Around the northern foot of Mt. Fuji there lies five lakes: Yamanaka-ko, Kawaguchi-ko, Sai-ko, Shoji-ko, and Motosu-ko. A long time ago, lava flows from the volcanic eruption of Mt. Fuji spread across the area, damming up rivers and forming these lakes. Of the five lakes, Lake Motosu, Lake Shoji and Lake Sai share the same underground water source. This is why the water level in the three lakes rises and falls to the same degree.
Lake Yamanaka (Yamanaka-ko)
The largest of the five lakes, Yamanakako is also the third highest lake in Japan. It’s very popular in the summer, and attracts many young people for windsurfing, boating, horseback riding, and golf among other outdoor activities. Due to the growing popularity of tennis, they have recently added more tennis courts. Hiking trails can be found around the lake as well. Hirano is a village on the east coast of Yamanaka, and a popular place for tennis enthusiasts in the summer. There are nearly 1,300 tennis courts! There are plenty of accommodations in the area. From Hirano you can explore the Tokai Nature Trail which takes you along the ridge of Mt. Ohira and rises to the north of Lake Yamanaka. The three and a half hour course is along a plain where you can enjoy views of the lake and Mt. Fuji.
Oshino Village, near Yamanakako, is famous for its beautiful scenery and natural hot springs. Hakkai translates to eight ponds, and refers to those designated as National Natural Treasures in the Oshino area. Water from Mt. Fuji’s snow melts through the ground and feeds these ponds with clear, fresh spring water, which has an average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit). Many photographers come to the area to capture the rice fields around the village.
The climate and clear water is also ideal for growing buckwheat, and Oshino Soba is famous for its excellent taste and firmness. The Oshino Plateau is situated at the northern foot of Mt. Fuji and is surrounded by mountains. The Katsura River and its tributary, the Shinmesho river, flow through the village of Oshino, but because there is such an abundance of spring water, the rivers are high throughout the year and there is little change in the flow and temperature of the water.
Refreshing breezes blow across the plateau, which is rich in animal and plant life. Nijumagari Pass, at 1,155 meters atop the Shishidome Trail, is ideal for enjoying views of Mt. Fuji and is a popular starting point for hikers. In the Spruce Forest located near the boundary of Yamanakako village, some of the trees are nearly 250 years old. This forest is designated a national monument, and Spruce trees of this size are rarely found anywhere in the world. Kaneyama Waterfall, towards Fujiyoshida, is another scenic place to visit.
Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchi-ko)
Kawaguchiko lies at the center of the other lakes, and because of the location, it makes a good base for exploring the area around Mt. Fuji. There are many things to do such as fishing, windsurfing, boating and cycling. Many famous photos and paintings have been inspired by the view of Mt. Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi. Unoshima is the only island in any of the lakes. Even though it is uninhabited, barbecues and camping is available in the summer.
The annual Kojosai Festival (August 5th) features a fireworks display that is the biggest in the area. The Nature Observation Trail can be enjoyed year round. From mid-June to late-July, Yagisaki Park is filled with the rich hues of lavender in bloom. It is also the central location of the Kawaguchiko Herb Festival. You can hike to the top of Tenjoyama (1100 meters) or take the Kawaguchi Ropeway from the lakeside to the top in about three minutes. Many visitors prefer hiking back to the bottom, which takes about 30 minutes. The ropeway takes you from Funatsuhama, on the east shore, to the top of Mt. Tenjo to the east. It’s about 400 yen one-way and 700 yen round trip. Yaen Park is a natural preserve where you can see some Nihonzaru (Japanese monkeys).
Lake Sai (Sai-ko)
This quiet lake has been coined “The Lake of the Maiden”, and is known for its clear blue water. Many young people and families come here for windsurfing, water-skiing, boating and camping. Fishing is also good. The lake contains trout, herabuna (crucian carp), and black bass. Koyo-dai (Maple Hill), near Lake Sai, is particularly beautiful in fall when maples and other deciduous trees display their dazzling colors.
Aokigahara Jukai Forest spreads across sixteen kilometers from Lake Sai and Shoji to Lake Motosu. This densely covered forest is the home of Japanese hemlocks, hinoki cypresses, beech trees and firs that are at least 300 years old. There are good hiking trails where you can enjoy great views of Fuji, such as the Tokai Shinzen Hodo trail that connects Maple hill, Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Lava Cave. Camping is available at campsites around the lake. At the foot of Mt. Fuji there are many caves to explore. Among them, Fugaku Fuketsu is a 200-meter long wind cave that was formed by Mt. Fuji’s volcanic activity. Narusawa Hyoketsu is a 150-meter long ice cave also made by Fuji’s volcanic activity. The water is frozen even in the summer. Both caves are located in Aokigahara Jukai. Forest Park is an ideal place for bird watching or having a barbecue with friends. The park is located on the west side of Saiko where there is an observatory equipped with telescopes.
Lake Motosu (Motosuko)
The water temperature of Motosuko, the ninth deepest in lake in Japan, never gets below 39 degrees Fahrenheit, thus making it the only one of the five lakes that doesn’t freeze in the winter. Motosuko, along with Saiko and Shojiko, was formed by lava flows crawling across, what is now Aokigahara Jukai Forest, and into the enormous lake that once dominated the area. These three lakes are still connected by underground waterways. The image on the five thousand yen note is a photo taken from Motosuko. Mt. Ryugatake stands beside the lake and keeps a watchful eye. To the southwest of the lake and the border between Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, lies the Fujigane Ranch area. Camping is available. Other places of interest include Lake Motosu Shingen Shiseki and Fujimi Park.
Lake Shoji (Shoji-ko)
This is the smallest of the five lakes with an average depth of just 3.7 meters. Mt. Omuro (1447meters) rests just beyond the lake in the forest surrounding Mt. Fuji. Activities include spring fishing, windsurfing, cycling, hiking, camping in summer and wakasugi, (ice fishing), in winter. Panoramadai is a famous spot located on a ridge between Shojiko and Motosuko. It’s about 1,345 meters high and was named for its spectacular vistas.