1. How to Get to the Chureito Pagoda from Tokyo to see Mount Fuji

    The one thing I had never managed to do in Japan despite numerous attempts over the years and many visits is to see Mount Fuji. On our recent two week trip when the weather was beautiful every day, I was so hopeful of seeing Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka for the first time ever (the weather had always been bad every other time) but I failed yet again.

    We had never intended to visit the Chureito Pagoda on this trip but we quickly had to come up with an alternative plan for one of our last days in Japan when we had to cancel our day trip to Nagano and the Snow Monkey Park at the last minute – the weather had been so hot that no monkeys had been spotted at the park all week! Only a few weeks previously, we had watched a video on the brilliant Abroad in Japan You Tube channel about his many attempts to see Mount Fuji. So using his video as inspiration and after doing some quick research on Google sitting in our hotel room, we decided to head out of Tokyo to the Chureito Pagoda the following day to see if we could finally see that famous and iconic view of Mount Fuji.

    The Chureito Pagoda is located in Arakurayama Sengen Park near the city of Fujiyoshida. The closest railway station is Shimoyoshida on the private Fujikyu Railway. You cannot use your Japan Rail Pass on this line but you can use it to travel the majority of the journey from Tokyo to Otsuki where you can buy a separate ticket and transfer to the Fujikyu Line for the last part of the journey.

    On the day itself, we made our way from Shiodome where we were staying in Tokyo to Shinjuku Station to get the Kaiji Limited Express train to Otsuki which runs once every hour. I had looked up train times in advance using the Hyperdia website so we made sure we got there in plenty of time. There are both Reserved and Non-Reserved Seats available on this train and even though seat reservations are free with a Japan Rail Pass, we did not use this service and simply got to the platform early and were first in line for one of the Non-Reserved carriages which were clearly marked with signs on the ground as well as on the displays on the side of the train itself.

    If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, the fare for the Kaiji Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Otsuki is ¥2970 (£21/US$27).

    Once on the train, we ate breakfast which we had bought at one of the convenience stores at Shinjuku Station but there was also a trolley service available if you wanted to purchase anything. Our train left Shinjuku on time at 9:30am and after four stops and 67 minutes later, arrived in Otsuki at 10:37am.

    Once at Otsuki, the transfer for the Fujikyu Railway was incredibly easy and because Otsuki is a gateway to the Mount Fuji area, there are English signs everywhere. It seemed that the majority of the people from the Kaiji train were also transferring so there was a long line at the ticket machines but this moved quickly as there were lots of staff available to assist people with buying tickets if needed. Most people were rushing to buy tickets for the Fujisan View Express which was departing at 10:50am but as this train does not stop at Shimoyoshida where we wanted to go, we could wait to one side until the crowds disappeared before buying our tickets.

    Buying a ticket was very simple and took no time at all – all the stations on the Fujikyu Railway are listed on a board above the ticket machines and the number in the circle next to the station name is the fare you have to pay and payment is cash only. The fare from Otsuki to Shimoyoshida was ¥960 (£6.90/US$8.80) and children up to the age of ten travel at half price. You can also use your Suica, Pasmo or Icoca IC Card to pay for your train fare – just remember to tap your card in and out at Otsuki and Shimoyoshida Stations.

    As Otsuki is at the end of the Fujikyu Railway line, all trains travel in the same direction towards Kawaguchiko. The train we needed to get to Shimoyoshida was the 11:07am which was already waiting at the platform – once again I cannot recommend the Hyperdia website enough to help you plan train travel whilst in Japan. Our train was Thomas the Tank Engine themed in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Thomas Land – one of the areas of the Fuji-Q Highland theme park which can be reached using the Fujikyu Railway. As the majority of people had caught the earlier Fujisan View Express train, this train was very quiet. The journey from Otsuki to Shimoyoshida was thirteen stops and took 45 minutes.

    Once the train arrived at Shimoyoshida at 11:52am, the ease and simplicity of this trip continued as there was not only signs in English pointing you in the right direction of Arakurayama Sengen Park and the Chureito Pagoda but also a detailed map with photos showing you the way! It really is impossible to go in the wrong direction or get lost.

