Backpacking in Japan: The Best Place to See Mount Fuji on a Budget

If you have a look at my bucket list you’ll notice that Japan seems to feature there more than practically any other country. There are so many things I wanted to do there and I’d been looking forward to exploring the country for a long time. Naturally, one of my top goals was to see the legendary Mount Fuji. The only concern was figuring out the best place to see Mount Fuji on a budget.

While planning my trip to Japan I found it really hard to find consistent information. No matter what I was trying to find out, it seemed that peoples’ opinions constantly contradicted one another. It was impossible to find any consensus on anything.

The first big decision we needed to make was whether we wanted to climb Mount Fuji or see it from a distance. Every article or comment thread I read reached a different conclusion. Some spoke of serene nature and amazing views whilst others said that it was overly crowded and commercialised. I also read that the visibility was likely to be poor in early March and scaling the mountain was not the best way to see Mount Fuji on a budget.

Given all this and the fact that we only had just over a week in Japan, we decided to settle on seeing Mount Fuji from a distance. I took comfort in a good point a friend of mine made: if you’re on Mount Fuji, you can’t actually see Mount Fuji. That was enough to convince me.

So the first big decision was made, leaving one other important decision: where to see it from. After some research, it became clear that there were 2 particularly good spots for viewing Mount Fuji. The first was Lake Kawaguchi, the spot from which the famous X painting was painted. The next best spot according to what I’d read was Hakone, a small town about 2 hours from Tokyo. We decided on Hakone for convenience reasons as it would allow us to easily progress onto Kyoto after we were done.

This all sounded simple enough so after a couple of days of exploring the capital, we made our way to Hakone early in the morning. As it turns out, seeing Mount Fuji isn’t quite as simple and guaranteed as I had anticipated. On our way to Hakone I read that Mount Fuji is barely visible between mid-March and October due to clouds and haziness. Despite the fact that the weather had been cloudy and grey for weeks leading up to our trip, I was optimistic as the clouds cleared up and the sun peaked out properly for the first time as we rode the train to Hakone.

As we arrived in Hakone past noon, I was excitedly looking out all windows to see if I could spot the mountain. It was only when we arrived and spoke to tourist information that we found out that Mount Fuji isn’t actually visible from the town itself. We were left with two options: either we take a 1 hour public bus to Lake Motohakone for about $20 return or we take a 3 hour bus to Lake Kawaguchi, which would cost over $70.

Given our time and budget constraints, we realised that Lake Kawaguchi wasn’t a viable option. Unfortunately, the tourist information lady pulled up a live webcam feed of the view from Lake Motohakone which showed the entire mountain hidden behind clouds. Gutted, we decided to go for lunch and figure out a plan. The sky had been getting increasingly clear throughout the morning so we decided to wait until 3PM and hope the visibility clears up.

Around 3 PM we returned to the tourist office to have a look at the live feed. The clouds had cleared up quite a bit, but the visibility still wasn’t great. Still, the trend was good and the tourist information lady told us that visibility was usually best before sunset. With no guarantee of visibility being better the next day and not wanting to spend the money to stay at one of Hakone’s overpriced hotels, we decided to take the chance and head down to the lake.

The bus ride only took 40 minutes and took us straight to the lake. At first we couldn’t see the mountain but as we ran along the shore towards the piers, Mount Fuji came into view. Miraculously the clouds had all but disappeared and we had a stunning view of the snow capped mountain on the other side of the lake.

The view from across Lake Motohakone is gorgeous and for those who want a closer look, there is a touristy boat that can take you out to see it from closer up.

After letting the view soak in and taking some pictures, I wanted to see if we could find higher ground to see more of the mountain (though you can see Mount Fuji well from Lake Motohakone, the base of the mountain is tucked behind small hills).

One of the weird things about Lake Motohakone is that there are some tall buildings with amazing views that are totally abandoned, despite being the best place to see Mount Fuji on a budget. I couldn’t help but wonder why such a potential goldmine was so deserted though it was in our favour.

We did a bit of exploring around the area before we came upon a path that lead uphill from the main road behind the shore (the main road is right behind an abandoned building that used to be a museum). We followed the road past a small parking area and onto a shoddy old wooden staircase that went through a grassy hill. The stairs led all the way to the top of the hill to what seemed to once have been a guest house, now abandoned. From the very top, the view was breathtaking with a full view of the mountain.

This is the road we walked up to get to the viewing point. Just cross the main road, look for the ‘Fukuya’ sign…

…and then walk up the hill until you reach the old wooden stairs in the grass (after passing the small makeshift parking area)…

Once you get to the top, the view is amazing…

I don’t know if we’re just lucky or whether we have developed special travel instincts, but once again everything turned out better than we could have hoped for. As the sun set, we headed on to Kyoto, having seen Mount Fuji on a budget and in just a day.

I think this is by far the best place to see Mount Fuji on a budget. For less than $40 you can go from Tokyo to Lake Motohakone and back!

If you would like some more info on how to find the ‘viewing point’ just drop me a message!

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