The best reason for heading 100km west from Tokyo towards the area known as FUJI FIVE LAKES is to climb Mount Fuji (富士山), Japan’s most sacred volcano and, at 3776m, its highest mountain. Fuji-san, as it’s respectfully known by the Japanese, has long been worshipped for its latent power (it last erupted in 1707) and near-perfect symmetry; it is most beautiful from October to May, when the summit is crowned with snow. The climbing season is basically July and August; even if you don’t fancy the rather daunting ascent, just getting up close to Japan’s most famous national symbol is a memorable experience. Apart from Fuji-san, the single most interesting sight is the wonderfully atmospheric shrine Fuji Sengen-jinja, in the area’s transport hub of Fuji-Yoshida.
During the summer, the five lakes in the area are packed with urbanites fleeing the city. Kawaguchi-ko is not only a popular starting point for climbing Mount Fuji, but also features a kimono museum and the easily climbable Mount Tenjō, which has outstanding views of Fuji-san and the surrounding lakes. The smallest of the other four lakes, horseshoe-shaped Shōji-ko (精進湖) is by far the prettiest. The largest lake, Yamanaka-ko (山中湖), southeast of Fuji-Yoshida, is just as developed as Kawaguchi-ko and has fewer attractions, while Motosu-ko (本栖湖) and Sai-ko (西湖) – the best for swimming and camping – are fine, but not so extraordinary that they’re worth the trouble of visiting if you’re on a short trip.