001. These tremors sometimes indicate that magma is starting to rise. Some 15,000 people have participated in emergency drills at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
If Mt. Fuji were to erupt like it did in 1707 the damage could be terrible because many more people are living in the area of the mountain than in the 18th century. Such an eruption would produce a huge ash cloud that would blacken the skies over Tokyo and Yokohama. Highways, airports and rail services would be shut down. Lava flows could wipe out large residential areas, block major highways and shut down the railroads. With distribution networks disrupted, food supplies would start to run short and prices sky rocket. If rain falls, soggy ash on transformers could cause short circuits that would cause power failures.
Religious Significance of Mt. Fuji
Hokusai view of Fuji The Japanese once believed that Mt. Fuji was the center of the universe. The female deity of Mt. Fuji, known as Sengen-Sama, holds a high place in the religious hierarchy. Mt. Fuji boasts over 13,000 shrines and each year thousands of mantra-chanting pilgrimswith jingling prayers bells straw hats, pure white robes and white canvas mittens on their feetascend to the top of the mountain, stopping at its stations and traversing the rocky peaks around the carter. Some worshipers leave their sandals on the top of Mt. Fuji to raise its height.
According to an ancient folktale Mount Haku, another sacred mountain also known as Yatsu-ga-take, was once higher than Mt. Fuji. "Once the female deity of Fuji and the male deity of Haku (Gongen-sama) had a contest to see which was higher," the myth goes. "They asked the Buddha Amida to decide which was loftier. It was a difficult task. Amida ran a water pipe from the summit of Yatsu-ga-take to the summit of Fuji-san and poured water in the pipe. The water flowed to Fuji-san, so Amida decided that Fuji-san was defeated. Although Fuji-san was a woman, she was too proud to recognize her defeat. She beat the summit of Yatsu-ga-take with a big stick, so his head was split into eight parts, and that is why Yatsu-ga-take (Eight Peaks) now has eight peaks."
Hiking and Climbing on Mt. Fuji
Although many Japanese have tried try to climb Mt. Fuji only about one percent of the population has reached the summit. According to a Japanese saying: "He who climbs Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool." Some Japanese have climbed dozens of times.
The first man credited with climbing Fujisan was a Buddhist monk, En-no-Shokaku, who performed the feat in A.D. 700. Four hundred years later a temple was built at the summit, which became a popular pilgrimage site. The first foreigner climbed it in 1860. A ban on women climbers was lifted in 1868 after the Englishwoman, Lady Parkes, defied the prohibition and ascended the peak.
Before 1964, climbers wishing to reach the summit had to climb all the way up from the bottom. Along the main route are many markers of climbers who made the ascent 33 times. In 1994, 100-year-old Ichijirou Araya climbed Mt. Fuji. In 2008, the Crown Prince of Japan made it to the summit for the first time. He tried in 1988 but gave up due to bad weather.
Climbing Mt. Fuji: There is a paved road that climbs halfway up the mountain. Most of 3.5 million visitors to the mountain begin hikes of varying lengths from the end of this road at Kawaguchi, where there is a three-story parking garage and 7,500-foot-high souvenir city. Many of them arrive in tour buses, some of which travel all night to reach the mountain.
About 300,000 people make the ascent to Fujis summit every year. More than 350,000 people climbed Fuji in 2007 and a record 430,000 did it in 2008. This was up from around 200,000 between 2000 and 2006. So many are making the climb there is some discussion of charging a fee to cover the cost of trail maintenance and providing toilets. before the climbing season starts trails are checked, snow levels are measured and safety drills are geld.
Most people do the hike in the climbing season in July and August, when about 5,000 people a day reach the top. So many people do the hike at this time that parts of the trail are as wide as a two-lane highway, traffic jams form behind slight obstacles, and hikers that slip sometimes take out a dozen or so other people with them, domino-fashion. To avoid the crowds do the hike in late June or early September. The only problem with doing it then is that some huts are closed and there is less public transport at these times.
The summit of Mt. Fuji is a harsh, lava-strewn place with a simple wooden shrine and a handful of stone shelters used for protection from the wind, cold and foul weather. Most of the climbers do the final ascent in the wee hours of the morning so they can arrive at the summit before dawn and shout "banzai" when the sun comes up and enjoy the vistas of deep green valleys and floating white cloud formations called unkai ("cloud sea"). If you are on the summit at sunset you can see Mt. Fujis shadow spread across the countryside.
Overuse has definitely taken its toll on Mt. Fuji. Exhaust from the cars and buses that ascend the mountain have killed trees, human-induced erosion has scarred the slopes, and even though the majority of hikers are very careful not to litter, the sheer numbers of them cause heaps of rubbish to pile up in undesignated areas.
