Japans most iconic image sits right on my door step, the now dormant volcano Mt Fuji is a spectacular sight to wake-up to every morning.
Spring is a perfect time to explore around Mt Fuji, there are fewer tourists, blooming cherry blossom trees and many clear warm days. If you are unlucky enough to miss out on the cherry blossom viewing, which in my opinion is Japan’s most exceptional natural event, then luckily Shibazakura viewing at the foot of Mt Fuji comes a close second. A trip to the Shibazakura festival at the foot of Mt Fuji via Fuji Go-Ko (Fuji 5 lakes) is a perfect spring day out.
As we headed towards Fuji Go-Ko, our travels took us through Aokigahara, also known as the sea of trees or suicide forest. It’s a 35 kilometre forest that lies at the North West base of Mt Fuji. It is a very dense forest and as a result many people get lost. It is also very difficult to get out of as you lose all sense of direction and compasses are rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the areas volcanic soil. The origin of the forests popularity as a place for people to commit suicide is unknown and many unravel tape so that others might recover the bodies. This tape also ensures that those who change their minds can navigate themselves back out of the dense forest. From its perimeter it seems like such a beautiful vast forest, but it hides a rather haunting history. Although we only briefly passed through, if you know the history of this forest it sends shivers down your spine.
The Fuji Go-ko region is a post-card like area around Japans northern foothills; its lakes act as natural reflecting pools for the mountains perfect cone. The largest of the lakes is Yamanaka-ko, followed by Kawaguchi-ko, Sai-ko, Shoji-ko (the smallest) and Motosu-ko (the deepest). Whilst on our way to the Shibazakura festival, we did a whistle stop tour of the lakes; come rain or shine they are absolutely beautiful and they can make a great overnight stopover, for leisurely strolling, hot springs, hiking (good base for climbing Mt Fuji) and relaxing. Lake Kawaguchi is the easiest to access and therefore most touristy, as a result it can get extremely busy in the summer holidays.
You may have seen many picture perfect postcard photos where a snow capped Mt Fuji is framed by a lush carpet of red, pink and purple Shibazakura as far as the eye can see. If you are looking for a destination to enjoy the beautiful spring scenes, one of the best spots to view Shibazakura is near Lake Motosu at the foot of Mt Fuji. Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri is held at the Fuji Motosuko Resort in Fujikawaguchiko-town, Yamanashi until June 2nd. The best time to visit it is usually the beginning of May when the flowers are in full bloom. Entrance is 500 Yen, and many shuttle buses run from local train’s stations including Kawaguchiko station and Shinjuko station.
Whilst enjoying the beautiful surroundings, you can tuck into some traditional delicacies. Some famous local dishes from the area are Yoshida udon (a thick and firm noodle based dish, in a broth with cabbage) and Fujinomiya yajishoba (noodles cooked on a hot plate and served with cabbage and pork) both are healthy, tasty, hearty and simple. I tried both and they were delicious. For something sweet, try sakura-flavoured roll cake or shibazakura manju both are very popular treats. Wash it all down with a glass of pure spring water from Mt Fuji, which is known for its healing qualities and purity.
If you are thinking of coming to Japan in spring, I would definitely make this one of your stops. In one day you can do a full 360 degree drive around the base of Mt Fuji and the five lakes and enjoy views of an elegant carpet of pink, purple and white flowers with a snow capped Mt Fuji as a backdrop. And if you are desperate to see the cherry blossoms, all may not be lost, as it is colder the higher up you go you may even be lucky enough to enjoy the last remnants of the year’s blossoms.