Despite a rainy season in Japan, which seemed to have no end in sight, the foliage in Kawaguchiko (Lake Kawaguchi, Fuji Five Lakes) never ceases to amaze the people who travel there.
We left our house in Ebina at about 10:30 a.m., excited to revisit one of our favorite spots in Japan.
I ended up sleeping the entire ride there and was awoken by my husband when we arrived for lunch.
As usual, we ate at his favorite restaurant in the area. We had udon and soba dishes, which helped combat the cold after the long drive.
Preview of Our Kawaguchiko Trip with Our Baby
- Arrival in Kawaguchiko and lunch.
- 📍Arakuyama Sengen Park and Chureito Pagoda.
- A quick glance to the 📍Maple Corridor Festival, and a walk through Kawaguchiko North Coast Walking Trail.
- Check-in at Hostel Fujisan FBH.
- Dinner at Dino Diner.
- Breakfast pancakes and waffle from the hostel.
- 📍Kawaguchi Herb Hall with Oike Park.
- 📍Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center with Oishi Park.
- A side trip to Saiko (Lake Sai) for 📍Iyashi No Sato Nenba also known as Healing Village.
- Lunch at Houtou Fudou restaurant.
- 📍Kawaguchiko Music Forest Museum.
- Check-in at Airbnb place.
- Freshen up.
- See the Maple Corridor Festival and had kebab as dinner. YUM.
- Bento for breakfast.
- A quick stop at Lake Yamanaka (Part of Fuji Five Lakes).
1. Arakurayama Sengen Park & Chureito Pagoda
After lunch, we headed to the first stop on our itinerary, Arakurayama Sengen Park. On the way to the Sengen Park, as the sun started to go down, the maples trees that lined the road changed from brown to red, which were made even more beautiful by the background of Mt. Fuji.
Thankfully, the traffic was light so we could enjoy the view. This is due to how few tourists drive in the area.
Instead, most opt for bikes or buses to get to Arakuyama Sengen Park. So, despite being peak season, we were still able to find plenty of parking in the vicinity.
In fact, the Chureito Pagoda is more well-known than the park where itself. It is postcard-worthy, especially when surrounded by vibrant pink from cherry blossoms looming in front of a snow-capped Mt. Fuji.
But since we were visiting during autumn, the usual yellow and orange leaves of the maples trees were traded with the pinks of cherry blossoms.
To capture the pagoda’s picturesque view (as seen in postcards), one must line up along the view deck railing. The view deck, however, was crowded mostly by Asian tourists taking multiple selfies with the beautiful landscapes behind them.
They were so caught up in getting the perfect shot that it seemed that they didn’t want to give any other tourists a chance. In the end, we didn’t bother to line up.
Instead, we walked around the pagoda and let our toddler play with dried maple leaves fallen on the ground while her daddy chased her around.
SHE LOVED IT.
She was so amazed and so caught up in the leaves that she wasn’t thrilled when it came time to leave.
Baby travel tip #1: The climb upstairs to Chureito Pagoda requires 368 steps. You must bring a baby carrier or a backpack carrier. Alternatively, there’s a sloping road where you can take your baby with a stroller; however, the view isn’t as pleasing as the one when taken from the stairs. There are no elevators in this area.
2. Maple Corridor Festival.
Our next stop was the Momiji Kairo Matsuri, or Maple Corridor Festival, which was the main reason for our trip. Momiji Kairo Matsuri is held every late November and stays till early December.
The Yamanashi Tourism Organization heavily advertises this festival every autumn of the year. It’s such a popular event that we expected it to be packed.
There are many food stalls in the area where you can try some typical Japanese festival food. On this evening, we had some potato fries, karaage (Japanese fried chicken), and a yummy dango (rice cake sweet dumpling).
But truth to be told, this year’s Maple Corridor was a little disappointing. This was due to the near-constant rain which knocked many of the leaves from the maple trees and left the branches a bit droopy taking away from the natural beauty of the area.
Even so, it was still packed with thousands of tourists and was beautifully illuminated at night.
