It’s the middle of summer and I step off the overnight bus from Osaka. I was pleasantly surprised by clear blue skies when I expected another typical muggy day in Japan. The destination is Kawaguchi, on the north side of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture.
My companions were a bunch of buddies from Kobe, two experienced campers and three amateurs. Wiping the sleep from our eyes, we marched towards the banks of Lake Kawaguchi where we make our camp.
Situated next to the bridge that spans Lake Kawaguchi, the New Bridge Campsite was where we chose to spend the next three nights. For three nights of camping and access to the amenities, I paid ¥4,000.
As the others were tired from the trip, I elected to go on the first supply run, but I’d need transport. Lucky for me, just down the road from the campsite was the hotel Shiki no Yado Fujisan, which rented me a bike for three days for ¥1,200.
With transport acquired, I happily rode to the nearby co-op store, where I got the provisions for the cookout—we’d be eating shish kebab. Sadly, my companions would not be awake again until the afternoon, so I took my trusty steed on a little solo adventure to a quiet shrine.
Returning from my peaceful but uneventful trip, I saw my friends busying themselves with preparation for the night’s feast. As the sun set over Kawaguchiko, we feasted on buttered potatoes, vegetable hot pocket and char-grilled shish kebab.
A long-awaited journey
We woke the following day to a daunting endeavor. We would ride over the hills to reach the Aokigahara, where we would explore some caves. Thankfully, the journey between Kawaguchi and Sai Bird Park only had one hill to conquer. Despite this, though, we consumed nearly our entire supply of Pocari Sweat on just this first leg.
After we cleared the tunnel connecting the two lakefronts, the rest of the journey was flat. We rode up the right bank to Sai Bird Park. While this part of the track has a slight incline, the primordial mossy, lichen-covered rock forest of Aokigahara is a place out of time. Everything stands still here, leaving nothing but the sounds of the birds.
We emerged pensively from Aokigahara, now on the other side of the lake, where we stopped at the Lake Sai Nature Preserve and Bat Caves. We dismounted, paid our ¥300 entry and equipped our hardhats.
In the lava caves
In the Bat Cave of Lake Sai, the temperature drops instantly. After a few meters of shuffling forward on my butt, our backs were finally given a reprieve as we came to an open chamber.
What was surprising was that it seemed as if we were standing on a riverbank. The rock below us rippled and seemed like it had once been a gushing stream. As it turns out it had…one of magma. As prehistoric as it looked, the basalt river was shockingly young, formed by one of Mount Fuji’s eruptions in 866.
The weather is mild and the scenery is stunning all year round.
We followed the river for a short while but were disappointed to find our bats trapped behind a gate. Unfortunately, tourists are not permitted to meet them. Disappointed, we trekked back to the surface. Our next step was the Dragon Cave, just up the hill a little and hidden deep within the forest.
Under the cover of the rainforest canopy, the humidity returned. Seeking to escape it, we descended into the twilight zone of the Dragon Cave where—after praying to the kami (gods)—we enjoyed the cold cave air and had a picnic of leftover kebab and FamilyMart sandwiches.
Our final day
We made the ride up to Lake Sai once more and we relaxed by the beach. The temperature was a nice 25° Celsius as we reached the Jiyu Campsite. We put our towels next to where the other local campers had put down theirs and raced into the water.
The temperature in the lake was only a few degrees, making it the most refreshing end to a bike ride we could imagine. I splashed around while my friends’ collected rocks from the depths and attempted to find the bottom. Our final stop was an onsen (hot spring) close by the campsite called Izumi Onsen. We relaxed in the giant outdoor bath and let the stress of our travels wash away.
This was my second time in Yamanashi, but my first time camping there and I have to say there isn’t a nicer place I’ve found in all my time in Japan. The locals are kind and always happy to give directions, the weather is mild and the scenery is stunning all year round.
Have you gone camping in Yamanashi Prefecture before? Let us know how it went in the comments!