Rail Report: The “Fujisan Tokkyū” Train between Kawaguchiko and Ōtsuki, Japan

Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji looms large over the surrounding landscape, so it’s possible to see the mountain from many vantage points. That said, some of the best views can be enjoyed from the northern shore of Kawaguchiko, a large lake at the base of Mount Fuji – and it’s got the added advantage of being fairly convenient to reach from Tōkyō. Today, let’s look at a train that’s popular with daytrippers aiming to see Mount Fuji from that area, thanks to its comfortable interiors and the fast connection it offers from Ōtsuki Station (which is in turn conveniently linked to Tōkyō’s Shinjuku Station).

Welcome aboard the Fujisan Tokkyū.

Note: This post describes a journey taken on 29 November 2018. Fares, schedules, equipment type and other details are subject to change without notice.

Due to a recent timetable change, the 11:55 Kawaguchiko Station departure I used for this trip is no longer available. The Fujisan Tokkyū service itself is still running, but with different schedules from the ones in force on the day of my original journey.

OVERVIEW

Country : Japan
Railway company : Fuji Kyūkō (“Fujikyū”)
Service type : Limited Express
Service name : Fujisan Tokkyū (フジサン特急, “Fujisan Express”)
Rolling stock : Fujikyū 8000 series EMU
Travel class : Non-reserved
Line used : Fuji-kyūkō Line
Origin : Kawaguchiko Station (dep. 11:55)
Destination : Ōtsuki Station (arr. 12:42)
Journey time : 47 minutes
Date of journey : Thursday, 29 November 2018

ROUTE

Let’s have a look at the route. Even though the track shown below won’t necessarily reflect the actual path taken by the train (depending on how Google Maps crunches the numbers), it should help give a general idea of the direction and distance involved.

TIMETABLES

The schedules for Fuji-kyūkō Line trains (including the Fujisan Tokkyū) were modified in 2019. The centrepiece of these changes was the 16 March 2019 launch of the new Fuji Kaiyū, a limited express service run by JR East – but using Fujikyū tracks southwest of Ōtsuki – that offers a seamless link between Shinjuku and Kawaguchiko. Even though the Fujisan Tokkyū is still very much an active service, the 11:55 departure from Kawaguchiko that I used in November 2018 is no longer available.

You can load up-to-date schedules using the timetable search function on Fujikyū’s official website. Detailed timetables specifically for the Fujisan Tokkyū can be viewed on the Japanese version of the same site.

HyperDia is also worth consulting, especially if you’re planning journeys that involve transfers to/from non-Fujikyū trains (such as services run by JR).

FARES AND TICKETS

The one-way base fare between Kawaguchiko and Ōtsuki is 1,140 yen. That’s all you need to pay when riding a slower local train that stops at all stations.

Since the Fujisan Tokkyū is a limited express service – stops at fewer stations, so gets from A to B faster – you’ll need to shell out an extra 400 yen to cover the express fee. This brings the total up to 1,540 yen one-way. If you’d like to ride in the better-equipped Car 1, you must also purchase a reserved seat ticket for another 200 yen.

If you’re planning to use a non-Fujikyū railway pass, bear in mind that only JR East’s Tōkyō Wide Pass is accepted for travel on the Fuji-kyūkō Line. The Tōkyō Wide Pass will cover both the base fare and the express fee, so you can board the non-reserved Cars 2 and 3 of the Fujisan Tokkyū without paying anything extra.

All other passes issued by JR companies – including the nationwide Japan Rail Pass – are NOT accepted on Fujikyū services. These won’t even cover the base fare, let alone the express fee.

ROLLING STOCK AND ONBOARD EXPERIENCE

Now then, let’s have a look at our train: a Fujikyū 8000 series EMU.

There’s only one of these in the world, and it’s had a long history. Originally built for Odakyū as one of two 7-car 20000 type EMUs, this train began service in 1991 and was eventually withdrawn in 2012. After being purchased by Fujikyū in 2013, the train was overhauled into a 3-car set and relaunced the following year as the Fujisan Tokkyū.

