Magical Wonderland by the Mountain

Still on our road trip through Japan, this final blog post is about a little less travelled place for most tourists to Japan. Starting on our journey from Tokyo to the central north of Honshu Island, we had stopped at Yamanouchi where the Snow Monkeys live, and made a westward turn towards Matsumoto, home of the Crow Castle. Heading south from Matsumoto, we were making our way back to Tokyo with a stop near Mt. Fuji.

There are several options on where to stay in the vicinity of Mt. Fuji. The topmost place for most tourists is Hakone with it’s many lakes, geothermal park and onsen resorts. Having been to Hakone a couple times before through day tours from Tokyo, we were not very keen to revisit and decided to try something new. The prices of hotels in Hakone can be expensive and dining options are quite limited especially for dinner as a lot of the restaurants in the area close early.

So we booked ourselves accommodation at a local resort called Gotemba Kogen Toki No Sumika (what a mouthful). Located near the town of Gotemba at the foot of Mt. Fuji, this is a leisure resort that mainly caters to the Japanese. Our rental car’s GPS led us to it, although we got a bit lost finding the right parking lot as the resort is quite large and spread out over a wide area.

What so special about this resort? Quite a lot actually. From October to March the resort turns into a magical wonderland with millions of lights brightening up the night in a brilliant display. Besides the light display, there is also a musical fountain at night, sports facilities, onsen facilities, several shops, restaurants and even a microbrewery.

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A panoramic view of Gotemba Kogen Toki No Sumika resort. There are 3 types of lodgings you can choose from. There is the standard business hotel (in the far right side of the photo) which features the usual hotel rooms, then there is Blueberry Lodge (white buildings in the foreground) which is like a small duplex townhouse, and finally Slowhouse Villa which is chalet style (just behind Blueberry Lodge).
Blueberry
We chose to stay at Blueberry Lodge which consists of apartment style townhouses. Top left: The welcome sign at the check-in office. Top right: Each townhouse consists of 4 apartments. There is no lift for the upper floor, so if you have heavy luggage it could be troublesome to lug them up. Bottom right: The entry hallway into our apartment. Bottom left: Each apartment has 5 beds, 1 toilet and bath, and a small living area.
Slowhouse
Slowhouse Villa is more suitable for large families or groups. Top left: Each villa can accommodate up to 7 persons in a communal style room. Top right: The villas come in 2 styles. Here is a teddy bear theme. Bottom right: Another theme is the Little Prince. Bottom left: There is a communal laundry and washing area.

So depending on the size of your group and your preference, you can choose from a standard hotel room to a large chalet.

As for the main attraction which is the winter illumination display, it’s a feast for the eyes as millions of lights brighten up the winter nights.

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At the main entrance of the resort is a large tree covered in lights and also the ground around it.
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The main attraction is the tunnel of light. Stretching around 500m long, this  pathway is covered by millions of LED lights giving the impression that you are walking through a tunnel. Along the way, there are various light sculptures which you can take photos with.
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Close up of some of the light ornaments that hang from the ceiling of the tunnel.
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I finally managed to get a shot without anyone in it.
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At the end (or beginning) of the tunnel there are restaurants, a supermarket and more lighted scenery.

Besides the tunnel of light, there is a paid musical fountain performance. The fees are 1000/adult and 200/child.

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The musical fountain performance is on top of a small hill inside the resort. Top left: Attendants at the entrance give out umbrellas since you may get wet when the wind blows the spray from the fountain into the viewing area. Top right: A night time view of the resort. Slowhouse Villas are just below and lighted up too. Bottom left and right: The musical fountain performance.
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Being just at the foot of Mt.Fuji, you get to enjoy spectacular views of the mountain everyday.
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I even got to see snow flurries being blown off the summit of Mt Fuji on a clear day.

Around the Area

Besides the resort itself, there are other places nearby that you can visit. These will probably require that you have a car as public transport seems to be rather lacking around here.

Gotemba Premium Outlets

If shopping is your thing  then this is the place for you. This is like the premium factory outlets that you find in USA selling branded goods at discounted prices.

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Only a 15 minutes drive from Gotemba Kogen resort is Gotemba Premium Outlets. Come here if you want to max out your credit card.
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Gotemba Premium Outlets is also at the foot of Mt. Fuji and you can get good views while you shop.

Ski Parks

There are a couple of ski resorts along the slopes of Mt. Fuji and you can easily drive to any of them. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour’s drive to get there from Gotemba Kogen resort. Along the way, you will need to pay a toll fee to enter Mt. Fuji.

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We visited Yeti Snowtown which is one of the closest to Gotemba Resort.
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We could see Mt. Fuji from the ski resort.
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The snow is basically made through snow machines and because of this, Yeti Snowtown is open every season even as early as October.
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It’s really a small ski resort and unless you are here for skiing, spending at most 1 hour here is sufficient just for playing with snow.

Mt. Fuji

If you haven’t been up Mt. Fuji, then you can drive up to near the summit. There are 5 stations (1 being lowest, and 5 being highest) along the route, and the higher stations may be closed depending on weather and conditions on the mountain.

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The 5th station is the highest point that vehicles can go. To reach the summit you have to trek there. In winter, the 5th station is usually closed due to heavy snow, so check before you go.

Hakone

This is the more popular place for most visitors. With it’s gorgeous scenery and geothermal park, it’s the obvious choice if you haven’t been there before. There are hotels and ryokans available for visitors to stay. Checking recently, there are also many villas and houses available for rental in Airbnb and these may prove a more economical choice if you have a big group.

It’s around 30 minutes drive from Gotemba to Hakone, so you can probably do this in a day trip or make it part of your stay.

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A visit to Hakone usually involves a cruise on Lake Ashi followed by a cable car ride up to the top of Mt. Komagatake for a view of the whole area.
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Owakudani or the Great Boiling Valley is another popular place to visit due to the many boiling hot sulphurous springs here where eggs are lowered into the boiling water to cook, resulting in black shells due to the chemical reaction between the shell and the sulphurous water. However, this place is closed since 2016 due to increased volcanic activity.

Temples

There are several temples and shrines in the area. Visiting one of these can be rewarding not only spiritually but in terms of great photography opportunities. One of the popular temples near Gotemba is the Peace Park.

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The Peace Park has a huge stupa which houses Buddha’s ashes. These were presented by one of India’s Prime Ministers, Nehru.
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You get beautiful views of Mt. Fuji from the Peace Park.

Getting to Gotemba Kogen Toki No Sumika

From Tokyo, you can take a direct train from Shinjuku station to Gotemba Station, then take the resort’s free shuttle bus or a taxi from Gotemba Station.

As the resort caters mainly to Japanese tourists, I couldn’t book it on the usual hotel booking websites, instead you have to email them directly to book a room. Their website seems to be revamped and caters to English speaking visitors now.

 

3 thoughts on “Magical Wonderland by the Mountain

  1. Wow, so many fun things to do around that part of Japan. I used to live near the bottom of Mt. Fuji, and I didn’t do all of these things. I did see the light display though, and I climbed Mt. Fuji a few years ago!

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