The Viator day tour to Mt. Fuji is underrated. This is an indisputable fact. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The itinerary is easy. We took a bus upto Mt. Fuji, stopping first at a small rest stop along the way. That rest stop was simply a pit stop, and an opportunity to look at the top of the Fuji volcano in the distance. We were there for maybe fifteen minutes.
Our second stop was the fifth way station up the mountain, which is as high as vehicle traffic is allowed. We were lucky because that level is generally inaccessible in the winter due to snowy or icy weather and poor visibility. The weather the two days we’d been in Tokyo were terrible and the forecast looked bad. We were predicting that we wasted our money on the tour, but we were so blessed with sunshine and clear skies. It was blustery and cold at the station (-2 degrees C according to our guide), but all was crisp and clear as clear could be.
The way station itself had a labyrinthine gift shop with all sorts of kitsch (a very Japanese phrase, that), much like every gift shop from the Grand Canyon to Stonehenge. In this case, since this is Japan we’re talking about, the wares were completely different from what I’d seen. For instance, there were a plethora of edible Mt. Fujis made out of various food products. Of course, there were the ubiquitous good luck charms. Like everywhere in Tokyo, there were a ton of vending machines and a couple of little noodle shacks. One of the vending machines sold “Sweat,” which is a sort of Gatorade type product that replenishes electrolytes. I had no idea what was in the water until I read about it in Wikipedia. “Sweat” apparently doesn’t translate well from Japanese to English.
From the way station we went to Fujiyoshida and stopped at the Highland Resort Hotel. The resort is right next door to an amusement park at the foot of the mountain. This part of the trip was a delightful surprise. The tour included a lunch option that was very expensive and poorly reviewed so we opted out. When we got off the tour bus at the resort, the guide told us about the dining options, one of which included a restaurant, the Fujiyama Terrace, that served Western-style food. We took a risk and discovered that restaurant was superb. It was a full buffet (they call it a “Viking”) with phenomenal food. OMG-level phenomenal. The fare was international with dishes such as linguine with mussels, fried chicken, roast pork, saffron rice with little sausages, Chinese dumplings, spring rolls, and a ton of other food I couldn’t name but that looked and smelled wonderful. Desserts galore! A chocolate fountain, pies and pastries of all types, little “desserts in a glass” made of parfaits and puddings. I could have dined there for a week and not tasted everything. It was expensive for a lunch (about $25 a person), but it was $5 cheaper than the meal option included in the tour. Other patrons agreed with the bad reviews. The tour guide said the restaurant was new and had only been open a handful of days. Later he talked to us and I suspect there will be a change in the tour itinerary. The restaurant seating was along expansive glass windows that overlooked the amusement park. It was oddly incongruous but amazing, with the mountain and roller coasters and hills sprawling in the background.
From the resort we went to Hakone, a honeymoon resort town similar to Niagara Falls, with famous hot springs, expensive shops and a host of romantic getaways and five-star hotels. This part of the tour was also amazing. It was poorly described in the tour literature and the website. Most of the day trips we’ve taken while traveling have included stops at quaint little villages or towns for a meal. Usually these stops are tourist traps (which I happen find delightful) with “authentic” little restaurants and accommodating locals whose economy is based on visitors. Hakone did have this, but it was much, much more. Here we took a ferry ride across Lake Ashi, which was pleasant and beautiful.
Hakone is famous for puzzle boxes made out of parquetry. The handwork is quite stunning and the wares are pricey. The parquetry is made from different types of wood, which gives it the different coloring that is used to create the designs.
The next stop was the best part. Stunning. Awe inspiring. The Fuji mountain is as majestic as the Grand Canyon. When you’re on top of it, though, you don’t recognize that level of grandeur. Also, driving around on the highway, you don’t really see it because of the twists and turns. Roads, people, buildings, and wires block the way. It looks sort of like a generic mountain with a pointy crown at the top.
After crossing Lake Ashi, we took a cable car up Mt. Komagatake. This is where the magic happened. From the peak of Komagatake, you can see that Mt. Fuji truly wears God’s face. It’s indescribable. The mist was surreal. It billowed over the lake below and veiled Mt. Fuji’s peak. The constant boom of thunder surrounded us. I expected dragons to swoop out of the sky, it was so fantastical.
After driving down from Mt. Komagatake, we took a high-speed bullet train home. The ride itself was mundane. My niece wanted to go because she had seen it depicted in so many anime movies and the ride through the countryside was supposed to be beautiful. Unfortunately the sun had already set, so it was just another ride on just another train. Before we got on the train, however, we did get to witness one of the bullet trains speed past us. They go approximately 140 mph. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that fast in my life. Planes, by the time they get to that speed, are in the air and so far away that the speed isn’t noticeable. When that train went barreling by, the ground shook intensely.
The day was full. Best of all, most of it was unexpected. Mt. Fuji is obviously special, but this particular tour allowed us to experience it in a special way. Some people don’t like tours. They like to conquer the world on their own. As for me, I like being taken to places I might never have found on my own, I like tourist trap gift shops, and I like the silly banter of a tour guide. This particular tour was certainly worth the yen. Overall, the whole day was something I’ll treasure.