Known locally as Sagamiko, Lake Sagami is an artificial lake located in Sagamihara City, in the northwestern part of Kanagawa Prefecture. It conveniently situated just 60 kilometers from metropolitan Tokyo, 50 kilometers from Yokohama, about an hour from each of these cities. Sagamiko Resort Pleasure forest on the lakeside is a nature and greenery theme park, with attractions including the Jumpin’ Star and Alps Ferris Wheel, with other facilities such as mountain bike courses, dog parks, and a campground also provided. The lake is the prefecture’s famous family outing destination, mobbed with tourists throughout the year, especially during summer, spring and autumn.
We had not gone on an autumn trip this year before, and, with a severe lack of time, thought a trip this year was impossible. However, through much brain storming and thinking of ways to make a trip out of the city on limited time, we decided to give it a shot. We woke up early and headed to Shinjuku station, boarded the Holiday Rapid Express View Yamanashi, the train that links Shinjuku and Sagamiko in less than an hour. Then perhaps 15 minutes on the train, the view of Mt. Fuji amidst Tokyo’s concrete forest was visible on the left side of the train in the distance. The sky was blue and the only cloud in sight was the one that hovered over the snow-capped Mt. Fuji. On arrival at Sagamiko Station, we found that, aside from our group, there were couples, families, and young energetic bikers walking leisurely on the platform. Though the temperature was rather low, it was still a beautiful day with plenty of sunlight and a crisp wind.
Soon we stood before the lake and quickly found that the earth was cold and wet due to the sensational weather of the previous day. I took a leisurely walk along the lake exploring the front shopping promenade besides the park, while my husband preferred to take a rest on a wooden bench. Alone now, I walked past “Let’s Boating”, a local facility where tourists can rent fishing boats and petal boats to take for a spin on the lake. The shopping street equipped with game zone boasted a nostalgic atmosphere with retro shooting games and a pinball arcade. Further down the avenue, there was a humble small business serving buckwheat noodles, ramen, and rice bowl dishes. The place offered many fun ways to eat inexpensively like the locals, without compromising great taste and cultural trills.
A while later, my son followed me. “Mom, if you would be so kind,“ he said, doing his best to be polite, “could you please take a cruise with me?” I hesitated since the wind was like a breath of cold and it was not part of our plan. However, since it was such a beautiful day, so I decided to give it a go. The cost for a ticket was 800 yen for adult and 400 yen for children. After the payment, we were escorted to the boarding pier, busy with many tourists; no one was a readily identifiable foreigner. The excursion ships operated on Lake Sagami were in the form of colorful cute swans and whales. We squeezed onto the balcony of the whale ship next to a group of teenagers who kept standing with excitement throughout the voyage. Spectacular, amazing, incredible, and unbelievable, were the only words that were spoken amongst the group. The red and gold leaves enhanced the beauty of the entire scene and gave the perfect frame for the photo. After a while, my son leaned towards me tightening his jacket. “I think we‘d better get inside the cabin,” he murmured. I nodded slowly, covering my face with a wool scarf to prevent the wind from ribbing at my face as we moved inside. We were seated behind the ship’s captain watching the mountains turning red and yellow over the crystal-clear water. Known for its smelt, black bass, and crucian carp, dozens of wooden fishing boats were dotted on the pristine lake. According to the audio commentary, this recreational fishing can be enjoyed throughout the year.
After enjoying nature on the water level, my son and I walked back to reunite with my husband. The climbing season was over. However, the mountains surrounding the lake certainly inspired my husband’s inner climber. The milder weather made it even easier to explore the wider area of the reservoir on foot. So we took the path that leads to Sagami Dam, the first large-scale reservoir in Kanagawa prefecture. There, we made a brief stop before heading toward the Benten Shrine. Along the way, we kept seeing garden enthusiasts preparing their backyards to plant their own vegetables. Even people with very limited space use their terraces to plant vegetables in containers. Gourd, potato, and onion, were some of the popular vegetables. On the balconies, astringent persimmons were hung and dried to get rid of any bitterness before consuming.
The path leading to the mountain was well maintained and leafy. Soon the air was infused with the pungent aroma of crushed fallen ginkgo nuts. Some maple trees were rusting when the wind came up. The grasses were growing up thickly between tiny purple flowers that looked like cosmos. I was thrilled to see many banana trees with fruit. On the opposite side of the walkway, Japanese tourists traveled in packs, muttering to each other.
We hiked past bamboo forest, observing gigantic and unusual rock formations on the way to the Benten Bridge, a steel suspension bridge popular with tourists offering magnificent views over the Katsura River. Near the bridge was the Benten Shrine, the shrine dedicated to the goddess of water. The shrine was really small that I almost missed it. Housed in the holy place were Jizo images hewn out of solid rock. The atmosphere was absolutely tranquil, no human’s sound, no animal’s sound. I glanced at my watch realizing that we had been trekking nonstop for two hours. To me, the hike was moderate and suitable even for beginners. However, my wool coat and brand-new shoes made it harder to keep balance. My stomach was rumbling and I felt exhausted much more than I had anticipated. The idea of continue hiking to Mt. Takao to take in the magnificent view of Fujisan seemed impossible.
Moments later, Obara no Sato, a roadside rest station with a small museum, was upon us. I paused to catch my breath and have seasoned Japanese mushroom rice I packed from home. Despite finishing a solemn lunch, I was still hungry as a wolf, so I looked hard to see if there were any restaurants or convenience stores. Sadly, there weren’t any, just a few beverage vending machines. So, instead, I drank two bottles of roasted warm green tea and relaxed. Gradually, the tension slipped from my body. At last, I felt stable enough to survey the surroundings. The parking lot was pretty spacious for Japanese standards and had a beautiful mountain view. I passed an old man who was cooking some stew that looked like Oden behind his minivan house. I supposed he was a professional photographer. Unlike most roadside stations in the country, there were no souvenirs to buy and no local food to sample here. There was a tiny museum aimed at those who want to learn a bit more about Sagamiko‘s history and culture.
At some point during the trip, we made a brief visit to Obara-juku Honjin, a lodging facility where people of high status used to stay. On the first floor, there were a study room, toilets, and a kitchen. I learnt later that the place did not only offer accommodations but also serve meals. Then we stepped up a dozen of wooden steep stairs to the second floor, where we were surrounded by objects of the feudal period. The bad news was that there’s no hand-on experience; touching the exhibits was prohibited. Moreover, neither Japanese nor English explanation was provided on the displays. The good news was there was a sweet grandmother who wanted to practice her English and trilled to explain the history of her hometown, such as what the inn was used for and what kind of wood was used to build it. The curator was also able to communicate and convey messages in English. The visit to the only remaining Honjin in the province was a really enriching experience.
After we had done with the Honjin, we ambled along the shady street winding our way back to the train station. Several types of trees started to change colours, however, sycamores were particularly gorgeous and could be seen in a large number. Though, somehow the number seemed irrelevant. The golden falling leaves on the gray pavements formed a perfect background for daydreaming. Autumn in Sagamiko was truly stunning and well worth the time and effort to get there.
Access: Lake Sagami is located near Sagamiko Station, just one stop away from Takao Station on the Chuo Line. You can take the double- decker Holiday Rapid View Yamanashi, a local semi-express train with great views as it travels through the countryside. It is not considered a limited express train, so the fee is almost the same as regular trains.