Baby travel tip #2: The walking path of maple corridor is rocky. I don’t recommend using a stroller. But here’s what we did: I carried our baby using the baby carrier while my husband carried the stroller as we walked through. You’ll want the stroller once you’re through the path.
3. Kawaguchiko North Coast Walking Trail (same area).
After the walk through the Maple Corridor, we went to the Kawaguchiko North Coast Walking Trail. Even though the cold was brutal, it was a very pleasant walk. It offers a 180-degree view of Mt Fuji.
This is a place that many tourists are unaware of. Instead, they flocked around the Maple Corridor.
We saw many restaurants as we walked on the trail. Mostly Italian restaurants, cafe shops, and dessert shops. We didn’t dare to try one. They were fairly expensive and out of our modest budget.
It seemed to me that you pay for the view and not the food they serve. Even so, we still enjoyed the view of Mt. Fuji without having to dine at one of the restaurants that sit in front of it.
We ended up spending a little over two hours at the Maple Corridor Festival and the Kawaguchiko North Coast. After the sunset, the air got a little too cold for us, so we took in the view one more time and headed to the hostel to check in for the night.
Baby travel tip #3: If you need to change your baby’s diaper, there are two public toilets in the area. The one near Olsson’s Restaurant & Cafe, which is the Nishikawa Public Restroom, has a better diaper change facility.
4. Fujisan Backpackers Hostel FBH.
For two adults with one child that is less than two years old, we paid a total of 6,720 yen. You might think that this is a cheap place due to the words ‘Backpackers’ and ‘Hostel’ but it was actually a really nice, roomy play for the price.
The room was very minimalist and our daughter was able to roam around freely without risk of breaking anything or hurting herself.
As usual, with an accommodation like this, my husband always refuses to use the shower area. He doesn’t like the idea of bathing with all the other guests of the same gender.
Even though we only booked here for one night, we really had a nice pleasant stay and I would stay there again. They also spoke English well at the front desk and gave us a ticket for breakfast which consisted of two small pancakes and one waffle.
5. Dino Diner.
Despite all the food we ate at the Maple Corridor Festival, we were already getting hungry. My husband saw an American bar restaurant called Dino Diner which opens at 5:30 p.m. and was only a minute walk from the hostel.
We went there only to find out that it was not a toddler-friendly place.
To some of the western readers, that may seem like a “well no kidding, it’s a bar” moment. But realize that this is Japan, a place where most bar-restaurants have families stopping in on a regular basis.
We didn’t expect floor seating, and there was no baby chair available. Our toddler is already very grabby and when there’s nothing to hold her still, she just gets loud and hard to control.
So, I went for a walk just to let her fall asleep.
We went to Dino Diner because it was a top-rated bar and restaurant in the area, but we don’t know why it was top rated. The food was a disappointing and pretty average.
I guess it was because of their cheap drinks? To be honest, the food at the festival was better.
In any case, it would still be nice to come back here sometime for its cozy atmosphere but won’t be bringing any young children.
6. Kawaguchi Herb Hall with Oike Park.
The next day we decided to visit Oike Park. It sits in front of Kawaguchi Herb Hall. Oike Park has Ginkgo Biloba trees, which are so tall and colorful that you can see from the bridge of Kawaguchiko.
They were gorgeous to see in person. The height and bright colors made for a very memorable experience. We easily spent 30 minutes there awing over their beauty.
Our toddler loved this place. She was floored by the sight.
Unfortunately, she found many rocks and stems that were easily accessible.
7. Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center and Oishi Park.
Our next stop was the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center and Oishi Park. Oishi park is famous for its Kochia plants. They typically bloom in early autumn.
Unfortunately, we were a bit late in the season and saw nothing. Mt. Fuji was also obstructed here. We’ll need to return on a clear day in early autumn to really have a better opinion.
Instead, we just let our toddler enjoy the flowers scattered everywhere in the park while we watched her and took a minute by ourselves to relax. It was still a nice atmosphere and environment to be in.
8. Iyashi No Sato Nenba
Although technically not in Kawaguchiko, as it’s in Saiko (Lake Saiko), Iyashi No Sato Nenba makes a great side trip from Kawaguchiko.