In response to criticism about the trash, regular crews clean up trash along the trails and eco-friendly toilets have been installed. Some of the more advanced ones cost $40,000 and incinerate the waste, leaving behind ash that is brought to the bottom of the mountain. There are also some biological toilets that use microbes break down the waste but there capacity is limited.
Some of those who make the climb get a certificate. A new B-5-paper-size certificate for foreigners is in English and had a picture of Fuji in the background The brochures Climbing Mt. Fuji and Mt. Fuji 7 Fuji Five Lakes is available form the TIC in Tokyo. For English-language information you can call ☎ 011-81-555-22-9070. Websites: Mount Fuji Guide mountfujiguide.com/ ; Climbing Fuji Links nurs.or.jp ; Fujiyamaguides.com fujiyamaguides.com ; Climbing Mt. Fuji plala.or.jp ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Mountain huts yamanshi site yamanashi-kankou Hiking Maps: Climber.org climber.org ; Fuji Summit Climber.org Climber.org
Warning and Rules on Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji is just high enough so that some people may experience some altitude sickness as the reach the top. Some climbers of Fuji carry small oxygen tanks with them. Dizziness and nausea are the first signs. If you have problems descend below the 8th station.
The weather is very changeable so hikers should be prepared for rain, cold, wind and possible snow. In the summer, the temperature difference between the base and summit is 20°C. Before dawn the mercury often dips below freezing, and it can seem much colder when nasty winds kick up. Gloves, thermal underwear, rain gear, long pants, thick socks, a warm hat, a sweater and a jacket are essential. If the weather get really bad take refuge in a mountain hut.
Be prepared for crowds and bring enough food and water. Water especially is a problem. There are no springs or streams in the upper parts of the mountain, This means you either have to carry water or buy it at inflated prices of around $4 per half liter at the substations. If you hike at night make sure you have a flashlight and extra batteries.
When hiking stay on the designated routes. Hiking outside the trails causes erosion and landslides. Keep Mt. Fuji clean by carrying out what you carry in. If you need to go to the bathroom dont hide behind a rock. Use one of the eco-friendly toilets. There is usually a charge of around $2 to use one. Payment is often by the honor system.
Hiking on the winter is particularly dangerous. Every year a few people die because they the slip and fall and slide down the mountain and are unable to stop after reaching high velocity. In 2006-2007 a man fell to his death after watching the New Year sun rise. People also die other times of the year. In 2008, a man died after being struck by lightning between the sixth and seventh stations.
Trails on Mt. Fuji
There are main six trails to the top of Mt. Fuji: 1) The Yoshida Route from Fuji-Yoshida in the north; 2) the Shoji Route from near Lake Shoji-ko in the north; 3) the Kawaguchi-ko Route from Kawaguchi-ko in the north; 4) the Fujinomiya/Mishima Route from Fujinomiya in the south: 5) the Gotemba Route from Gotemba in east; and 6) the Subashira Route from Subashira in the east.
Each trail is divided into ten stations of varying length. The climb on the most popular route takes about nine hours; the descent four hours. Few people hike the entire lengths of these trail. The lower reaches of these trails are used mainly by people hiking around the base of Mt. Fuji.
Most hikers begin their trek from the end of the road and the souvenir city of Kawaguchi, where they take a trail that joins the Yoshida Route around the sixth station of that trail. The hike from here is about five or six hours up and two or three hours down. The trail up is very steep and often requires the use of ones hands to climb steep sections of rock. Towards the top, the altitude takes it toll and many hikers get very tired and have to stop frequently to rest. There are no sections with cliffs so people with a fear of heights dont have to worry. There is a separate trail for downhill hikers. It is on loose sand and cinders, which gives way easily. Hikers generally fall on their bum at least once. The constant pounding can take its toll on the knees.
Many hikers begin their hike around 10:00pm to midnight and try to reach the summit in time for sunrise, which is usually between 4:30am and 5:30am in the hiking season. You dont want to arrive too early or you freeze you ass waiting for the sunrise. You dont want to be too late either and miss the sunrise. Many foreigners find the sunrise ritual to be overrated and recommend hiking up and down in the daytime.
Trails around the crater
There are one-room substations set up periodically on the trails where hikers can buy snacks, ramen, takes a rest, sleep for the night or get a seal burned into their walking stick, signifying that they got this far (the majority of the hikers have walking sticks as well as special hiking outfits). At some of the stations are mountain huts that charge about $36 a night to sleep on mattress on a floor covered by others doing the same, Some people spend a few hours here before making the final push to the summit at around 3:00am.
