How and Where to Take the Best Photos of Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji was one of the greatest draws to Japan for me, and witnessing it from up close proved to be one of my favorite memories from my entire time in the country. Fuji can sometimes be seen from an elevated viewpoint in Tokyo on an extremely clear day, but the best way to really get a killer view of the active volcano is by taking a day trip to Lake Kawaguchi! Here's everything you need to know about getting there from Tokyo.
From Tokyo's Shinjuku Expressway Bus Station, there is a direct bus for about $15 one way ($30 round trip) to Lake Kawaguchi Station. It's a comfortable bus and takes a little less than 2 hours each way. Buses generally leave from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Station every 15-30 minutes and there's no need to buy tickets in advance - simply show up at the station and ask for the next bus to Lake Kawaguchi. If I do have any advice, it would be to buy the round trip ticket straight away at the beginning, since we just barely made it on the last bus back to Tokyo when we wanted to leave Lake Kawaguchi. Give yourself several hours here, we ended up spending 5 or 6 hours including a little side trip to Chureito Pagoda, but more on that later.
I was under the impression that straight from Lake Kawaguchi station, you can walk to the lake and immediately see Mt. Fuji, but this was a mistake. The lake is nearby, but Mt. Fuji is not visible from this section of the lake. Instead, after arriving at Lake Kawaguchi station, immediately head to the tourist office within the station to buy a local bus ticket. The red line bus leaves from the station and can take you to the best viewing point of Mt. Fuji, which is from the Natural Living Center. It's about a 30 minute bus ride from Lake Kawaguchi station to the Natural Living Center, mainly because the bus stops every couple hundred feet for other visitors to get on. They're all heading to the same place, the Natural Living Center for its famed view. From here, there is a stunning, unobstructed viewpoint of the massive, symmetrical volcano. The lake surrounds it to create a simply beautiful scene. My mom and I stared in amazement for a few moments, snapped some photos, and grabbed a hot chocolate at the little storefront because it was freezing!
Though this viewpoint was spectacular of Mt. Fuji, there's an even better view from nearby Chureito Pagoda! To get here, head back to Kawaguchi Station and take the metro to Shimoyoshida Station. It's very close and only takes about a 10-15 minute ride. Once you get off at this station, follow the signs for Arakura Sengen, which will lead you to the base of the stairs that lead up to the Pagoda. Nearly everybody getting off at this station is probably heading to the Pagoda too, so follow other people and it'll be impossible to get lost! It's about a 10 minute walk from the station to the base of the stairs.
Now, let me tell you that these stairs up to Chureito Pagoda are no joke! It was probably 800-1000 or so steps straight up, unrelenting, and everybody around you is most likely gonna be panting and working up a sweat. Luckily it was pretty chilly outside so it wasn't unbearable, but do be aware that it's a decently difficult journey up there! It takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the top, but once there you will be rewarded with a picturesque view of Chureito Pagoda, red and glorious, and Mt. Fuji looming in the background. I was there around the perfect time - sunset - and captured some incredible shots with the sun warming up the scene.
Once you're done gawking at the gorgeous view, head back down to the Shimoyoshida station (following the signs) and make your way back to Kawaguchi Station for the bus back to Tokyo. Again, the whole day takes about 6 hours excluding the 2 hour journey to/from Tokyo, also depending how long you want to take in the views and if you stop for a bite to eat. It was a long day and by the end of it I was exhausted, but it definitely merits a day on any Tokyo itinerary.
A quick note about visibility: The months of May-October generally have very low visibility of Mt. Fuji and you likely won't be able to see it during this time due to rain and fog. November-April are the dry, winter months with generally good visibility, we went during the beginning of January and had a nearly cloudless day!