Winter is usually a low season for tourism in Mt. Fuji area and your schedule allows only winter time (in Japan) to travel. No worries. You can still find a variety of attractions in the area.
December through March for four months can be considered winter in Mt. Fuji area and January and February are colder snowier midwinter months. Daylight time is short, temperature is low, it snows, and the ground of the field and sometimes even some lakes are frozen. In spite of, or thanks to, these seasonal conditions, there are things which are available only or best to be enjoyed in winter ranging from local traditional culture to nature.
- 'Koshogatsu', January 15th of the old lunar calendar or literally Little New Year.
Traditionally the first full moon of the lunar new year has been celebrated, and many events associated with it are held in many local communities of the area during the 14th-16th days of the lunar New Year.
'Dosojin' (guardian deity) festival is one of such events with a long tradition held in 'Koshogatsu' and its highlgith is 'Goshinnboku tate', a process of erecting the sacred tree (30-40m long) through concerted efforts by community residents. Also 'Dondon yaki', New Year's bonfire, held in the evening is another ceremonial occasion in 'Koshogatsu'.
- 'Kurabiraki' of sake breweries and new brew of sake
Japanese sake is brewed in Mt. Fuji area. Every year comes the winter which is sake producing season and its work is done during winter months from November till next March when the temperature in the area drops, which creates ideal conditions for making great sake.
What is "Kurabiraki" then? It's a sake brewery's annual open day event, festivities celebrating the brewing of new sake. Since ancient times, sake breweries have invited people to their cellars on a lucky day at the beginning of the year, traditionally in February in Mt. Fuji area, and held a variety of events such as introducing sake brewing process and tasting the year's new sake.
- Gibier (wild game)
Same goes to gibier and game hunting season is winter. Have you noticed the venison curry restaurant signs in Lake Motosuko and Shojiko area? There is a gibier (deer) meat processing facility managed by officials involved with tourism and hunting there and it supplies the venison to local restaurants. Northwestern side of Mt. Fuji is rich with nature and less-developed for mass tourism. Try this local specialty that is unique to the area and the best season for this high-protein and low-calorie meat is winter.
- Wakasagi (lake smelt) fishing
Wakasagi is one of the freshwater fishes which are caught locally at Fuji Five Lakes. It's fried or cooked and served at restaurants and lodges. Actually you as tourists can enjoy fishing besides eating. So, what about fishing? The smelt in Lake Yamanakako have been fished for years and fishing season starts in autumn and runs through next spring. If you expect a good catch of wakasagi, however, winter is the best time to fish. By using the dome boat, you can escape the cold while fishing or viewing snow-covered Mt. Fuji instead in case of having a poor catch ... By the way, ice fishing of wakasagi used to be one of the winter activities of Lake Yamanakako when the lake was entirely frozen.
- Diamond Fuji
Sunrise or sunset. In the winter months, you can view this special phenomenon at its best. "Diamond Fuji" is the special phenomenon where at the moment that the sun and the top of Mt. Fuji overlap, the light of the sunrise or sunset shines from the peak, creating a diamond like spectacular brilliance. For those who have a hard time getting up very early in the morning, sunset Diamond Fuji may be a right choice. In my personal opinion, however, sunrise Diamond Fuji is more brilliant.
- 'Benifuji', Crimson Fuji
On a clear winter morning you can enjoy a change in hue on snow-capped Mt. Fuji when viewing from east/northeast. The snow is dyed crimson at dawn and as the mountain is bathed in the sunrise, it illuminates in scarlet. If you want to escape the cold, you may combine it with onsen. The "Crimson Fuji Winter Festival" is held at Yamanakako Onsen Benifuji-no-Yu where you can bath from 6 am. Enjoy the outdoor bath while gazing at Mt. Fuji bathed in crimson.
This winter in Mt. Fuji area or Japan in general has been unusually warm, and higher average temperature and little snow fall have led to the following situation so far:
- Snow-capped Mt. Fuji is best viewed from east/northeast (e.g. Yamanakako). Usually snow covers the mountain all around in winter, which is not the case in this winter. You may find only streaks of snow and ice when you are at the northern to western foot of Mt. Fuji.
- Visiting Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station at 2305 m in elevation is possible! For greater number of days this winter, the road has been open all the way to the end.
- Remote spots in the area to enjoy the scenery and views of Mt. Fuji remain accessible as the roads are still passable.
- Hiking can still be enjoyed as the trails are still identifiable. With good visibility in the forests and fields in winter form, you have better chances of spotting/encountering wild animals.
Each of the four seasons in Mt. Fuji area is different and the winter brings its unique and special attractions. So, come and enjoy the winter attractions of Mt. Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes area and take advantage of the environment with less visitors.