It’s getting on a bit in years, true enough … and the interiors (as we’ll see shortly) aren’t the the most modern you’ll encounter on the Japanese rail network. That said, this train – in its original incarnation as the Odakyū 20000 series EMU – did win the Japan Railfan CLub’s 1992 Blue Ribbon award for outstanding design, as evidenced by the plaque on the right.

Here’s the interior of Car 3, one of the Fujisan Tokkyū‘s two non-reserved compartments. If you’re using a Tōkyō Wide Pass, you can travel in Car 2 or 3 at no extra cost (since the pass fully covers both the base fare and express fee).

Most seats – except those on the front row – are fitted with folding tray tables and footrests. There’s also an extra folding table mounted on the wall by the window seat.

The front row has its strength and weaknesses. On the one hand, there are no footrests or tray tables here (just the foldaway surface near the window).

On the other hand, if the seats are correctly orientated (as they were on the Ōtsuki-bound journey), the glass wall in front of this row offers a rather extraordinary view: into, and beyond, the driver’s cabin.

Needless to say…

…I parked myself in the front row. (^_^)

I should stress that in terms of layout, this would in fact be the last row not just of this car, but of the entire train. Whether you’ll have a view through the glass wall or of the other seats looking towards the door will depend on which direction the train is travelling.

The journey is fairly short at roughly three-quarters of an hour, but it’s remarkably scenic at points. Heading towards Kawaguchiko, you’ll be treated to views of Mount Fuji majestically rising above the towns and countryside landscapes en route – subject to the weather and your place in the train, of course. Going the other way, towards Ōtsuki (as I was on this trip), there’s perhaps a little less majesty with the great mountain behind, but one might still manage some refreshing views of thickly forested hills and mountain streams, and even a splash of autumn colour during the fall.

The conductor will occasionally deliver snatches of commentary (in Japanese) as the train approaches interesting landmarks. For example, at one point, we were alerted to the presence of a massive concrete viaduct flying above the trees…

…and it turned out that what we were looking at was the future.

That right there was part of the Yamanashi Test Track, a special railway used for testing the super-high-speed magnetic levitation train technology that will be employed on the upcoming Chūō Shinkansen. Scheduled to open by 2027 for the initial Tōkyō-Nagoya segment (with full service to Ōsaka by 2037), this maglev line promises operating speeds of up to 505 km/h and travel times of as little as 40 minutes between Tōkyō and Nagoya. Indeed, the currently existing 42.8-kilometre test track is meant to form part of the actual Chūō Shinkansen once commercial service is launched – hence, what I saw outside my window on the Fujisan Tokkyū really was a sort of glimpse into the future.

I hope I’ll see that viaduct again, but from a different perspective: zipping along the Chūō Shinkansen after it opens for service a couple of decades from now.

I didn’t do any exploring beyond my part of the train, but there’s a floor plan on the Japanese Fujikyū site if you’d like to know what’s in the other compartments. The toilet is located in one end of Car 2, near the doors. There’s also a special seating area with couches next to the driver’s cabin in Car 1, but that’s only accessible if you have a seat in that compartment (which requires a 200-yen reserved seat ticket on top of the base fare and express fee).

ALTERNATIVE SERVICES

Ordinary commuter/local services are also available between Kawaguchiko and Ōtsuki. Cheaper, since you only need to pay the 1,140 yen basic fare when using them (no express fee required), but also slower as they stop at more stations.

There’s also an alternative Fujikyū limited express service available on this route: the luxurious Fujisan View Tokkyū. Visit the train’s dedicated web page for more information.

JR East’s new Fuji Kaiyū limited express service is also worth looking at, especially since it offers a transfer-free through service between Kawaguchiko and Tōkyō’s Shinjuku Station.

For a simplified overview of transportation options, check out the Fuji Five Lakes access page on Japan Guide.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

The Fujisan Tokkyū offers a comfortable and fast means of shuttling between Kawaguchiko and Ōtsuki. Granted, it’s neither as convenient as the new Fuji Kaiyū direct service from Shinjuku nor as luxurious as its cousin the Fujisan View Tokkyū train. That said, the Fujisan Tokkyū more than does the job of connecting passengers to the Fuji Five Lakes area with its well-maintained (if admittedly ageing) interiors and the interesting views available en route.

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