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Mount Fuji is one of the most famous mountains in the world and the most iconic symbol of Japan. And lovely little Lake Shoji just happens to be one of the best places in the country to see this magnificently pointy mountain.
While climbing Mount Fuji is a rite of passage for some and bucket list accomplishment for others, we were more interested in finding the most spectacular views OF Mount Fuji rather than the panoramic views FROM Mount Fuji.
And to get those, you need to head to the Fuji Five Lakes area which consists of – you guessed it – five different lakes, all offering slightly different angles and proximities for those amazing Mount Fuji photos. Of the five, we chose to spend our time at Lake Shoji (also known as Lake Shojiko or Shoji Lake) since it is known for having some of the most direct views of the mountain, combined with one of our favourite things – reflections!
Where is Lake Shoji?
It is part of the Fuji Five Lakes group west of Tokyo and sits directly north of Mount Fuji itself. The main town in the group, Kawaguchiko, is about 100 km and 1.5 hrs from downtown Tokyo by train.
Lake Shoji another 15 km west of Kawaguchiko, an easy and scenic drive. There are also regular bus services between the lakes.
The Fuji Five Lakes (Fujigoko)
From east to west:
Lake Yamanaka is the second-largest of the five and set a bit apart to the southeast, offering a completely different angle on Fuji.
Lake Kawaguchiko is the largest lake, has the biggest city and is the most popular place to come for Mount Fuji views.
Lake Saiko is picturesque but while it does have some nice viewpoints, the surrounding hills actually obscure the views in a lot of places.
Lake Shoji is tiny, by far the smallest of the five, but from the northwestern shore Fuji is perfectly framed by the lush hills.
Finally, Lake Motosu can be found furthest west and with less to interfere with the late-day sun, it is the most popular sunset viewpoint in the Five Lakes area.
Seeing Mount Fuji from Lake Shoji
We spent 3 days at Lake Shoji with a rental car so we managed to check out many of the top Mount Fuji viewpoints around the Fuji Five Lakes area. The interesting thing was how different the mountain looked from each lake, based on just the slightest change in angle or cloud cover.
In our opinion, though, the best views were from Lake Shoji, something we had been told and the big reason we chose to base ourselves there.
From Tatego-Hama Beach, the main beach in front of Shoji Mount Hotel, you have a direct view across the lake to Mount Fuji. Because the lake is so tiny it is often completely calm, providing stunning reflections.
The smaller Mount Omuro sits directly between Lake Shoji and Mount Fuji and looks almost like a shadow or silhouette. Meanwhile, the lush hills on either side of the lake perfectly frame the peak as though they were made for exactly that purpose. Really amazing.
The beach itself doesn’t have the best sand but it is quite large. The west end is open to campers but there is still plenty of room for everyone. Including the young Japanese guys who kept trying – and failing – to skip rocks one sunset when the rest of us were trying to get reflective photos off the (previously) calm surface.
Things to Do in Lake Shoji
Lake Shoji Circuit
The lake is small enough that you can walk all the way around it in a couple hours – 5.5 km with 150m of elevation gain, but over that distance it feels mostly flat. Some of the circuit is on trails through the Aokigahara Forest but most of it follows the road. There isn’t nearly as much traffic in this area, though, so that isn’t as bad as it sounds.
A more strenuous and natural hike follows the forest trail up the hill to Panorama-dai. As you might expect, the views up there are, well, sort of panoramic. Not entirely, unfortunately, as the trees block the views of the lakes in a couple directions. But it is still a very nice viewpoint with a somewhat different angle of Mount Fuji.
The hike is short (5 km return) but tiring (450m climb) and, unfortunately, because you are in the trees there aren’t any views along the way. On the bright side, there is plenty of shade.
Rent a Boat
You can rent one of the little rowboats lined up on the lakeshore and enjoy this extraordinary location while floating peacefully around the lake. It is also a popular fishing spot (we saw plenty of fish jumping) but you will have to buy a permit.
Watch the Sunrise and Sunset
Even in hindsight I still can’t decide which was better. Both offered soft light on Mount Fuji, beautiful colours in the sky and calm water. I guess if I had to choose, I’d pick sunset because I was able to enjoy that one fully awake with a beer in my hand. Sunrise, on the other hand, arrived close to 2 hours before I usually woke up and my eyes were still half-closed for most of it.
How to Get to Lake Shoji
Most people take the train to Kawaguchiko, then bus or taxi to their hotel. It is possible to rely on public transportation between the lakes as buses travel periodically throughout the day, although they can get quite full and it can be complicated to time them well enough to see everything.
