Fuji-Q Highland

So what do you do when you’re staying within a gyoza throw of a rollercoaster theme park with Guinness world record breaking rollercoasters? Go to Thomas the Tank engine land instead of course! ^_^’

It does seem a little odd having the mayhem of a rollercoaster theme park in amongst tranquil lakes and temples with a Mt Fuji backdrop, ah Japan the land of contrasts, but like they say… when in Rome… I mean, when in Kawaguchiko….

It was our last day in the little lake side town so after checking out we spared the luggage drag and taxied directly to Fuji Q.

Travel tip:
There are storage lockers at both entrances, the biggest size is -just- big enough to fit a large suitcase that’s pushing it’s weight limit. However make sure you get dropped off at the main entrance (near the hotel) if you want to use these large lockers.

As mentioned we were mostly there to give the little one her first foray into theme parks, this did work in our favour as a lot of the rides aren’t included in the gate ticket price (Y1000-2000 extra for each ride) and while the park was quite empty first thing in the morning, there were still line ups for the main attractions. Thomas Land however was included in the price and line waits were minimal if at all, most being “hop off and straight back on”.

Like most large theme parks, food and amenities are easily accessible, the eatery near Thomasland directly catering to the youngsters with kid friendly meals, pizza, pasta, chips etc in small portions.

If you’re not into roller coasters, its not a complete loss, there’s apocalypse style “haunted houses”, 4D movie style experiences and a selection of tamer rides.

Update: Thomas world has since added a bunch of new rides and activities while the park itself has a few extras namely the winter wonderland activities and rides during the cold seasons.

Quick stop equals quick blog post!  Next we finally get to the main event, the purpose of the whole trip, SNOW in the Japanese alps! 😀

The shibazakura aka pink moss, like the cherry blossoms (sakura), only bloom for a short period each year can be seen in several locations around Japan, though possibly no where quite as prominent as the Fuji Shibazakura festival near lake Motosuko with Mt Fuji as a backdrop. Even though the shibazakura sprouts for the better part of a month, if youre on either end of that window the display can be rather lacklustre. Unfortunately this was the case for us, we caught the tail end of the season, but on the plus side crowds were minimal.



Getting there:
A ticket to the event which includes entry and a round trip bus ticket can be purchased at Kawaguchiko station for around 2000Y (at one of the small outdoor booths closer to the road, not in the station itself. Keep an eye out for signage)
One or two buses leave each hour depending on the time of day (same with returns) with the first one around 8pm. Since the trip takes about an hour, it’s a good idea to get there as early as possible, especially if you’re going during the peak weeks. We noticed an influx of people around late morning.
More info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6919.html
Stay up to date with festival news from the official site: http://www.shibazakura.jp/eng/access/

While the pink moss is the star of the show there are alot of other types of flowers in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. The fields are vast and even with minimal coverage they are still quite beautiful.

To the rear of the area there are a couple raised viewing decks which would certainly come in handy when things get crowded.

The fields are surrounded by large forest trees which are a sight themselves.

Finally, what would a Japanese flower festival be without some delicious food? There is a sizeable food court area featuring rows of tents with themed meals and snacks alongside local staples like noodles and monster sized pork buns. Back towards the entrance there is also a small area selling souvenirs.

We found a few hours here was enough time to leisurely stroll around, have a bite to eat and spend some time trying to find the right people-less angle to get a good photo. Not an easy task even with sparse traffic.



Travel tip: The area is up in the mountains and the festival itself is in a large open area with no shelter, couple that with the time of year, a hoodie, rain jacket and pants is a must even if it’s a little warm when you leave Kawaguchiko (if that’s where you’re staying). Wind and rain (very heavy mist) can come out of nowhere unexpectedly.


Chuerito Pagoda – Arakurayama Sengen Park

Of all the classic photos of Japan, the Chuerito pagoda in Arakurayama Sengen park would easily be in the top five. Mostly known for THAT view its hard to resist the trek up the mountain if you’re staying in Kawaguchiko.

Getting there:
Train from Kawaguchiko station > change at Fujisan station > Shimoyoshida station, then its about 1km walk to the start of the park via small lanes and backyard rice paddies, just follow the signs. Grab a quick photo of the map at the station to help with reference along the way.  Oh and don’t be alarmed with the rolling thunder and screaming off in the distance, that’s just a few hundred people defying death over at Fuji Q Highland!

Travel tip: the walk up the mountain is via several steep flights of stairs or a winding access road (which doesn’t seem to be open to the public), there are also some bush walking tracks near the top so sturdy footwear is the way to go.

Photo tip: there are several vantage points along the route for photos – the gardens near the shrine, look out points along the way and of course the pagoda money shot. Ideally you’d want to go when the blossoms are blooming but as you can see the views can be just as nice off season.

Travel tip: there’s free wifi at the pagoda so you can hit the ‘gram even if you don’t have a local sim.

If you came up via the stairs, we recommend going down via the road for a change of pace and scenery (and a bit easier on the knees). Finally, remember to keep an eye on the time, the train services tend to thin out in the evening.

Next up, our last day in Kawaguchiko at Fuji-Q Highlands!

Got questions? We got answers! If not, we’ll make them up! Give us a yell on facebook.

