Riding Fuji’s Five Lakes

Saiko
Reading time: 7 minutes

Once the COVID-19 ‘State of Emergency’ allowed general travel out of prefecture in mid June, I decided I’d do a short day trip, and do a run I hadn’t done before – to visit all of Mount Fuji’s five main lakes. Admittedly the weather forecast was for overcast moving to rain, but when you have a day off, fresh out of travel restrictions, you just take the opportunity to ride.

The area of the Fuji five lakes (富士五湖 – Fujigoko) is broadly around the northern base of Mount Fuji at about 1,000 meters above sea level. The five lakes are: Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko and Motosuko. The ‘ko’ on the end designates ‘lake’ in Japanese. There are a few other lakes in the area, but these are considered the ‘Five Lakes of Fuji’.

I kicked off at the east end of the Doushi road, fresh off the Ken-O expressway, and ready to get around some corners. It’s a nice road, winding, but not full on twisty, with farms, mountains and small towns along the way. One of the decent places to stop along the way is the Michi No Eki, and given my fondness for these places, you know I’ll be making a stop there. The place was quite empty as expected, but there was an old Honda NM4, with some manga vinyl wraps applied which was getting some attention. I also saw a stuffed deer head in the back of a small kei van, which you don’t often see. I did take a photo, but I’m not sure some people may want to see it here! OK, a commenter (Touge!) did ask, so I added it to the gallery at the end.

Michi No Eki
Michi No Eki

Back on the road and en route to to the first lake on the list, Yamanaka-ko. It’s a large lake, and as such, has quite a bit of formal parking around, and on a clearer day you get much better views of Mt. Fuji. Today, the car-parks were empty, the sky was grey and the cloud was low. But hey, I’m still out on the bike, so that’s all we need. Social distancing was not an issue for most of the day, and whilst I did see a tea shop open, I went for my flask.

Yamanakako
Yamanakako

Next up, lake-wise, was Kawaguchiko. It’s a nice open lake and one of the more tourist friendly with its various attractions and nearby town, so if you want to make a stop for things such as museums and ropeways on the route, this is the place. When you have a lot of hills and mountains like Japan, that’s a lot of excuses for ropeways. I approve. I’ve ridden around here quite a few times, and once again took the bridge over, giving me a look around for a minute before hitting the north shore, taking a left and then a small road to a boat rental place overlooking the lake, just a stone’s throw from the ‘Music Forest Museum‘, which I’ve never been to myself, but I’m told is very good.

Kawaguchiko
Kawaguchiko

Watching a lake is quite therapeutic as it happens, perhaps even more so after riding, and with tea in hand, the stillness of the place after all those curves and corners was a nice contrast. Again, helped by the fact that it seemed virtually no-one else was around. The last few kilometres had been mainly urban through the town, but from here out, it’d be mainly backroads.

Saiko
Saiko

The next lake, Saiko, is a very short hop from Kawaguchiko. Its name means ‘West Lake’ and to get away from car parks, I pulled over at a fishing spot and went down a gravel road to the shore. In more normal times (or in better weather) you can rent a small row boat to go and fish. As, it was there was a couple of fishermen and a couple of photographers setting up for shots over what really was a great vista. I stayed for a bit, chatted at distance with a photographer who clearly knew what he was doing, whilst I snapped away like a lunatic. I’d stopped at the very west end of the lake, and made up of a small cluster of houses, a hotel and some fishing gear rental places, was Saikonishi, which means West Lake West. They nailed that name for sure.

Saiko
Saiko

The next lake was also the smallest, Shoujiko, and since Route 139 also bypasses the lake itself, it seems to be one of the less commercial. It’s got that ‘left out’ feel to it. The few fishing areas are smaller, less developed, but I will say, it’s got the better shoreline to ride around in my opinion, even if it isn’t that long. This is also where I almost made a mistake. Well, I did make a mistake, but I managed to avoid disaster. I decided that like at Saiko, I would ride down to the shore and take some photos. However, this was not Saiko’s even gravel, too late I saw it was basically rocks, and the descent was a mite steeper than expected too. I decided it was better to go with it rather than try to change line mid way, and I managed to keep the bike upright, but it was a little wobbly there for a second, I won’t lie. My mistake – I’d misread the line, the Tracer isn’t a dual sport, and I’m not an experienced off-road rider, but we made it. That aside, the lakeshore was calm and quiet, with row boats up-ended as if off season, and whilst being small it doesn’t offer the panorama the other lakes do. It did though pass the test of being a nice place to sit and have a cup of tea (again).

Going back up the track though, I walked it first this time, picked a good line, got on top of the revs a bit more, stood on the pegs, and made easy work of it. A reminder for sure. To add to it, I didn’t get much in the way of even a half decent photo.

Motosuko
Motosuko

The last of the lakes is Motosuko. This is another which is more low key it seems, though riding around it was quite relaxing. I stopped at a small car park because there was a toilet near by (if you just had to know), and chatted with the owners of a nearby kiosk which was old style place, selling various buckets and spades, drinks and ice cream, but it really wasn’t clear initially if it was open or not. The shoreline near where I stopped was part sand, part wetland, with some birds patrolling for food. Taking a bit of a walk, I did find the above boat, which I took as a homage to the Yellow Submarine song, but it may also have been influenced by a million childrens bathtub toys. Either way, it wasn’t in usage the day I was there, and yes, I was a bit disappointed. Next time perhaps.

After yet another cup of tea, it was time to say goodbye to the lakes, and to head home. I don’t like retreading ground if I can avoid it, so I headed south around the west side of Mt. Fuji, more meandering roads, and so little traffic, and even when I’d reached the 138, cutting further down through Hakone, there was just local traffic and by then it was quite relaxing. It had also started raining a little since I left Motosuko, so in some ways I was glad I hadn’t opted for an expressway to eastern Kanagawa, but it meant no sunset in the mirrors, which for some reason seem to look nicer than normal.

I enjoyed the day out, loved the lakes and the riding in between. However even being out of State of Emergency, the places were empty, which robbed them of a certain atmosphere, with few people or shops open. That’s a shame, since random meetings and conversations are often nice interludes on a ride. As it was, I’d planned the day to be done on a single tank of fuel to reduce the need for interactions on fill ups (my local place is self service) for social distancing.

Whilst it’s good riding is back to being more open to longer runs, social distancing and other measures will be around for a while, so it’ll be interesting to see how these interactions evolve. Knowing how friendly people are, I expect it’d get back to as it was to some extent, albeit it 2metres apart, and with face masks.

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