A better option is to rent a car. That way you have the freedom to explore on your own schedule and can visit some of the busier viewpoints before or after the worst of the crowds. There are about half a dozen rental companies in Kawaguchiko but, when we visited, several of them were already fully booked a month in advance and the prices were also quite high.
Since we were heading to Magome to hike the Nakasendo Trail after Lake Shoji, we decided to rent a car in Kofu. About the same distance from Tokyo as Kawaguchiko, Kofu is actually perfectly located for a stay in Lake Shoji, specifically. There is a direct road with very little traffic that passes through the mountains and comes out right between Lake Shoji and Lake Saiko.
From the Nissan Rent a Car office (just across the street from Kofu Station) it took us less than an hour to reach Lake Shoji and we literally only had to make two turns. Well, two official turns, plus about 50 more hairpin turns along the highway itself.
If you are heading to Matsumoto, Nagano or the Nakasendo Route, this is a great option. It was much cheaper than the Kawaguchiko rentals and we can highly recommend both the car and the staff. They have a well-rehearsed spiel for foreigners with all the important spots on the contract highlighted in English.
Even counting getting to the lakes and back we only put on 190 km in 3 days and only used 1500 yen ($US10) worth of fuel.
Where to Stay
There are about half a dozen Lake Shoji hotels scattered along the northern shore, all with with slightly different views due to changing angles and random obstructions. We chose the Shoji Mount Hotel because it seems to have the most head-on view of the starring attraction and it did not disappoint.
Our second-floor room was a basic, traditional Japanese room with tatami mats and one low table. The views, though, my goodness. An amazing look out over the lake directly at Mount Fuji. We always left our curtains open at night so we could simply glance up in the morning to see if the sunrise was going to be worth getting up for (2 out of 3 mornings it was).
Their restaurant is also very good, with a signature grill-at-your-table being the most popular choice. We also enjoyed the beef curry and vegetarian tempura (not to mention how there was less cooking involved on our part).
There are a handful of other restaurants within walking distance and plenty more in Kawaguchiko if you have a car.
Other Fuji Viewpoints Near Lake Shoji
Even if you decide to base yourself at Lake Shoji, you’re still going to want to visit some of the other lakes to check out their top Mount Fuji viewpoints. There are literally dozens and we didn’t make it to all of them, but these were a few of our favourites.
Koyodai Observation Deck
This is where you will get the closest, clearest views of Mount Fuji. On a clear day, we were able to make out individual valleys and even one of the hiking trails leading to the summit. You enter through a small restaurant and it costs 300 yen to go to the top, although that comes with a huge, unwieldy wooden board with a map of the surrounding hills (which must be returned at the end, obviously).
The road up is rough but easily manageable if you drive slowly and carefully. We did it in our little rental car with no trouble. If you are concerned, though, it takes about half an hour to walk up from the bottom parking area.
Then if you walk about 10 minutes east from the upper parking area, you’ll reach Saiko-dai, a free viewpoint with good views of Lake Saiko.
There are two different spots to recommend here. First, at the turnoff from the highway leading down to the campground and beach is where you can take the iconic photo that appears on the 1,000 yen bill. It is always busy, as you might expect.
Meanwhile, the beach is the most popular camping spot in the Fuji Five Lakes area, mainly because of the incredible Mount Fuji sunsets. We found a quiet spot at the far west end where we could enjoy the serenity along with some photogenic rocks.
Probably the most popular Mount Fuji viewpoint of all, this well-developed park on the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko is essentially a botanical garden, tourist shop and viewpoint all rolled into one. You will have to fight through the crowds to move around and getting the perfect photo without people in it will require a level of patience I do not possess.
Luckily, it was a moot point, since clouds were covering Fuji when we were there. If you can time it right, though, those photos of Mount Fuji with the lake and pink plants in foreground are pretty exceptional.
Saiko Iyashi on Sato
This restored/recreated traditional village is about as hokey as you might expect, although it does provide lots of interesting historical information and some fascinating classic buildings (full of touristy crap for sale). Nonetheless, you can get some pretty cool village/mountain photos that will easily justify the 500 yen entrance fee.
Lake Shoji Map
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
The angles to see Mount Fuji are surprisingly different from lake to lake, so even though there are often clouds obscuring it at one viewpoint, the view could be much clearer further down the road.
Mount Fuji was mostly covered in cloud while were at Oisha Park but shortly later we got fantastic sunset photos from Lake Motosu. So keep this in mind when planning your visit to and try to stay flexible.
The main thing is that we feel Lake Shoji has the single best view of Mount Fuji. Which means that staying there rather than simply dropping by gives you much more time and many more opportunities to capture a great photo. When the moment comes, you’ll be ready! Assuming you wake up in time…
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