The sunrise viewing area is on the northern side of the crater. There are vending machines, snack bars and souvenir stands here. The Mt. Fuji Weather Station is on the southern edge of the crater where the summit of the mountain is. It takes about an hour to walk around the crater.
Stations of Mt. Fuji
The 1st Station (1,520 meters high) is at Suzuhara Shrine, where the spirit of Dainiciyorai is said to reside. In the old days religious rites were held here. The 2nd Station (1,700 meters high, 30 minutes uphill from the 1st Station) contains an altar that was once part of Omura Sengen Shrine. About one kilometer uphill and southeast is the Holy Ground for Women. Up until 1832 women were not allowed to hike past this point and thus worshiped Mt. Fuji from here. The 3nd Station (1,840 meters high, 20 minutes from the 2nd Station) and 4th Station (2,010 meters high, 30 minutes from the 3rd Station) are located in an area of forests and lava flows.
The 5th Station (2,305 meters high, 45 minutes from the 4th Station) is where most people begin their hike. Here at Kawaguchiko, there are many restaurants, souvenir stands and snack bars. This is the last places you can get water without paying for it. There are regular buses and taxis that transport hikers to trains stations. Most hikers arrive in groups on tour buses. Most of the tour buses that stop her just dispense tourist who wander around for a couple hours and get back on the bus and dont do much hiking.
5th staion of Fujinomiya Trail As hikers ascends to 6th Station (2,390 meters high, 30 minutes from the 5th Station) they emerge from the forest into an a treeless expanse of lava flows, red cinders and rocks. There are spectacular views of lakes below and the slopes above. From here the trail gets steadily steeper and steeper and more and more hard going. The 7th Station (2,700 meters high, 60 minutes from the 6th Station) and 8th Station (3,020 meters high, 100 minutes from the 7th Station) have six mountain huts each, benches where you can rest and snack bars where you can get food and drink.
After the 8th is the Real 8th Station (80 minutes from the 8th Station) and the 8.5 Station (20 minutes from the Real 8th Station). The last mountain hut is at 8.5 station. From here it is 60 to the summit. When you pass through the tori gates you know you are almost there. There are no mountain huts at the summit but you can sleep in the souvenir stand if you get in a pinch.
Fuji's Five Lakes and Tourist Areas Around Mt. Fuji
Three prefectures surround Mt. FujiKanazawa, Shizuoka and Yamanashiand the all have numerous views of the mountain. The premier tourist areas are Hakone in Kanagawa, Izu in Shizuoka and the five lakes of Yamanashi. All of these places are close enough to Tokyo to attract weekend crowds.
The extensive base of Mt. Fuji is strewn with lakes, waterfalls, ice caves, virgin forest and almost 2,000 kinds of alpine plants which change according to the altitude. In addition to hiking, visitors can partake in a number of recreation activities such as swimming, fishing and camping in the summer, and skating and skiing in the winter.
Around the base are 2,000 registered religious organizations, including the remnant of the Aum Supreme cult, and 117 golf courses, each boasting a view of the sacred mountain. There is also a safari park, amusement park rides and roller coasters. A couple of years ago a company made plans to construct a cable car to the summit that would replace the nine-hour ascent with a 40-minute ride but hikers were so vocal in their outrage the plans were scrapped. A 34-square-mile area on Mt. Fujis eastern flank is used by the Japanese and American militaries for live fire exercises.
Aokigahara Woods (lower north slope of Mt. Fuji) is a popular hiking area in the summer and covered in snow in the winter. It has also been a popular suicide spot since the 1970s when a heroine in popular television drama based on the novel Kawa-No-Oto (1960), committed suicide there. The victims mostly die from drug overdoses and hangings.
In 1998, police found 73 bodies in the Aokigahara woods. The site is so popular that there are signs on the trails that read: "Wait a Minute! The world holds bitterness but also joy. You only have one life to live, so think it over."
Taxi drivers who work the nearest train station are told to be in the look out for possible suicide candidates, typically people who arrive and ask to be taken to the woods to go camping even though they don' have camping equipment or luggage. When an abandoned car is found, a search begins for the owners. Sometimes the body of the car isn't found but the bodies of other people are.
