Monday, March 24th, 2008
While planning our two-day trip to the Fujigoko region, Yasuko had the brilliant idea to book for us a room at the Hotel Regina in Kawaguchiko. The hotel is located just few minutes from Mount Fuji, in a perfect position to enjoy the best possible view of the majestic mountain from every room. While booking, she asked for a room at one of the higher floors, just to make sure that we could get the perfect view in the morning at sunrise.
When we got to the hotel, though, it was too dark to even see mount Fuji, and we had no idea if in the morning the weather would have allowed us to see whole mountain. The sunrise was scheduled at 5:40AM, with the civil twilight at 5:15AM, so the alarm clock was set at 4:45AM. When the alarm went off, I literally crawled out of bed, opened the curtains to see if the weather was cooperating, and this is what I saw:
I remember that it was very chilly that morning while I was trying to take pictures of Fuji-san in the almost complete darkness balancing the camera on the ledge of the balcony. Unfortunately, the pictures I have taken that morning don't do any justice to the spectacular view I had in front of me, that cold spring morning.
I stood there for over an hour, smoking cigarettes and taking a gazillion pictures, all looking almost pretty much the same, with very little variation of light between one and the next one. I was very lucky that day, to be able to capture a perfectly clear sunrise picture of Fuji-san, considering that, very often, clouds cover the top part of the mountain, especially in the morning.
After a shower and a very nice breakfast - I highly recommend this hotel to anyone who travels through the area - Yasuko and I started our tour of the region with a drive along Route 707, getting a little closer to the cone of the mountain.
Next, we drove to the nearby Lake Yamanakako (山中湖), the largest of the five lakes of the Fujigoko region. There are good views of Mount Fuji from around the lake, especially from along its less developed northern shore. We parked the car near an outdoor theater located on the east side of the lake. I was surprised to find, on a random monday morning, literally a row of photographers lined up along the beach, sitting down and chatting. They clearly had been there from before sunrise, and had no intention to leave until after sunset. Their cameras were all resting on the tripods, some of the photographers were sleeping in the cars, some chatting while drinking a warm cup of coffee or smoking a cigarette.
Those are the professional photographers who spend their time photographing Mount Fuji from all possible locations, trying to capture the perfect combination of light and clouds to create some of the quintessential images we often see in calendars and photo books.
Unlike them, I didn't have time to spare, so I continued walking around the shore of the lake, enjoying the views and capturing a few "portaits" of Mount Fuji.
After a while the sun was already too high to take any interesting pictures, so we drove back to Kawaguchiko, on the opposite side of the lake from the hotel where we stayed at, to visit The Kawaguchiko Music Forest, a small theme park and museum devoted to automatic musical instruments.
Its main hall displays antique music boxes, mechanical organs and other automatic musical instruments mostly from European countries. The largest of them is a French fairground organ from 1905 which takes up an entire hall and plays every 30 minutes. The main building also houses a concert hall where classical musicians from around the world perform.
The park outside encloses European style gardens with good views of Mount Fuji across the lake. Walking paths lead among the garden's manicured lawns and winding canal, connecting the museums's restaurant, shops, chapel and rose garden to one another.
In the afternoon we drove west, through Lake Saiko, to reach Lake Shojiko, the smallest of the five lakes. Together with its two neighbors, it was formed when lava flows from Mount Fuji divided a large prehistoric lake into three smaller ones. The lakes seem to remain connected by underground waterways as they always maintain the same water level of 900 meters above sea level.
As we got there, the sky got cloudier and the light much softer. We parked the car and walked to the small beach, where we found a bunch of old swan boats. I took a few pictures, both with the Canon 5D and with the Hasselblad.
The light was getting so soft and delicate that I asked Yasuko if we could drive back to Lake Yamanakako, my favorite of the five lakes, the one with the easiest access and the best views, in my opinion. As soon as we got there, while I was walking on the boardwalk behind the outdoor theater, along the shore, I realized that I had made the best decision. Everything was perfect, and these are the best photographs I have shot during the entire trip, I think.