If you want to learn more about Japans hidden gems and places you can enjoy from beaches to mountains, cities to backstreets, join my journey on my Facebook fan page because it’s chock full of rarely known incredible places to explore!


Lake Saiko is one of the Fuji Five Lakes in Yamanashi Prefecture, the 4th largest and 2nd deepest at 70m.

Though from Jiyu Camp-Jyo (自由キャンプ場)where I’m staying the view of Mt. Fuji is obstructed by 1,000m mountains, the eastern shore of the lake does have some nice views and there is also a campsite there, though I have yet to try it.

It’s still a bit chilly in late March and the weather is changeable so for this trip I’m bringing a large tarp and tent so we’ll have plenty of shelter from any wind and rain should low pressure come in and try and ruin our impromptu trip.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

I’ve stayed here a few times now and I keep coming back despite the better views of Mt. Fuji at other campsites around the five lakes, of which there are dozens.  Motosuko Lake has perhaps one of the best views of the mountain which is evidenced by the fact the view from immediately beside the campsite office is illustrated on the back of the Japanese 1,000 yen note.

But I love the simplicity of Jiyu Camp Jyo, the friendly and helpful owner, the 1,000 yen/per person, per night pricing structure, the clean toilets, washing areas and nearby bath house!

On the way to the campsite the very first time I stayed here I remember I had seen a family of dolls on the side of the road waiting at a bus stop and stopped to take a picture.  This time ’round I thought I would check and see if they were still there.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Yep.  Still there.  Curious, I wondered how long they might have been there.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

Well, long enough to be captured in Satellite imagery.  Either buses out here don’t run on time or there’s something else going on.

I’ve seen some strange things in the city over the years being a photographer in Japan, but roadside Japan is full of moments that make you cock your head to one side and ask yourself aloud, (sometimes out loud) ‘WTF?!’

With farmland obviously nearby, it could just be very detailed and aesthetically pleasing scarecrows (that just happen to be placed in a social setting, (a bustop)), but judging from some other recent discovers I made and a story on the BBC, it might point to something a little more difficult to take in.

This report by the BBC tells the story of one woman’s mission to save her hometown of Nagoro by making dolls and placing them around town in an attempt to bring it back to life!  In the one project featured in the film, she’s placed them in a closed down school with their own teacher and textbooks.  Though how much of all this is lost-in-translation exaggeration is difficult to gauge.

What is certain however is with the birthrate in Japan rapidly falling, the number of young people in rural towns and villages is zeroing out, and although it’s inevitable that at least one person is going to take a slightly off-kilter approach to saving their country, I started to wonder if it was becoming a widespread trend.

On a more recent visit back to the area, not only were the same family still there, although in a change of clothes, on the other side of the lake I ran into another family.  It was obvious from where they were placed that they weren’t scarecrows, moreover it was a much more involved and staged real life scene of a family complete with fishing boat, fishing roads, fish and blue sheeting for the waters surface enjoying a day out.  I took some pictures and left with a sort of unnerving feeling that in a hundred years from now, people will visit this country and the only sign of life they will find will be these dolls.

The great thing about being in the mountains with a camera is the unpredictability of the weather, the clouds, the hanging mists in the mornings.  A very ordinary scene can suddenly turn quite extraordinary, and back to ordinary again all in a matter of minutes.  At dawn and dusk it’s an absolute lottery as to what the light is going to do so I’m always up and out of the tent before sun-up.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

The last of the light.  Thankfully no rain this evening.  Wind picked up a bit and the cold air off of the lake surface was freezing but all part of the fun!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

My dog contemplating the troubles of the world.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan


If you want to learn more about Japans hidden gems and places you can enjoy from beaches to mountains, cities to backstreets, join my journey on my Facebook fan page because it’s chock full of rarely known incredible places to explore!


Jiyu Camp Jyo

  • Open March through to the end of November
  • 07:00 Check-in
  • 11:00 Check-out
  • Clean toilets and washing areas
  • Simple and reasonable price structure
  • Nearby Bathouse
  • Wood, charcoal, basic food and drink supplies on site as well as rental equipment