Asia, International Travels, Japan

The Japan Expedition Part 1: Mt. Fuji, Lake Ashi, Hakone-Komagatake Ropeway and the Shinkansen

March 14, 2015 – Our first full day in Tokyo. A visit to Japan, Tokyo in particular wouldn’t be complete without visiting Mt. Fuji.

Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji Visitors' Center (A photo display of Mt. Fuji)
Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji Visitors’ Center (A photo display of Mt. Fuji)

The perfectly symmetrical volcano lies at 3,776 meters and is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also a symbol of wealth and abundance for the Japanese. We booked our tour at Japanican.com, which included the Fuji Visitor Center and (at most) the 5th station of Mt. Fuji, a cruise at Lake Ashi in Hakone, a ride on the Komagatake Ropeway, with the Shinkansen (bullet train) experience to cap the day.

We took the one without lunch because we wanted the freedom to choose our food instead of being served what was available that day. All in, this costs JPY 15,500 which is about USD 130 or PHP 5,700. Here’s a sample itinerary from their website but below is how we experienced it:

Mt. Fuji:

If you’re staying at any major hotel in Tokyo, a pick up can be arranged. But for us who stayed in a local residence, we had to commute to Hamamatsucho Bus terminal where the tour bus departs from.

Japan Expedition: Waiting at the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal
Japan Expedition: Waiting at the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal

There is no seat assignment in the bus so you want to be early to get a seat with a vantage view.

Japan Expedition: The Mt. Fuji - Hakone Guided Tour
Japan Expedition: The Mt. Fuji – Hakone Guided Tour

The time it takes to get to the first stop, which is the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center, is about 2 hours. This is when the guide usually orients you on Japanese customs, a little bit of history, and the like. Don’t snooze on the first part of this trip because you would get to see the Tokyo Tower and on a good day, Mt. Fuji.

Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji Map
Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji Map
Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji as depicted in the arts at the visitors center
Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji as depicted in the arts at the visitors center

The Tokyo Tower looks like a mini Eiffel Tower that has 2 observatory decks reaching up to 820 ft, while the structure stands at 1093 ft and is Japan’s second tallest structure (next to the Tokyo SkyTree).

Japan Expedition: The Tokyo SkyTree
Japan Expedition: The Tokyo Tower

There is a 20-minute stop at the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center to restore comfort and learn more about the volcano and its 5 lakes, get souvenirs, and watch a 10-minute video about Fuji-san.

According to our guide, tours on months like this, the possibility of reaching the 5th station (highest possible destination for tourists) is very low due to snow and some other causes. But that day, we reached it at 2,300 meters and got to play with the snow.

Mt. Fuji 5th Station - March 14, 2015
Mt. Fuji 5th Station – March 14, 2015

Please indulge in the photos below. And thinking that that was it, I took videos and pictures of every corner of the place.

Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji 5th Station
Japan Expedition: Mt. Fuji 5th Station (Fun and Jumpshots with one of my best friends, Jons.

It was an ear-popping, finger-freezing experience for someone from a country that doesn’t experience snow.

Lake Ashi:

After a cold delight, we had lunch at one of the restaurants located between the 5th station and Lake Ashi – our next destination.This by far, is the most expensive lunch we’ve had in Tokyo (since we’re on a budget) and it’s not even Japanese. Lol.

Japan Expedition: Lunch
Japan Expedition: Lunch

We proceeded to the 15-minute cruise (for us in this tour, we had to disembark at the first stop of the cruise for the Ropeway), that had us still shaking because of the cold. Add to that the cold breeze that brushed against our faces that afternoon.

Japan Expedition: Lake Ashi on Board the Boat to Komagatake
Japan Expedition: Lake Ashi on Board the Boat to Komagatake

For best views, we went to the top of the boat but as usual, Mt. Fuji had been elusive that day, which could have made that cruise on the crater lake perfect.

Japan Expedition: Lake Ashi Cruise
Japan Expedition: Lake Ashi Cruise (Clockwise from the Upper Left photo: 1 – Myself posing before boarding the cruise that will take us to Komagatake; 2 – Our Ropeway Pass; 3 – the Climb to the Tram Statuion; 4 – “Sake” or Rice Wine; 5 – Photo of the ropeway from the boat)

Komagatake Ropeway:

The climb from Lake Ashi to Mt. Komagatake via the ropeway, or an aerial tram – whose cabin can house up to 101 passengers, takes about 7 minutes. It scales a total of 590 meters but the cable length from the bottom to the top is 1.8km.

When we got off the cabin, it was snowing and the wind made it colder, colder than when we were at the 5th station of Mt. Fuji. The hot canned beverage in the vendo machine only took a couple of minutes to get cold.

apan Expedition: At the Komagatake Peak
Japan Expedition: At the Komagatake Peak

Although the cold air was biting, it was really fun to experience snowfall, and not being able to see in the white nothingness of the place. There are souvenir shops at the station, and you can also buy your official photo from there. As it was a little expensive, I just savored a pose under the lightly-falling snow.

Japan Expedition: Come Hug Me in Tokyo
Japan Expedition: NYEBE! (Snow in English)

The Shinkansen:

The bullet train in Japan is operated by Japan Railways Group and has a record, in its 50 years of service and after transporting 10 billion passengers, of ZERO fatalities due to derailment or collision. It travels at 240-320 kph and in 2003, reached world records of 581 kph for maglev trains. Their average delay in 2012 was 36 seconds, including those caused by natural disasters.

Japan Expedition: The Bullet Train
Japan Expedition: The Bullet Train

Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains move without touching the ground, as what our guide explained. It is the new technology being tested and used in some advanced countries like Germany, US, S. Korea, China, Israel, Australia, Italy and Japan. It proposes to cut the more than 2 hours of bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo (6 hours regular trains) to just one hour at 500 kph.

Japan Expedition: Amazed by the Speed of the Bullet Train
Japan Expedition: Amazed by the Speed of the Bullet Train

The experience highlights the plight of local train commuters in Manila – delays, mishaps and all that.

Japan Expedition: Hello MRT (Photo credits to Joel Leporada of Rappler)
Japan Expedition: Hello MRT (Photo credits to Joel Leporada of Rappler)

At the end of each trip, each headrest cover is removed and replaced by a new one before a new set of passengers occupy the train.

Japan Expedition: Our Tour Guide at the Shinkansen Terminal
Japan Expedition: Our Tour Guide at the Shinkansen Terminal

The tour ended at around 5 or 6pm, and we still had a lot of time to stroll the Ikebukuro area (we were one station away). A dinner is in order, and some more shopping on the side.

This over-all experience is totally worthy every Yen we paid for. A must-do once in Japan.

Next on the Japan Expedition Series: Temples, Cherry and Plum Blossoms, Don Quijote and the famed KitKat Green Tea.

Sources: wikipedia, japanican.com, Mt. Fuji Visitors’ Center, rappler.com for the MRT photo

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