Fuji's Five Lakes (northern side of Mt. Fuji) include 1) Lake Kawaguchi-ko (2 hours and 10 minutes from Tokyo), which is noted for its majestic view of Mt. Fuji on its northern shore and its many museums; 2) Lake Yamanaka (35 minutes by bus from Gotemba or Kawaguchiko), the largest of the five lakes; 3) Lake Saiko (25 minutes by bus from Kawaguchiko), the smallest of the lakes; 4) Lake Saiko, said to be the prettiest of the lakes; and 5) Lake Motusa, renowned for the beauty of its deep blue water and the fact it seldom freezes because of its 450-foot depth.
The town of Kawaguchi-ko on the lake of the same name is popular take off point for hikes of Mt. Fuji. Nearby is Sengen-jinja Shrine, where pilgrims used to stop before making the descent, and the Fuji Highland amusement park. Lake Saik-ko is less developed than the other lakes. Here there are good views of the Mt. Fuji and access to the Narusawa Ice cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, both formed by lava flows in ancient eruptions. Websites: Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; JNTO PDF file JNTO ;Mt. Fuji Five Lakes Area mt-fuji.gr.jp ; Yamanashi Tourist Information yamanashi-kankou.jp
Hakone (1½ hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo) is a highly-developed tourist area famous for its spas, 17 hot water springs, 250 hot spring inns and beautiful mountains. Wedged between Mt. Fuji and the Izu Peninsula, Hakone covers a fairly large area with forested mountains and deep ravines. Among those that have came here to reinvigorate themselves were Toyotomi Hideyoshi and John Lennon.
Naraya Hotel in the 19th century Located on a major Edo period crossroads, Hakone welcomes 18 million visitors a year. Among the museum are the Hakone Open Air Museum; the Narukawa Art Forum, with 40,000 works of art the Hakone Glass Forest Venetian Glass Museum, with Venetian glass from the 15th to the 18th centuries; the Museum of Saint-Exupery and the Little Prince; and the Pola Museum of Art.
The Lalique Museum contains 230 pieces jewelry and glass works by Rene Lalique, the master craftsman credited with launching the art nouveau and art deco movements in the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum also boats a pullman car from the famed Orient Express.
Other sights and activities include the Ancient Cedar Avenue, with 400 magnificent cedars planted early in the 17th century; the Ashinoko lake cruise; the Hakone Ropeway (the longest in Japan at 4,035 meters); the Hakone-Tozan Cable Car and the Hakone-Tozan railway.
A number of special tickets and package deals are available, You can check them out at the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, where you catch the train for Hakone. The three-day Hakone Freepass, which costs ¥5,500 for adults and ¥2,750 for children, includes passage on eight different types of transportation and discount tickets for 55 designated facilities, including the museums and sights mentioned above. For information call the Fuji-Hakine-Izu International Tourism Association at ☎ (054)-221-2858.
Fuji area map
Websites:Hakone Navi hakonenavi.jp ; Hakone Zenzan hakone.or.jp; ; Kanagawa Prefecture site kanagawa-kankou.or.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Wikitravel Wikitravel Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO Hotel Websites: Kanagawa Prefecture site kanagawa-kankou.or.jp ; JapanHotel.net JapanHotel.net Ryokan and Minshuku Hakone Navi hakonenavi.jp ; Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels (click hostels for good map and description of hostels) Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Hakone is one hour and ten minutes from Tokyo by limited express train and one hour and 45 minutes by regular train. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
another hotel in the 19th century Hakone-Yumoto (40 miles southwest of Tokyo) is the main gateway to the Hakone Spa area. Located on the confluence of the Hayakawa River and Sukomo River, it is touristy hot spring resort with many inns beautifully located along the gorge. Miyanoshita (near Hakone-Yumoto) is the main town in the area with its many spas. It is also a good starting point for trips to Lake Ashi, Gora Spa and the Sengokuhara Plain. Kawaguchi is an onsen resort town with beautiful views of Mt, Fuji across Lake Kawaguchi.
Fujiyoshida is regarded as one of the gateways to Mt. Fuji. It is the home of the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine, and a starting place for people that want hike to top of Mt. Fuji all the way from the bottom of the mountain. Website: Fujiyoshida city site city.fujiyoshida.yamanashi.jp Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Fujiya (Miyanoshita) is a famous hotel with beautiful views of Mt. Fuji. Opened in 1878, it has welcomed kings and emperors and John Lennon and Yoko Ono as guests. There are special rates for foreigners, only $120 a room.
Gora (10 minutes by funicular railroad from Miyanoshita) is a spa town on a slope of the volcano Mt. Sounzan. A cable car leads to the top of Mt. Sounzan. On nearby Mount Myojo a huge bonfire is built in the shape of Chinese character during the Daimonjiyaki Festival. Gora Park is the largest rock park in the Orient. Its main features are a gigantic fountain pond, nature museum, alpine plant garden and wild tropical bird garden. The arched gate entrance to the park is decorated with roses and other flowers.