Iyashi No Sato Nenba is an open-air museum which features thatched roofed houses that are similar to the historic village of Shirakawa-Go in Gifu Prefecture. Each house has its own specialty. The different specialties are souvenir shops, tea houses, handicraft workshops, and art galleries.
This place is beautiful and relaxing and made more beautiful by the surrounding foliage. It was easy to be engrossed by the environment and beauty.
This also has one of the best views of Mt. Fuji to be found in the five-lakes area.
There are also stores near the parking lot with local fruits, vegetables, honey products, and other Japanese street food.
In fact, my husband didn’t want to leave this place because of the amazing deals we kept fining. He loves honey and bought a small jar during out time at the Maple Corridor Festival for $20.
He found an even larger jar of honey here for the same price. We almost couldn’t leave because he kept insisting, “This is a ridiculously good deal in Japan.”
We left without purchasing more honey.
9. Houtou Fudou Main Store.
We had lunch at Houtou Fudou restaurant, a popular chain restaurant only found in Kawaguchiko.
They have 4 restaurants scattered around Kawaguchiko but we chose to dine at the north branch.
There were only 3 items to choose from the menu at this restaurant. The house specialty Houtou noodles, kokutou taki inari (sushi rice cooked in brown sugar), and basashi (raw horse meat).
We both had the Houtou noodles for 1,050 yen each as it seems to be the only menu item being ordered by the people eating here. It was served in a gigantic and very hot pot that was a bit intimidating.
I loved the noodle soup. It’s rich and has an earthy flavor, and the pot was filled with various fresh local vegetables.
There was no meat but, instead, had a large chunk of squash in each pot which seemed to be both the base of the soup, and the centerpiece of the meal.
Don’t be intimidated by the undoubtedly long line for seating, or the huge number of people inside. We went during peak hours with a line of people at the door, and still managed to be seated within 5 minutes, and had our food within 15 minutes.
It was excellent service with nice accommodations.
There are many other restaurants that serve houtou noodles around the area, but we would definitely recommend this place for lunch.
We were actually pretty surprised since we both thought this was going to be something of a tourist trap.
Warning: No baby seats but the staff let us bring the stroller in.
10. Kawaguchiko Music Forest Museum.
The next day was cloudy, cold, and had a few scattered showers. We decided to go to the Kawaguchiko Music Forest Museum.
There are 2 ways to get some discounted tickets for the Music Forest. The discount is usually 300 yen off:
- By printing the web coupon screen from their website.
- By reserving in advance through their website and paying via PayPal.
But due to some PayPal issues, we were forced to pay the full price of 1,500 yen per person.
The buildings inside the Music Forest Museum reminded me of a European fairy tale. They somewhat exaggerated buildings and lots of pink paint.
There was an interesting section for music boxes, but these aren’t the little boxes in your grandmother’s cabinet. These are giant wardrobe sized machines from all across the globe, playing everything from piano to banjos.
There were two floors with these machines and a guided tour is available. The tour explains the origins of each along with demonstrations.
The top floor also included a giant musical dollhouse. It was a Victorian style Herrenchiemsee Castle replica with lights and moving characters.
The music boxes were pretty cool. If you happen to have an extra 1,500,000 yen lying around (and a very large space in your house), then you can actually buy one.
Afterward, we went down to see a special concert in the lower auditorium. Well, we attempted to.
Our daughter thought it was great fun at first, clapping along with the audience. But she can only be still for so long and was quick to start screaming, so we had to cut the show short.
Later, we also attempted to attend an organ music show, with a similar outcome. So, we instead decided to just walk around and see what else there was to see.
The whole “forest” itself is built to resemble a town square of sorts, with a central fountain. So, if you’re expecting a walk through a nature trail, it’s not like that.
There are two buildings with things to do inside and all the others are souvenir shops.
The whole area is handicap and stroller accessible.
The main attraction of this museum is its live musical performances. They are all in Japanese. In our experience, unless you have a well-behaved child, bringing a child young enough to require a stroller is a waste of time and money.
