Tokyo On The Go: Maximum Relaxation Near Mt. Fuji

IMG_2437One of the highlights of this trip (or any of the other Japanese trips I’ve taken) was an overnight stay at an amazing onsen near Mount Fuji called Kozantei Ubuya, some 80 miles southwest of Tokyo. This was another pre-trip research find, and online I saw a beautiful, classically-designed ryokan (inn) on the shores of a beautiful lake. Best, Mount Fuji loomed majestically in the background … SOLD!

For those of you not familiar with the concept of an onsen, it’s a term for natural hot springs, though it is often used to describe the bathing facilities and ryokans around the hot springs. Onsens are very popular in Japan for their rejuvenating effects and natural hot springs are numerous. Every region of the country has its share of hot springs and resort towns.

IMG_2531From a well-being perspective, the different minerals from the natural hot springs provide many health benefits, and all hot springs have the obvious relaxing effect on your body and mind. Believe me, your first dip in a perfectly hot, mineral spring bath and you instantly feel the outside world melt away. And from the moment you enter Kozantei Ubuya everything from the classic Japanese ambience to the soothing baths all help to deliver not only an intensely relaxing experience, but a uniquely Japanese one as well.

So on a cloudy Wednesday we boarded a bus in Shinjuku bound for the little town of Kawaguchico where Kozantei Ubuya is located. It started raining hard about halfway thru the 2-hour bus ride from Tokyo, and judging by mist in the hills, the prospect of actually seeing Mount Fuji was looking increasingly dim. DOH! Three visits to japan and I’ve yet to see Mount Fuji.

IMG_2602After arriving at the bus station at Kawaguchiko Station we decided to forgo the free shuttle to the inn and take the thirty-minute walk along Lake Kawaguchi to the ryokan, even though it was still raining hard. But the walk along the lake is beautiful, and being from drought-ravaged California, where the last significant rainfall was December 2014, we really appreciated walking in a heavy rainfall. Still, by the time we got to the ryokan (below), we were a little wet and tired after the long bus ride.

IMG_2588But from the moment we entered the lobby, shaking out umbrellas as we went, we felt at home, like we had arrived. Low but rich lighting, wood elements, classic Japanese interior design and architecture combined with the constantly falling rain to create an quiet ambience of relaxation. The interior of the inn was a celebration of simple and elegant design, with splashes of color and always interesting Japanese aesthetics interspersed with the wood finishes. The staff, of course, was friendly, polite and helpful.

IMG_2557A greeting area near the lobby.

IMG_2376The dining area with killer views of Lake Kawaguchi

IMG_2378The lounge area, which served various functions given the time of day. Here, it’s fresh afternoon juices, tea, and mineral water from Mount Fuji.

IMG_2373With its comfy chairs and view of Lake Kawaguchi, the lounge is a popular place for kicking back to read a book, take a little snooze, or both.

IMG_2380Interesting floral designs were a big part of the inn’s aesthetics.

IMG_2395Exploring the ryokan was fun … interesting touches everywhere. Here’s an outdoor garden, glistening in the rain.

IMG_2579An attendant cares for the inn’s plant and floral designs.

IMG_2404This cool design aesthetic was right outside of my room.

IMG_2286Speaking of rooms, mine was really beyond what I had imagined, and world’s above what I had seen online. Again, maximum Japanese simplicity. The room was much larger than I had imagined with a big deck overlooking the lake and a private onsen in the corner of the deck. A traditional table, cushion chairs and tatami mats made up part of the living area, the other part was dominated by a giant, intensely comfy couch lined with thick pillows.

IMG_2300

_ASC3997The living area with its massive couch and multitude of comfy pillows. You can’t see it, but there’s a big screen TV on the left hand side of the living area. The TV got some use late at night, because watching Japanese game shows without knowing the language is a hoot!

_ASC3934Best of all, a private onsen on the deck, overlooking the lake. Unfortunately, I cannot share pics of the public onsen because it was the only part of the ryukan where photography was prohibited but having a private bath on the deck of the room was just as good.

IMG_2413Yours truly, taking in the rainy day scene at Lake Kawaguchi.

In the pic above I’m wearing the traditional samue, or Japanese casual room wear, which was standard issue dress code at the inn. Most men and women wore the samue when around the inn, whether at dinner, relaxing in the lounge, or making your way to the public onsen … maybe because they’re so darn comfy! You also have the choice of wearing a one-piece, ankle-length bathrobe type of garment called a yukuta, but I preferred the samue, because it looked really cool!

The evening brought dinner, which is so amazing, it will have it’s own post. Here’s a tease:

IMG_2456 A veggie/sashimi salad. Note how various characteristics of this dish are shaped like Mount Fuji.

IMG_2469This amazing ball of gelatin was filled with tiny clams, shrimp and cockles. I can’t even begin to describe the flavor!

IMG_2479The lounge at night.

IMG_2501The onsen got plenty of use, especially at night when the cool winds and mist blew down from the mountains. The onsen was illuminated at night, and the colors would subtly change from red to green to blue to yellow.

IMG_2493The center tatami mat area at night. Thanks to the traditional sliding wooden panel doors, the rooms could be configured for size, light or privacy. At night, thick panels could be slid out to cover the deck door and window, making the entire space nearly pitch black, which made going to the bathroom in the middle of the night something of a challenge. Speaking of which, the bathroom always smelled of a light incense.

_ASC3969Misty morning on Lake Kawaguchi. This pic was taken at 6 a.m., because when you’re in the lap of luxury, you don’t want to spend any more time sleeping than you have to. There’s nothing like sipping coffee while soaking in a hot mineral water onsen to start your day!

