The area surrounding Mt. Fuji is known as the five lakes region, mainly because of the five lakes that surround the base of Fuji. One of these lakes is Yamanakako, and we went there for a brief weekend trip towards the end of summer to enjoy some relaxing nature and steamy hot springs bathing.
Yamanakako (Lake Yamanaka)
We stayed at a lovely guesthouse at the southern edges of the lake. It seems no matter where you stay, you’re less than a five-minute walk to the lake itself, which is massive, blue, and beautiful to gaze upon. We decided to walk around the lake, going counter-clockwise, while hitting up some parks, onsen, and cafes along the way. If you go nonstop, you can circumnavigate the lake in about two and a half to three hours. We did see quite a few runners and cycling teams making laps around the lake, so if you’re into the running or cycling scene, this is a great place to set up camp and get some practice in.
Our plan was to hit two onsen that day: Yamanakako Hirano Onsen and Benifuji no Yu. Benifuji no Yu is probably the most famous hot spring in the Yamanakako area, renowned for its views of Mt. Fuji that are visible from the baths. We ended up not going here, as we were getting tired and the sun was setting by the time we made it close to there on our walk. We did end up visiting Hirano Onsen, which was pretty nice. They had inside and outside baths at a variety of temperatures, as well as a bubble jet bath where you could lay down to enjoy the soak. They also had a nice cafeteria where we got some tempura don and soba, and great lounging areas where we saw tourists and locals stretched out taking naps under the cool breeze of the rotating fans. Be aware that if you go to any of the onsen in this area, you’ll need to bring your own towel (unless you’re willing to rent on for a nominal fee).
What to do at Lake Yamanaka
Lake Yamanaka is famous for water sports and fishing. While there, we saw a wide variety of boats, jet skis, and even water hover boards out on the lake. Of course, you don’t have to go into the water to have fun. You can do lots of hiking, nature viewing, and general relaxing in the area as well.
If you’re up late enough and it’s a clear night, you can see a trail of headlamps along the side of Mt. Fuji as the hikers begin their ascent to reach the summit by sunrise. It’s a truly incredible sight; I tried to capture it in my picture, but pictures really can’t do this one justice. You have to go and see it to believe it! Note that hiking up Fuji is only permitted in July, August, and a bit of September, so the window to see this light trail is limited!
To get the Yamanakako, you’ll need to take a bus. Usually, the buses out of Shinjuku Highway Bus terminal operated by Fujikyuko Bus Company. You can buy the tickets at the station (I highly recommend you get these in advance), online, or a combination of online reservation and payment at your local convenience store. From there, you just get off at the station nearest to your hotel. You can check Google Maps to see which that is, seeing as Google Maps is pretty top-notch with figuring out public transit in Japan recently. It isn’t always fool-proof, so if you know your hotel speaks English, ask them which stop you should get off at and send them your bus info. They will be more than happy to help navigate you to their establishment! Once you’re there, it’s nothing but relaxing in hot springs, gazing at the lake, and doing some light walking or cycling!