It seems like a fun place to go as a couple for date night. This museum should definitely be avoided with sensitive babies until they are old enough to behave in public.
11. Our Airbnb Place.
From here, we checked-into our second accommodation, an Airbnb. Coincidentally, it is very close to the hostel where we first stayed.
The owners didn’t speak English but were nice and accommodating.
There was a bit of problem though. Upon arriving at the place, we realized that it was actually a “private space listing” and not an “Entire Place” as it was advertised on Airbnb.
We had our own toilet, but the shower was shared. Due to this, we weren’t able to take a shower. It was already locked by the time we arrived.
When staying at an Airbnb place, we always filter the results to “Entire Place” since we don’t want to bother other people if our child starts being loud. We’ve never had problems with this before, but this particular Airbnb was just listed incorrectly.
It turned out that the person we communicated with on Airbnb was not related to the owners but was instead a middleman, who just listed the property on Airbnb and acted like a host but wasn’t.
So, for the original price of 140 USD per night for 2 adult and 1 infant, which is equivalent to a 4-star hotel experience, we were a bit disappointed.
Thankfully, we didn’t pay the full price because my husband had membership rewards from his American Express card — which is convertible to Airbnb credit — so we only ended up paying 70 USD.
But everything was compensated by the owner’s kindness and hospitality.
He even showed us a nice small shrine called the Kanayama Shrine, which was just around the corner. It was covered in bright yellow leaves from the big gingko tree.
That said, I still can’t really recommend this Airbnb listing if you’re going to pay full price.
- Charges additional per person per night (even infant).
- Uses kerosene heater during the months (dangerous for the baby).
UPDATE: It is now listed as “Private Room in House”. Yet, still charges per additional person per night.
Here’s the link to the Airbnb place so you can avoid it.
By the way, if you haven’t tried Airbnb, you can sign-up using my link and you’ll get 34 USD Airbnb credit which you can use on your first stay. Just avoid the Airbnb place that I mentioned.
What We Could Have Done Better…
If given the chance to do Day 2 again, we would visit the attraction in the following order to avoid a bit of a back of fourth to save gas and mileage:
- Iyashi No Sato Nenba.
- Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center with Oishi Park.
- Kawaguchi Herb Hall with Oike Park.
12. Lake Yamanaka.
We stopped at Nagaike Water Park in Lake Yamanaka on the way home. Unfortunately, we were too late by the time we arrived and Mt. Fuji was already obstructed by clouds.
We only spent a couple of minutes here, just to get a feel of what’s it’s like around Lake Yamanaka. It seemed a lot quieter than the Kawaguchiko area.
This gives us the reason to come back since it’s the only lake (out of Fuji Five Lakes) we haven’t explored yet. The setting was beautiful and it was a more intimate place to share time as a family.
Our 3-day Kawaguchiko trip was indeed a blast, and we consider day 2 the most enjoyable, even with our hyperactive toddler. This is especially true if Mt. Fuji is visible the majority of the day. If you notice, we skipped a popular tourist attraction in Kawaguchiko, which was the Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway.
Truth is, my husband and I have done the Ropeway before having a baby. And we know that the queue to catch the cable car going up could be up to a 2-hour wait. That’s brutal. Especially when you have a hyperactive and busy toddler in tow.
There are sights that we skip only because we wanted to maximize our time with our baby. For those who have cars, you can definitely do the same itinerary as we did.
If visiting outside autumn, the attractions mentioned are still worth visiting. Just skip the Maple Corridor and replace it with a visit to Itchiku Kubota Art Museum, which is actually next to the Maple Corridor.
Kawaguchiko isn’t a bad place nor a great place to travel with a baby. The only challenge we’ve faced as a couple was finding a restaurant that combines local cuisine and features a baby-friendly atmosphere.
Having said that, Tokyo is still more baby-friendly than Kawaguchiko. In terms of selection of restaurants with a baby-friendly atmosphere (i.e. baby food on the menu, baby seats, and high chairs) and availability of baby-changing facilities in public toilets.