There are five lakes skirting the northern base of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s iconic highest mountain. These lakes are the result of rivers dammed by lava flowing from the Fuji volcano in eruptions of centuries past. Today they are all popular recreation areas.
Lake Kawaguchi (a/k/a Kawaguchi-ko) is the northernmost of these lakes, and the second largest. It is particularly popular because it is the easiest to reach from Tokyo by train, with Kawaguchi-ko station sitting about half a kilometer from the lake’s shore. The trip from Shinjuku Station is about two hours.
The area offers plenty of amusements, including watersports like waterskiing, jet skiing, rowing, and fishing, motorboat and sightseeing boat tours of the lake, a ropeway to gain higher vistas, art museums and galleries, gardens and various fun eateries.
On an early summer day that is slightly overcast without being rainy, a walk along the lake’s shore can be an especially fun activity, especially if you have a goal like collecting stamps at the shrines of Japan’s famous seven lucky gods (almost like a scavenger hunt). While seven lucky gods walks are often considered a Near Year’s activity, this is one such walk that can be done any time of the year. The walk is less than 3 kilometers and can be cpmpleted in less than an hour.
Each golden god is housed in its own little shrine, most overlooking the lake, and each has a stamp and stamp pad so that visitors can collect the stamps on a brochure or specially printed card to commemorate their visit. (I had neither when I did the walk, so I just stamped a piece of paper.)
Start on the lake’s southern shore near the foot of the bridge that crosses a narrow point of the lake. Here you will find a small shrine to Ebisu, the only Japanese-born of the seven lucky gods. Ebisu, always depicted holding a fish and a fishing rod, is the god of fishermen and merchants. This Ebisu shrine faces the lakeshore and there is often a fisherman nearby with a line in the water.
It’s about 20 minutes to the next shrine, dedicated to Daikoku, Ebisu’s father. To get there, cross the bridge and bear to the left on the trail along the lake’s north shore. Although the best views of Mt. Fuji are said to be from the north shore of the lake, the views from the bridge can also be quite nice. Locals will tell you that Mt. Fuji is often best viewed in the early morning as clouds or haze obscure the views later in the day for most of the year.
Daikoku takes a jaunty stance in his shrine with one foot on a bale of rice, a symbol of wealth, testimony to his role as the god of wealth. In his right hand Daikoku wields a magical mallet, said to be able to release anything he wants when he strikes it. What will you ask him to release for you?
Just a couple of minutes further along the shoreline is a shrine to Bishamonten, the god of war, and Benten’s shrine is just five minutes from there. Although you’re searching for these gods, don’t forget to stop and enjoy the views! Benten, the only female of the seven, is the goddess of music and fine arts. Her animal familiar is the dragon and she is depicted with one. Daikoku, Bishamonten and Benten are the three gods of Indian origin.
Another 8-10 minutes away, first along the lakeshore and then up one of the small creeks that feed into the lake, is the shrine to Hotei, god of happiness and contentment. Hotei, whose name means “cloth bag”, is often depicted carrying a cloth bag over his shoulder, said to contain a never-ending supply of gifts for children, a la Santa Claus.
Head back down the creek to the shoreline; just across the creek you’ll find the shrine of Jurojin, the god of longevity. Four to five minutes further along is the shrine to high-foreheaded Fukurokuju, god of happiness, wealth and longevity, a nice neat package of luck with which to end this particular pursuit. Are you feeling lucky at this stage?
This walk is a pleasant way to enjoy the waterfront and the lake and mountain views it offers. There is a bus service, known as the “Omni Bus” that will return you to Yamaguchiko train station or allow you to continue around the lake. It’s about 6 kilometers further to Nagahama, home to the Herb Festival from June 19 to July 11, 2021. The festival is fundamentally an homage to the lavender that is abundant in this area. (For the intrepid walker, it is worth noting that the lake is about 21 kilometers in circumference.)
© 2021 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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