Of Fuji’s five lakes, Kawaguchiko is the largest and offers the most leisure activities. It’s famous for those amazing shots you may have seen of a snow-capped Mount Fuji framed by cherry blossoms. Though Golden Week may be a bit late for the sakura, there are plenty of other flowers, including lavender fields in June and July at Oishi Park, to be taken in. To take a tour of the sights you can hop on an old school bus for ¥1,000 per day.
Swing by Herb Hall to taste the delectable lavender ice cream and check out their lovely greenhouse with lots of reasonably priced plants, a wall stocked with seed packets to grow your own, and plenty of herbal bath and cooking goodies. Don’t miss the Perfume House with over 500 miniature fragrances and essential oils.
Altogether, there are about seven museums around Kawaguchiko, ranging from art museums with kimono tapestry to one displaying antique music boxes. There’s also an intriguing monkey performance theater where for ¥1,500 you can watch a 40-minute monkey circus. The show is called Happy Monkey, though to be honest, with six shows a day, these monkeys looked anything but happy. The burdens of showbiz.
Transport: Take the Chuo Highway Bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko (¥1,700, reservation recommended).
Mount Takao Monkey Forest and Wild Plant Garden
For just ¥400 you can see around 60 monkeys in this somewhat wild habitat, and they look much happier and healthier than any of the creatures you’ll find at the sad zoos around town. The trainers in this monkey park believe monkeys are similar to humans in their communication of emotions. Sure, the monkeys perform tricks and sing for their supper (a simple cracker will do), but you can see how much care is taken to construct monkey communities.
Within the park is a 2,800m2 wild plant garden, which offers a nice view and a welcome respite from the hike up to Takaosan’s summit. Golden Week is usually a good time to visit Mount Takao, as you can be sure to avoid school field trips.
Unfortunately, the Beer Garden doesn’t open until July, but you can try Ukai Toriyama for a special dining experience in a natural garden setting. They offer a kaiseki lunch menu for ¥4,730 and will even provide transport to and from the station.
Transport: Take the Chuo line to Takao, and then transfer to the Keio line for Takaosanguchi. www.takaotozan.co.jp
Chichibu-tama-kai National Park
This region has a reputation for high-quality water, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy it. Start with a rafting trip down the Arakawa river in an old-fashioned Japanese boat (40 mins, ¥1,550). Adventurous spirits can opt for kayaks or whitewater rafting courtesy of MontBell Outdoor Challenge’s Nagatoro office.
Next, take the train down to Chichibu. Golden Week is blooming season for shiba zakura (pictured top), a violet moss that covers Hitsujiyama Park with 400,000 plants in geometric, undulating patterns. This breathtaking colored carpet will provoke a sakura-like communing with natural beauty. After a morning spent rambling outdoors, head to Soba Musashiya to sample some noodles or soba dumplings.
What better way to finish off your lunch than with some liquid of the gods—sake? Buko Brewery is as much a museum as a drinking depot. The Edo building dates back to 1753 and offers tours in Japanese.
Finally, conclude a water-inspired day with a soak in the Yumoto Buko onsen. It’s open until 10pm and will set you back ¥800.
Transport: Take the Red Arrow Limited Express from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu and connect to the Chichibu railway for Nagatoro or Chichibu.