You expect to enjoy an "Onsen" (hot spring) experience while traveling in Mt. Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes area. This has even greater appeal as it's winter now. So, how would you do it?
Japan’s geological characteristic with over 100 active volcanoes has created a unique by-product onsen, and Mt. Fuji being one of such active volcanoes also has many onsens around it. While the onsen visit can be with all sorts of purposes, when it comes to onsens in Mt. Fuji area, the view of Mt. Fuji available there has a central role of attracting more customers to one over the other.
First of all, what is "Onsen"?
In Japan, hot springs are defined by the Hot Spring Law. It stipulates that a water fountainhead can be accredited as an onsen if it satisfies one or more of the following criteria.
- The water is 25 degrees Celsius or warmer.
- It contains at least one of 19 designated chemical elements at specified values.
This means that anyone who digs underground and finds warm enough water can declare it an onsen, even if it doesn’t contain any of the 19 minerals said to have medicinal effects.
What about the situation in northern foot of Mt. Fuji? It should be the other way around as Yamanashi prefecture is Japan's No.1 producer of mineral water and the Mt. Fuji area is a major source.
Compared with traditional hot spring resorts found in other parts of Japan, onsens in Mt. Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes area are fairly new. For example, the onsens in Fujikawaguchiko were first developed in 1992 and now there are total 5 fountainheads developed to serve local onsen facilities. One can say that they were added as an afterthought to lure more tourists and in doing so, people's conceived image of onsen was taken into consideration, i.e. meeting both criteria by digging underground as deep as 1,500 m to source hot spring water which is heated by geothermal heat. Also, unlike water-rich onsens where water gushes out from the ground naturally, these newly explored hot springs artificially pump water up from underground.
So, the stage is set for enjoying onsen experiences in Mt. Fuji area, ... almost. It's incomplete without the views of Mt. Fuji. This is also true for "Sento" (public bathhouse) which is a facility that offers fee-based bathing, but instead of a real view, a view in the form of a mural painting of Mt. Fuji.
While they became scarce nowadays because the home bath prevailed, there used to be large numbers of sento bathhouses and it was common to those mainly in eastern Japan to have background mural painting in bathing room for guests to enjoy. Especially the mural painting of Mt. Fuji was characteristic of the sento of Tokyo and the suburbs of Kanto region where Mt. Fuji could be seen. So, upon hearing the word sento, many people recall a painted mural of Mt. Fuji.
Onsen facilities, both accommodations with hot spring baths and day-visit types that have no accommodations but are open to all visitors, are scattered throughout the area. As there are many attractions at hotels and inns besides baths and the onsens there are usually for staying guests only, I cover day-visit onsens.
- Fuji Chobo-no-Yu Yurari in Narusawa
This day-visit onsen offers panoramic views of Mt. Fuji from its open-air baths, with 16 different types of baths to choose from including a cave bath. It has a free shuttle service from/to Kawaguchiko Station (reservation required).
- Yamanakako Onsen Benifuji-no-Yu in Yamanakako
This day-visit onsen has outdoor baths with beautiful scenery like a Japanese garden and offers views of Mt. Fuji from the bath. Also, enjoy impressive views of "Benifuji" when it opens early in the morning in winter season.
These above are casual hot spring facilities for bathing and resting for tourists and no special preparation is necessary. For those who are hoping for a traditional onsen culture experience, here is one for you (no view of Mt. Fuji though).
- Yoshinoike Onsen in Fujiyoshida
Established in 1856, this former "Ryokan" (Japanese style inn) is a day-visit hot spring where visitors can experience the taste from the old days such as structure and layout of the building including excellent wooden beams. The black granite bath tub is small and rooms for bathing and changing are not separated, i.e. no wall. It is located a short way from Yoshinoike Onsen-mae Station of Fujikyuko Line.
The onsen visit has been and still is one of the favorite leisure activities for all ages in Japan. Located right by the mountain, having an open-air bath while enjoying the spectacular view of Mt. Fuji is a memorable experience. When you are in Mt. Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes area, enjoy the real view of Mt. Fuji while you soak and relax in an onsen!