Exploring the Fuji area of Japan (Chureito Pagoda, Ice Caves, and Aokigahara Forest)

Saturday morning I woke up and decided I needed a little adventure in my life! I have had the Chureito Pagoda pinned for a while as a "must see" place so this was the lucky winner for adventure time! Train time vs drive time was pretty close and after a debacle with getting lost in the tunnels of Tokyo the previous day, I decided to reduce my stress and take the train!

The Chureito Pagoda is approximately 2 hours from Yokota Air Base via train. If you're taking the train the stop for the Pagoda is Shimoyoshida. I enjoy train adventures because it allows you to see some beautiful places, riding in to Shimoyoshida I passed through some beautiful mountainous terrain. At one point we were riding along with some of the most stunning shots of Mt Fuji. Times like this I'm constantly reminded of  how lucky I am, the beauty of nature, and just how small we are in this big beautiful world! 
taken from the train, while moving. Speechless
Shimoyoshida train station is TINY! I mean seriously small. I'm pretty sure that the only reason people get on/off there is to see the shrines/Chureito Pagoda.  When you exit the station there is a map showing you the walking directions to the Pagoda. It's about a 5-10 minute walk. The shrines and pagoda are on a mountain, so you're climbing. As with most things in Japan there are tons of tiny little stairs, half stairs as I call them! I read somewhere online that there are 397 stairs to the pagoda, but I didn't bother counting! Part of the way you can walk an incline ramp instead of the stairs (I recommend this for sure!)





Never saw any animal...sadly!
If you have time continue on beyond the Pagoda up the mountain, there is a waterfall up there. I didn't actually know until I came back down the mountain and didn't have it in me to do those stairs again! I'll go back and do the waterfall when it's warmer! 
When you get to the Chureito Pagoda it will likely be crowded, it's picturesque and where you can get that shot of Mt Fuji (assuming she can be seen) with the Pagoda (the one you have likely seen on the internet)
Chureito Pagoda and Mt Fuji from the "observation deck"

When you get your shot of the Pagoda and Fuji, continue up the mountain, more stairs, and you'll find an even more stunning view of Mt Fuji that is unobstructed by trees (and people)! It has a rest area with picnic tables so it's a great spot to stop for lunch if you bring it! The pictures below were all taken at the spot I'm talking about.





The weather and view in the Fuji area can change pretty quickly. When I got there it was super clear with 100% views of Fuji, by the time I left a couple of hours later Fuji was almost completely covered in clouds. You just never know.

From here it was off to find Aokigahara. I've wanted to go here for a long time and never made it. I met a friend at the Chureito Pagoda so we drove to the Aokigahara (I know there are bus stops within Aokigahara but I don't know of train transport)
Aokigahara is known as the suicide forest in the foothills of Mt Fuji. You can read a lot about it online, there's a really shitty movie about it out there that you can watch, but I highly suggest that you go and see it for yourself. Not to make light of suicide but because this forest is so much more than that. There are beautiful trails within the forest and several caves (Ice, Bat, and Wind) that were formed from lava. We stopped at the Ice Cave (it was very interesting to see and something that I definitely recommend if you're in the area).





If you're driving and trying to find Aokigahara (to walk into the forest) I highly recommend using Fugaku Fuketsu Lava Cave as the destination. Putting in "aokigahara" will send you on a wild goose chase if you're using both Google Maps and Apple Maps. Waze did a good job getting us where we needed to be. The wind cave was closed by the time we got there, but there is a very clear entrance into the forest (with a camera on the parking lot, some of the efforts they make to monitor and prevent people from entering the forest and harming themselves) It's said that there are also motivational signs in the forest reminding people of their worth to discourage suicide. I didn't see any on the path that I was on, but the forest is huge (13.5 square miles) and I was on one path and didn't get to go far because it was almost dusk, also because the path was completely ice covered and I didn't have spikes. The forest is beautiful, something that you should definitely go and experience. I plan to return during nicer weather, when the ice has melted, as there is a path that leads to a lake (it was approx. an hour walk from where we were and just way too close to dark) and let's be honest. I don't believe or not believe in ghosts and spirits but I certainly don't want to be in the suicide forest in the dark, without a flashlight.
They also say that your cellphone can lose service in there because of the mineral deposits in the ground, but some people say that it's because of other things. Believe what you may. I didn't go deep enough into the forest to ever lose service, it did go down to one bar but then bounced back up to full service.





And if curiosity is killing you, no I didn't see any bones, bodies, tents, etc. I did see a memorial set up with flowers, beer cans, and mochi, a gruesome reminder of how real suicide is, and that it impacts so many people. 

Japan has so much beauty, sometimes things get so tainted by a post, a book, a movie, someones negative experience that jades their viewpoint...whenever you're traveling or in life in general, experience things with fresh eyes.

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