IMG_2518The rain began to taper off as the morning progressed and had pretty much stopped by the 11 o’clock a.m. check out time. So after a traditional Japanese breakfast (above) and a last soak in the onsen, we once again walked back to the bus station in nearby Kawaguchiko, and there was plenty to see along the way.

IMG_2591 Parking lot attendant.

IMG_2625 Fishermen on Lake Kawaguchi.

IMG_2642 A sign outside of a restaurant that serves pork, chicken and beef.

IMG_2273Laughing Buddha.

IMG_2645A weird sprite/rabbit hybrid across the street from the Kawaguchiko bus station.

Thanks to the rain, mist and heavy clouds I never did get to see Mount Fuji, but after completely immersing myself in the entire wonderful ryokan experience, not seeing the mountain hardly seemed to matter at all. That will have to wait until a return visit, because I’m definitely coming back, only not in July and the summer rainy season.

Which seems like a great time to mention costs. Suffice to say that the deluxe overnight package I bought was not cheap … $750.00 U.S. dollars (¥8990) for an overnight stay that included the big room with private onsen, traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast in a private room, and all of the other amenities of the ryokan, including full use of the public onsens.

Fun fact: The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji, 湯 (yu, meaning “hot water”)

I’m not usually that big of a spender, but after ten months of working as a contractor, in April my work converted me to full time employee. So this visit was my reward to myself for the achievement of a major goal, the type of indulgence a guy can make when his financial future is finally set. And to me, the experience was worth every penny.

IMG_2362

But don’t let that put you off. Kozantei Ubuya has a number of other packages at varying cheaper prices, depending on the amenities you choose for your visit. Be aware that a Mount Fuji view will be on the pricier side. Also, the area along Lake Kawaguchi is rimmed with many ryokan that offer similar packages at more budget-friendly prices.

Round trip bus tickets from Shinjuku Bus Station to Kawaguchiko run about $40 U.S. dollars (that’s ¥4960) per person. It’s best to reserve a few days in advance. The map below points out the Shinjuku bus station.

Bottom line: highly recommended. I intend on doing it all over again in my next visit to Japan, which will probably be next spring. Only next time, I hope to get clear weather so I can finally see Mount Fuji!

About Stephen Kelly Creative

Hi, I'm Stephen Kelly, a writer, editor, photographer and graphic designer living in beautiful San Francisco, CA, USA. Amongst the things I love are writing, photography, movies, music, fitness, travel, Batman, all things Australian, food and fun, all of which I hope to reflect in this here blog. Welcome aboard ... now let's get busy!
This entry was posted in Japan, Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, Stephen Kelly Creative, Stephen Kelly Photography, Tokyo, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Tokyo On The Go: Maximum Relaxation Near Mt. Fuji

  1. discoveling says:

    Nice and interesting post. The photos are also great!🙂

  2. Sue says:

    Sounds a great experience, Stephen! What times of the year have you been unlucky regarding seeing that mountain?

    • Hi Sue … and thanks for stopping by! My first two trips to Tokyo were in September, and the first time (2011) the haze of heat and humidity kept me from seeing the mountain from observation towers and buildings, the second time (2013) a proposed day trip on the last day of my visit was nixed because I wanted to stay in Tokyo and not spend four hours on the bus to and from the mountain. And this time rain and mist obscured the mountain, which as I said, was okay. July is rainy season in Japan, btw.

  3. SakuraDreams says:

    Absolutely beautiful! I concur – sold! I am workind on a Japan-themed blog at the moment and this post got me excited to move forward. Nice work and thanks for the motivation!

    • Oh wow … that’s so awesome!!! It makes me feel great that my blog has given you such positive inspiration! Actually, I was inspired by all of the great blogs and websites I visited while doing research for my recent trip to Tokyo and my goal is to provide that same kind of “insider knowledge” to folks who may be thinking of visiting Japan. Now, knowing that I’ve motivated you, I feel even more motivated with my own blog. So thank you!!!
      I’d love to see your blog when you’re ready.

      • SakuraDreams says:

        That’s so great to know! I have lots of pictures from Japan when I was there in 2004 and 2010. I hope to share those as well as all my Japanese-related intestests. I’ll let you know when it’s up and running!

  4. This looks like a great getaway — relaxing and beautiful. It’s on my bucket list to visit an onsen, though I would like to go to one in Hokkaido. Someday!🙂

    Hopefully you’ll get to see Mount Fuji on your next trip!

  5. Good luck with the next trip, and congratulations on your promotion! You really know how to live. Looking at the two meals, I have to say that though dinner is intriguing, breakfast looks like the meal I’d really go for (not one so much for fishy things in gelatin). The views are beautiful, and the rooms look delightful. I’m glad you had a good time, and thanks again for sharing your photos.

    • Thanks, Victoria … yah, the past year has been a whirlwind! This was a great way to decompress after a LOT of hard work! I keep meaning to post a blog about my crazy and excellent year!
      I’m not one for gelatinous foods (at all!) but the fishy thing was awesome! I think the setting made me a little more daring!

  6. Gud-Sol says:

    u arrange great post ☺ thanks

  7. Kat says:

    Wow, absolutely beautiful…but I must say, $750 is expensive. Anyway you deserved it, congrats!

    • Hi Kat! Yah, I touch pricey, but like I said, this was a reward to myself for a career goal well done. I’m not normally that extravagant, but it was celebratory money well spent. Just the mental relaxation itself was well worth it!

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