Hakone Sights and Amusements
Hakone area onsen Fujikyu Highland Park(near Mt. Fuji in Fujiyoshida) is the home of roller coaster, one deemed the worlds fastest. Known as the Dodon-pa ride and costing $25 million to build, it takes riders from 0 to 172kph in 1.8 second and drops them from a 52-meter spike, generating 4.25 G-forces, similar to those endured by astronauts at take off. A spokesman for the park said it is designed to "overload the senses." Fujikyu Highland Skating Center is world's largest multi-rink indoor skating rink: it has five rinks cover 285,243 square feet. Website: Fuji Q fuji-q.com
Hakone Museum of Art (Gora) is known for its superb display of old Japanese ceramics and sloping garden with 100 different kinds of moss. The Musée de Saint-Exupery et di Petit Prince recreates the life of the pioneer aviator and the author of the Little Prince in the atmosphere of a French village. Sometimes there is even a genuine Frenchman who walks around dressed up as Saint-Exupery.
Hakone Open Air Museum (near Gora) is an awesome sculpture park. Founded in 1969 and situated among forests and mountains, it is a series of rolling lawns featuring works by Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, Barbara Hepworth, Rodin, Bourdelle, and Zadkine and sculptors. There is also an indoor museum with works by Picasso and others.
The outdoor museum covers 30,000 square meters. The works are equally divided among Western artist and Japan artists. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the museum is the way the sculptures are situated on grassy slopes, next to trees and with mountains in the background. The admission fee is $14. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
ropeway over Owakudani Hakone-Tozan Railway (starting at Gora) is two-car train that climbs a mountain slope by repeatedly changing direction and going back and forth up a series of switchbacks. The ride is especially beautiful in late June and early July when 8,000 hydrangea plant along the route are in full bloom. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Kowakidani (Hakone-Tozan Railway and ropeway from Gora) is one of the most popular spa towns. Known in English as the Valley of Lesser Boiling, it has several sulfurous and bubbling hot springs. Much of the steam coming from the earth is utilized in warming greenhouses. In April, the entire spa is awash in cherry blossoms and azalea blooms.
Owakudani (Hakone-Tozan Railway and ropeway from Gora) is located in the crater of volcano Mt. Kamiyama. Known in English as Valley of Greater Boiling, it reeks of sulfur and is covered in clouds of steam rising from crevasses and bubbling hot springs. The Natural Science Museum here has displays of local flora and fauna and information about climatic and geological features of the Hakone hot spring area. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Other sights to the north of Mt. Fuji include Narusawa Ice Cave, a lava-formed cave that has ice in it even in the summer; Saiki Iyashi no Sato Nembsa, a restored of village thatch-roof houses; and Hananomiyako Koen Park, a popular place to see a variety of flowers.
Lake Ashi (2,400 feet above sea level) is the principal attraction of Hakone. It has a circumference of 11 miles and abounds with bass and trout. It is also known for its inverted reflection of Mt. Fuji. Boats link the resort towns around the lake. A motorized tourist boat that looks like a pirate ship cruises the lake and offers nice views of Mt. Fuji. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com
Mote Hakone is the main center for pleasure boating on the lake. Within a 15 minute walk is the famous Hakone Shrine. Founded in the 8th century and located on the shores of the lake, it has a red torii gate built in 1667.
Mote Hakone is also where you can find Cryptomeria Avenue a two-kilometer-long path lined with 370-year-old cedar trees. From Mote Hakone you can walk for 3½ hours on the a section of the Old Tokaido Highway, which connected Kyoto with Edo, to Hakone-Yumoto Station.
Hakone-Machi is another resort town and boating center. Nearby stands a replica of the Old Hakone Check Point, an indication that Hakone was an important rest stop for people traveling in Japan in the 17th and 18th century. The replica of the Check Point House contains life-size figures in traditional feudal costumes. Nearby is the Hakone Detached Palace Garden, a former villa with a lovely garden and displays of old weapons, armor, sedan chairs, old documents and everyday items from feudal Japan.
Image Sources: 1) 7) 17) JNTO 2) 3) 6) British Museum 4) 5) 14) Volcano Researach Center University of Tokyo 8) 12) Andrew Gray Photosensibility 9) Yamanashi Tourist Information 10) 13) Mount Fuji Guide 11) Climber.org 15) 19) 20) Kanagawa Tourist information 16) 18) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 21) Wikipedia
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Comptons Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays