Mt Fuji 5th Station with Kids

mt fuji, fuji sanSo last weekend we planned to visit the 5th station of Mt. Fuji with our kids and friend. If you are not familiar with Mt. Fuji, then I must explain a couple of things so that you understand what I am talking about! The 5th station is actually the highest point on Mt. Fuji that you can reach without hiking. So If you are driving, visiting by tour bus, or just taking a guided tour of the mountain and not an actual “climb” then this will be your summit.

The 5th station is also the “halfway point” on the Subaru line. There are 4 trails that you can take if you are physically climbing the mountain but depending on weather and the age of your children most likely you will be just visiting the 5th station. Older children would have no issues climbing up – although it may take many hours- but our children are younger so I only have advice and tips for those with littles! If it is a clear day you will be able to see the top of Fuji from the 5th station, so I think you can still get the full experience even if you are not climbing the mountain.

Overall I would say this is a family event that everyone should experience while in Japan, even if you have just a short visit. It is one of the most popular and well know destinations and it is really easy to access with children. Compared to many other destinations it does not cost an excessive amount if you are traveling with a large family.

Getting there:

We drove. If you have a car in Tokyo or access to a car you can do it. The route is pretty easy. I must stress that if you are visiting from Tokyo just take the freeway toll route. This is such an easy drive. Yes, you will be paying tolls. I am thinking that we paid about $40 to take a large van but we have also driven to Fujisan “toll free” in a windy road that double our drive time and curved around many edges of mountains and small, small, unsturdy looking old bridges over huge cliffs. I can not even explain to you have terrifying it was to drive toll free to fuji from Tokyo. I literally thought we were probably going to run off the edge of a very narrow road on a very sharp cliff and plunge to our death. So please just go the toll road. You can get there in about 1.5 hours from Tokyo. Easy driving. Not much traffic. When you enter the Subaru line there is a 2000 yen fee. This is close to $20 USD. This is the only toll to get up to the 5th station and back. I thought it was well worth the fee as the road was very well maintained, clean, and there were nice bathrooms at the entrance where you pay the fee.

Subaru Line:

So the road that you will drive up the mounting is called the Subaru line. You will take this to wind all the way to the top. Drive slowly because there will be many tour buses passing you and they will rule the road. They will not watch out for you and you should be prepared to stop or move over at a moments notice. Be aware as there will be lots of bicyclists using this road as well. They will be the most difficult part of the drive in my opinion as when we went there were many of them.

There will be rest areas along this road up. There will be some parking areas with look out aces so you can enjoy the view. Some of these stops even have nice restroom accomodations and they generally have handicapped parking as well.

Parking:

When you reach the 5th station there Weill be traffic officers to help you navigate your way around the buses and through the tourists to the large parking lot. There wil be steps and a ramp from the parking area up to the main tourist area. I had a stroller but found the ramp to be very steep. It was not worth it to take the stroller up from the parking area to me.

Things To Do on FujiSan:

The 5th station is where you will find all the action. There are horse rides and they are around 300 yen (US $3.00). They supply helmets and kids or adults can ride. There will be a guide to lead your horse around a little trail that goes around the gift shop areas and then back to the stable area. We chose not to ride the horses because we felt they were in very poor condition. I felt that they were probably not well cared for or rested. Some were constantly  twitching and keeping certain hooves up or chained to the side of the mounting standing as if they were injured. You may encounter different horses or a better situation than we did.

There is a row of gift shops. They sell a large array of Japan tourist gifts. Typical things like fans, t-shirts, candies, and lots of “Mt Fuji” memorabilia of all kinds. We bought a Mt Fuji snow globe for the sake of having something Mt Fuji that we could keep. Things are pretty expensive but there are plenty of cheap things like candies that could make the trip “excellent” according to a young child!

Eating:

There is a large cafeteria style restaurant at the 5th Station. It was pretty crowded when we went. I think it is about $30 per person for the Japanese buffet style food. I do not know if this price changes seasonally but when we were considering booking a tour for our family visiting from out of town is was $28 per person and that was with a very small discount for booking the tour.  The cafeteria is child/ baby/ elderly and wheel chair friendly but we opted out.

There is a large area lower than the cafeteria next to an information center. This area has picnic tables and some benches. There is space in this area to enjoy a packed lunch or a bento. We took many photos and videos in this area as it has the perfect view to the summit – especially for taking pictures of your children for future holiday cards and such!

This is also an acceptable distance to the gift shops and a vendor or two selling ice cream. You can send some of your group to buy the snacks or supplies and then wait it out with the kids at the picnic table area. This area is also the closet to the parking area. So if you have some really tired kiddos or grandparents this would be a good spot to let some sit down for a break.

Attractions:

Besides the summit of Fuji, there is also a really pretty little shrine area located behind the gift shops. This area can get pretty crowded but if you are at the 5th station it is worth visiting. It is also a great place to seek some shade if you travel here on a sunny or hot day (however keep in mind that Fuji is generally windy and cooler than down below!)

There are look out points around the 5th station area for photography and admiring the scenery. There are so many trees around the edge of the mountain and it is so massive you almost forget how high up you actually are! You can also check out entrances to the other trails for those continuing to climb up. But remember the the 5th station is the final stop for any cars.

Letting your kids see an active volcano up close and personal is amazing. It also looks very different than we expected! It was amazing that even at the 5th station which is 7,874 feet high there is still a long way to go to reach the top! The entire mountain is a little over 12,388 feet high. If you want your older children to do some math have them convert the signs in meters to feet!

Strollers:

I advise not bringing a stroller. This also may depend on the day and season though. However Mt Fuji is generally always somewhat crowded. Even when we recently tried to visit in the snow, and the Subaru line was closed, there were still many cars trying to enter the road to the 5th station in just the few minutes we were there and made to turn around!

It is easier to use a baby carrier. Get out your most comfy baby wearing harness or wrap and walk freely around. There are far to many tourists, especially many taking selfies and will not watch out for your stroller. Plus you can easily take many selfies of your family and baby hands free. Also there are steep areas and it is just easier to not worry about your stroller rolling down a mountain. I also think it is probably easier to go without a stroller as the ramp up from the parking lot was a pretty steep incline. This mixed with the high altitude could make breathing pretty difficult. You may end up panting the entire way up to the sites! You will still get your exercise in baby wearing and it will be a better experience!

Wheelchairs:

I know that there were many visitors in wheelchairs and many elderly visitors as well. I would suggest letting them out of the car before you park. There is a street to turn down to the parking lot and an area where you could stop to do this. Otherwise be prepared to have someone else them up the ramp, it is pretty steep.

Cost:

Besides your cost of tolls you will be paying around 2000 yen to enter the Subaru line to get to the 5th station. This is your only cost. There is no fee to “visit” Mt Fuji. If you pack a lunch and just enjoy the scenery and take photos that is all you will pay. This was more than enough enjoyment for us. We packed snacks and drinks for the car. You can bring your own drinks and food and there is no restrictions on this.

There is nothing that you are obligated to pay for other than the toll entrance to enter the mountain. The parking itself is free. The lookout points are free as well. You can park there instead and picnic if you like for no charge.

We wondered around the mountain and bought 1 family souvenir. We had a great time and had lots of photos to remember this by.  Not a lot of cost compared to many things we have tried as a family in Tokyo but it was still great fun.  It is worth the trip.

Overall:

Our 8 year old still talks about it and we have returned to the fuji area several times. This is a great family outing even with small children and is easy to navigate. This is one of my favorite things in Japan. It is so pretty and wish we could visit during every season to enjoy how the trees change!

EXTRA TIP:

Don’t forget to be quiet as you enter the forest area of your drive. You will pass the Fuji World Heritage museum. (This is also free and you should stop and check it out, another post on this later). As you leave the museum area you will notice down the road that there are music notes. You will drive over bumps and a song will play. You tires will bump along to the Mt Fuji Song! Kids love this! You can hear it on the way home too!

 

 

 

 

Ume Hanami at Mt. Fuji / Plum Blossom Viewing at Mt. Fuji

Ume Matsuri at Soga Bairin Orchard:

This weekend we ventured to the Ume Hanami at Mt. Fuji. Ume Hanami is just a fancy way to say Plum blossom viewing in Japanese! Since you can view Plum Blossoms for most of February into just the first couple of days of March our family decided to sneak in one last look before they are gone until next year. We decided to visit the Soga Bairin Orchard for the Odawara Ume Matsuri.

The great thing about the Soga Bairin Orchard located in Odawara was not only the fact that we were going to some more amazing plum blossoms, but that you can actually view around 35,000 plum trees! It is a complete working orchard that opens up during the blossom season to hold a festival but then closes to guests after the first weekend of March. This area is one of the largest in all of Japan for blossom viewing.

We were really excited because this Orchard also has a close up view of Mount Fuji right behind the plum orchard. I was really looking forward to all the great photos I was going to have of my kiddos in the plum orchard with Mt Fuji behind them but- it did not happen. We thought that the day was looking clear and that we were going to have perfect viewing. It was warm (for the first week of March), sunny, and only a few clouds were in the sky. Unfortunately, by the time we reached our destination clouds moved in over Fuji and disguised the entire mountain. So no Mt. Fuji viewing for us that day! If you decide to try out this orchard defiantly double check the weather and try to make it on a clear and sunny day to catch a great view of Fuji. It seems to also help if you go earlier in the day. We can see Fuji from our home and although it is small as we are a pretty far distance away we notice that in the early mornings it is usually most visible.

Getting There:

Getting to the Sago Bairin Orchard was not too problematic. We drove our car from Tokyo and arrived in a little over two hours and drove the toll free route with our GPS. So not only did we not pay for the drive in (a rare occurrence on a road trip in Japan!) but we also parked right in the orchard for free and the entry was free as well. A free day of activities is always a good day in my book!

**** If you want to take the train this is about a 10-15 minute walk from Shimosoga Station****

ume, plum blossoms
Ume Hanami, Odawara, Japan

Parking:

The parking was really easy. When you start to get about 5-10 minutes away from the orchard there are large pink banners that say UME MATSURI to encourage you from giving up and Turing around! 🙂 You will drive through a winding road up a mountain and the have an great view of the entire town below including the ocean meeting the mountains to the side. This part of the drive ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip.

After curving down the mountain lookout road we ended up turning right onto a Main Street near the orchard. Then we turned into a small street with just a few houses. We initially thought that we were lost as we were literally squeezing down this small road and invading on the families there. We saw a few trees blooming but it just looked like a very small farm. We happened to see a couple orange cones and made a turn towards them. Then there was an enormous orchard tucked right behind the houses. We drove right up to the start of the trees and parked. There was plenty of parking and it was easy to get in and out.

 

 

 

Bathrooms:

There were bathrooms at the parking area. They were Port-a-potty style buuuuuut without seats. So port-a-john Japan style squatters. If you had to go you could stand on a step, face the back wall (hope you locked the door behind you well) and hold onto a handle on the wall to aid with your squatting balance. Then I advise you pray that you squatted down far enough otherwise you will have some wet Uggs when you leave… and Uggs show all water spots. FYI.

I am not sure if there were bathrooms anywhere else at the festival area as we were too preoccupied with checking out all the trees. However if you walk straight down the path from the parking lot all the way through to the other side of the orchard you will see the train station at the other end. You could find a bathroom there if you were really in need of something other than a porta potty. I would have down that had I know this was an option in the beginning.

Food, Drinks and Entertainment:

When you leave the parking lot you can just walk straight down a path to food vendors, a cafe, and a stage. This is where they have many of the festival performances and tea ceremonies. There is also a mini market type of area where the vendors are selling oranges and other vegetables and fruits. There were tables and chairs in this area to enjoy your snacks.

We also noticed that there was a separate large cafe with its own tables and chairs behind the stage area. I do not have information about what they had available because when we arrived this cafe was already closed (we arrived around 1pm). As our visit was the second to last day of the festival many things were already closed or packing up as we entered.

If you are looking for a more picnic type of atmosphere- which is popular for Hanami, I recommend turning right after walking down the main paling and the food stalls. There are raised picnic benches located in the middle of the trees. There were many families sitting with their picnic mats on the raised platforms and enjoying the blossoms. This area has some room for kids to wander about while you picnic as well in case they get bored of sitting before you get to finish your lunch. Is seems as if most families with younger children were in the Orchard area eating instead of seated at the tables. Mostly elderly patrons were in the main area with tables. This is not to say that you would not be welcome but just advice if you are with a large group or have young children who will not want to be seated for long periods.

Information During Your Visit:

There is a large map with information and trails marked in the main entrance of the trails. It has all information labeled in English as well as Japanese. You can view directions of  multiple shrines located on the orchard grounds, however we did not get to visit these so I can not give any advice. We made it a quicker trip as we wanted to head to the beach after and did not want to run out of time.

Accessibility for Strollers and Wheelchairs:

We did take a stroller. I think taking a stroller is ok as the areas are wide enough. Just be aware that you will probably be leaving the main path and walking through the grass and all through the trees if you like so its a little more difficult to get through there but overall I think it is fine. We took an umbrella stroller so I would not recommend that. Take a full size stroller that is easy to get through rougher terrain. We actually saw several wheelchairs in use at the time we were there and they had no problems getting around the orchard and through the crowds. This is a really useful point as I find many places in Japan are just not very easily accessed in this type of situation.

A wheelchair would work on the path. It is wide and fairly well cared for. No major cracks or rough terrain. Just a few small hills. The path all the way to the parking would be ok for a wheel chair as well. The grassy area within the Orchard could be wheel chair friendly although some spots the ground was soft and probably would need extra assistance in pushing through these areas by a companion if there was a manual wheelchair and nothing motorized. The parking area would be adequate for parking a van with a lift on the back as it is pull in forward and there is single parking and no cars will park behind you. getting in and out of the side doors or a car could be problematic as the sides are tight. However this is nothing worse than normal Japanese spots. I think it is actually better as no one is parked behind you in any spot that we saw.

Infant Feeding:

The orchard is big enough that if you do wish for privacy for feeding infants or need a quiet spot to settle a little one down you can probably find one. Just set out your picnic mat out under the trees and you probably won’t be bothered, as long as you are away from the main path. I did not see any type of private room or bathrooms located here.

Warning for Small Children:

Also I think it is worth mentioning there is an area of the orchard that is dangerous for kids. It is somewhat like a large area for water run off but it is deep and there are cement pillars over it with large gaps in between. This is large enough for a toddler to easily fall in. When we were near this area we had my toddler in the stroller so that we could walk father away from this and not have to worry about her wondering in due to curiosity. We simply redirected to another area of the orchard so she could play freely again. The orchard is huge so this should not deter you from visiting, just advice to steer clear of the drains.

Overall:

I think that this Ume viewing spot is a must on a clear day. I would also advise going in late February. While we saw tons of great blossoms, I think the peak week was probably the previous week. We went the first weekend of March. Realistically we should have been there the previous week. We still saw all colors of blooms and all types, but most of the red blooms were already gone. It was really enjoyable as this was far less crowded than other areas we have visited for Hanami. Let’s not forget this is not only free but special needs accessible as well as family friendly  that makes this a great plum viewing spot!

*Click here to visit the Odawara Ume Matsuri official site. You should visit the site before you go as the details can change yearly. The site is in Japanese but you can still view the dates and times.