    From leaving Shimoyoshida Station, you will need to take an immediate right and walk a short distance before crossing over the railway line.

    Once across the railway line, you will need to turn left and follow the path. At the end of the path when you reach the road and the elevated highway, turn left again. Once again there are signs on the pavements and signs at all the turns pointing you in the right direction the whole way.

    A little further up the road, turn right underneath the elevated highway and walk straight ahead up the small uphill road.

    The entrance to Arakurayama Sengen Park is located on the right side of the road – the walk to this point from Shimoyoshida Station took us just under ten minutes. There is no entrance fee to Arakurayama Sengen Park so visiting the Chureito Pagoda is free of charge.

    There are steps and a path leading underneath a large torii gate to the entrance of Arakurayama Sengen Shrine. In this area you will also find toilets as well as a van selling drinks and snacks. If you don’t already have a bottle of water and it’s a hot day, buy one as you will soon be very grateful for it.

    There are also benches in this area where on a clear day you would be able to see sit and look at Mount Fuji but all I could see at this time was the rollercoasters at the nearby Fuji-Q Highland theme park but nothing else. We still had to get to the Chureito Pagoda so I was keeping my fingers crossed that the cloud would soon clear by the time we got there.

    The walk up to the Chureito Pagoda is the hardest part of the whole journey as it involves climbing up 398 steps. It took us ten minutes and was not too difficult and we made several stops on the way up for photos and to have a drink of water as it was a warm day. There is also a small sloping path up to the Pagoda for those who cannot manage steps.

    After climbing all of those stairs, the Chureito Pagoda is a beautiful sight to see. The pagoda is also known as the Fujiyoshida Cenotaph Monument and was built as a peace memorial in 1963. The leaves on the trees surrounding it were all turning to beautiful autumnal colours though I’ve read that the most popular time to visit is during the Cherry Blossom season.

    To get to the viewing area where you can (hopefully) see the iconic view of the Chureito Pagoda and Mount Fuji, there is a small signposted uphill path leading to a seating area and that view. There was already a number of people here with everyone sitting and waiting for Mount Fuji to appear.

    We reached this point at 12:35pm which was three hours after we left Tokyo. At this time, the top of Mount Fuji was completely hidden by the clouds but they were moving quickly so along with everyone else, we sat and waited and hoped that we would soon get a glimpse of the view we wanted and travelled so far to see. Would I after all these years finally see Mount Fuji?

    Well it took a little wait, but slowly the clouds started to clear and the top of Mount Fuji finally came into view. Despite the number of people around us, there was complete silence as everyone enjoyed the sight of Mount Fuji and took photos. Even though it was not a completely clear view, I was more than happy and I know that I would go straight back to the Chureito Pagoda on a future trip to try and see it again. I’ve read that the best time to see and photograph Mount Fuji from the Chureito Pagoda is first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon and the time of the year makes a big difference too – from seeing photos online, I think it looks most beautiful in winter with the snow.

    We sat watching Mount Fuji for about an hour before thick clouds rolled in and completely blocked our view. We stopped for an ice cream at the bottom of the 398 stairs (which were much easier to walk down than to walk up) before making our way back towards Shimoyoshida Station. Once again I used Hyperdia to check train times and we had to wait just under thirty minutes before the next train back to Otsuki which was at 2:43pm. For this trip on the Fujikyu Railway, we used our Suica Cards to pay for our journey back to Otsuki and the fare was ¥960.

    We arrived in Otsuki at 3:26pm and waited for the next Kaiji Limited Express train at 4:01pm back to Shinjuku. There was an earlier connection to Tokyo using the JR Chuo Line to Takao and then changing to the Chuo Rapid Service to Shinjuku but this journey takes thirty minutes longer so waiting an extra ten minutes for a quicker direct train made much more sense – we arrived back in Shinjuku at 5:06pm.

    A trip to the Chureito Pagoda to see Mount Fuji really is a perfect day out from Tokyo. Have fun.

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