Gotemba Premium Outlets
Japanese retailers are really ahead of the curve, how do you get people to come to your stores? Make it a train station and they come right to your door, genius! The same goes for out of the way outlet malls like Gotemba, previously we spent a bit of time navigating a few different trains and a courtesy bus to get there but this time we tracked down a direct bus from the Yokohama CAT station. For around 1700Y one way (discount for return trip) we didn’t have to worry about dragging our luggage through stations and finding a seat on a train. Plus it was on the way to the 5 lakes area where we were heading, so it’s a win-win 😀

Travel tip: Bus routes, costs and departure locations for Yokohama can be found here and all other locations here
Travel tip: There are storage lockers on site (to the left of the main entrance from the bus stop, near the toilets)
Travel tip: Remember to grab a discount coupon booklet from the information booth
Travel tip: Remember to check the departure times when you arrive so you can plan your day accordingly (they run about ever hour so it could be a wait till the next one if you don’t)

Photo tip: There is plenty of lovely rolling scenery on the way there so keep your camera handy

Photo tip: On a clear day, keep an eye out for Fuji-san, its visible from the bus stop but a better spot is the walk bridge between the two mall sections

Travel tip: really goes without saying but its always worth popping into manufacture’s stores for regional exclusives and limited edition items

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Kawaguchiko
Coincidentally, they also have a bus that goes to where we needed to be next, Kawaguchiko, luck or crafty planning? 😉 Same deal as before, door to door station service, no faffing about.

At Kawaguchiko station there are two bus services (red, green) which run in roughly clockwise and anti clockwise routes around the southern side of the lake. These cover most of the affordable hotels and some of the local attractions. They run every 15-30min for only a couple bucks but having arrived late afternoon amongst a couple busloads of tourist groups, the services were struggling to meet demand, so after about 45min of waiting we grabbed a cab to our hotel (Kawaguchiko hotel). The hotel is only about 1km from the station, easily walkable but not so much after a long day and with luggage in tow.

Travel tip: If you did have to wait at the station, there are hot meals available from the small eatery inside.
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Click for full Kawaguchiko Hotel review here

Its rare that you can get the trifecta when it comes to hotels – good accommodation, good value, good location, usually one of those factors has to be sacrificed and its usually cost. Being out in the country side with a lot less options makes it even harder to score this so if you want the other two you need to pony up on the dinero. If not, manage your expectations, you saving money means corners are cut somewhere and in this case its in the general upkeep of the place.

To me, it felt a lot more like staying at your friends’ beachside place during schoolies or spring break, it was more the fact that you were there that mattered than the place where you dumped your bag and crashed out for the night. Sure, the carpet could use a steam clean (or just have new runners laid) and the window sills and the like could do with a vacuuming but the linen was clean along with the bathroom and for the double room we got, there was a welcomed amount of ample space compared with other places we have stayed at in Japan. In general, it definitely has a mum and pop store feel where they’ve just done the same thing for decades and its worked so they haven’t bothered changing anything.

All staff however were the usual Japanese kind of helpful even with minimal English but if you are after a more detailed response, track down one of the younger staff members. Rooms were quiet with minimal foot traffic, though being at the end of a hall helped. They also have bicycles for hire and there’s paddle boats on the lake (not related to the hotel).

We didn’t get to try the in house catering, the restaurant was booked out (and had to be booked in advance) but not to worry, there are plenty of eating places within walking distance. Exit the hotel and go right^, there are a couple buildings that look like they have or more so, HAD a restaurant but we couldn’t tell for sure as they weren’t open at all over the days and nights we were there (well there was one with a door open but in the same way a haunted house has a door open with no lights on, eep!). Further along there’s a small Asian takeaway but keep walking along the scenic waterfront till you get to a large intersection where the road hooks to the right*, here you’ll see a Lawson’s amongst a string of restaurants and souvenir shops. We went with the Indian place across from Lawson’s with no regret, good portions and reasonable prices.

^ – look over your right shoulder, you might be lucky enough to see Fuji off in the distance

* – following this street with a couple back street zig zags will take you back to Kawaguchiko station which is about a 15min walk. Reasonably easy but some of the streets are narrow with no footpath so navigating this with big luggage could be a little difficult, a cheap taxi ride might be the way to go for some. This route also includes a couple smaller supermarkets if you want more than what a convenient store offers.

Hotel staff actually recommended turning left out of the hotel and to go around the block for restaurants, which on a quiet night was a bit difficult to tell the difference between a hotel and a restaurant (the few along this street all looked like hotels). Eventually you’ll reach a major road, turning left here will lead to a few Japanese style fast food restaurants and a convenience store. It’s a much longer walk, about 15-20min but felt much longer with no scenery. Google maps shows a short cut route through some very small “not sure if lane or someone’s drive way” kind of “streets” but it was impossible to navigate these at night as most were poorly lit, if at all.

Overall, the location, surrounds and price more than made up for the short comings of the hotel, if we end up out that way again, it would definitely be considered.

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Travel tip: if you’re going to air clothing on the window sill, don’t open the opposite window! (duh!) but if you do, make sure you know how to use a tripod like giant chopsticks ;p

Next we try to catch some pink moss (yes pink moss) and a glimpse of Mt Fuji close up at the Fuji Shibazakura Festival and Chureito Pagoda.