Makaino Farm is a popular destination for families with children. // © 2014 Monica Poling
Feature image (above): SkyAsagiri presents a paragliding experience with views of Mount Fuji. // © 2014 Monica Poling
If visitors to Japan have been to Mount Fuji, they were most likely visiting Hakone, a scenic area dotted with hot springs.
But Mount Fuji — which last year was included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites — actually straddles two prefectures (i.e., districts governed by a chief officer, similar to a U.S. state). One of these is Shizuoka Prefecture, an area under the radar to American travelers that provides an alternate way to view Mount Fuji — one arguably more scenic, more relaxed, less touristy and more affordable than Hakone.
In the case of Mount Fuji, 25 sites, “which reflect the essence of Fujisan’s sacred and artistic landscape,” were jointly included on the UNESCO World Heritage listing, and many of these sites are located in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Within Shizuoka, the city of Fujinomiya, located at the foot of Mount Fuji, offers an excellent starting point for visitors wanting to take a closer look at Japan’s most famous mountain.
What to Do in Fujinomiya City
Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine
Fujinomiya is home to the most famous shrine in the region, the Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine, which was built in 806 AD and recently celebrated its 1,200th anniversary. The shrine, one of the designated sites in Mount Fuji’s UNESCO inclusion, is the head location of the more than 1,300 shrines that make up the Sengen sect.
Here, the enshrined deity — who is said to be the protectorate of ocean voyages, fishermen, farmers and safe childbirth — attracts a large following. The shrine’s gorgeous grounds are home to more than 300 cherry blossom trees planted to honor the deity, who has the nickname “Princess of Flowering Trees.”
Climb Mount Fuji
Fujinomiya’s proximity to Mount Fuji means that is the perfect jumping-off point for travelers wishing to climb the mountain. Of the five total routes to Mount Fuji’s summit, the Fujinomiya-guchi route is the shortest way to the top. The 5-kilometer route takes four to seven hours to ascend and another three hours for the return trip. Attractions at the summit include the Sengen Taisha Okumiya Shrine, a branch of the Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine, and the Mount Fuji Post Office.
Because of the large amount of snowmelt from Fuji’s summit, Fujinomiya is home to a large number of natural ponds, lakes and waterfalls. The most famous waterfall in the area is Shiraito Falls, another UNESCO-designated site, which rises approximately 65 feet high and stretches nearly 600 feet across. Shiraito was listed among Japan’s “Top 100 Waterfalls” by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.
Adventure enthusiasts will enjoy jumping off a summit directly in front of Mount Fuji on the paragliding experience offered by SkyAsagiri. Skilled paragliders have been known to stay in the air, all the while enjoying the views of Mount Fuji. Newbies can make a tandem jump with an instructor for a ride that lasts about 10 minutes.
Another must-see site near Mount Fuji is Lake Tanuki, a location that is particularly famous for its spectacular views of the mountain. On most clear, calm days, visitors can enjoy a dual view of Mount Fuji, as it reflects perfectly in Lake Tanuki’s still waters. But twice a year in April and August, when the sun rises just behind Mount Fuji’s summit, the sun’s reflection also twinkles back from the lake, a tableau that has been nicknamed “Diamond Fuji.”
Lake Tanuki offers a variety of outdoor activities. There’s a boardwalk surrounding the lake, so visitors can leisurely wander throughout the forested area. The path is also popular with cyclists, with a full circuit taking about 30 minutes to complete. There’s also a wetlands area — the only wetlands at the base of Mount Fuji — that is home to a variety of plants, dragonflies and butterflies.
Far off the radar for most visitors is the charming Makaino Farm, which sits in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Once a dairy farm, the facility struggled to make ends meet until the owners converted it into a public attraction. Now, although the farm still produces dairy from cows and goats, it also boasts a theme park-style list of things to do.
A variety of dining options are located on site, including an excellent buffet restaurant. Specialties here are ice cream as well as a specific style of yakisoba fried noodles that can only be found in Fujinomiya.
The farm has plenty of activities for children, including an extremely popular rent-a-goat area. Families can check out a goat for a select period of time (usually 20 minutes) and children then walk their adopted goat throughout the park.
Where to Stay
Ryokan Tachibana Fujinomiya
This delightful ryokan (traditional inn) features 20 luxurious guestrooms, all of which present stunning views of Mount Fuji via floor-to-ceiling windows. While this is a traditional Japanese inn in every sense, with several outdoor hot springs and authentic Japanese cuisine, it offers a number of special features that make it perfect for Western travelers, especially those unaccustomed to Japanese tradition.
A few rooms provide beds for guests who prefer not to sleep on the floor. There’s also a small elevator, an almost unheard of tool in Japanese ryokan, so guests with mobility issues don’t need to navigate the stairs between the guestrooms and the public areas. The staff members speak limited English but are incredibly warm and will go out of their way to ensure guests have a fantastic experience.