Gotemba is a small city located at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It is surrounded by the towns of Susono and Oyama but most people will consider that entire area to be Gotemba for simplicity. Gotemba itself is located on the south-east corner of Mt. Fuji on the east side of Shizuoka and at the border of Kanagawa. It is literally at the border between the Kanto and Chubu regions of Japan. While Shizuoka is technically within the Chubu region, most consider everything to the east of Mt. Fuji to be part of Kanto and due to the geography, Gotemba falls on the east side of Mt. Fuji. Gotemba itself has only one major attraction aside from Mt. Fuji, and that’s a large outlet shopping mall. In the surrounding areas, to the north of Gotemba is the town of Oyama which is famous for Fuji Speedway. Both of these are the only famous destinations for any travellers to the region, although there are a lot of natural places to visit.
The most famous and obvious attraction in Gotemba has to be Mt. Fuji. Gotemba is the location for the entrance to the Gotemba hiking trail. This is probably only for the real adventurists as it is considered the most difficult way to hike up Mt. Fuji as it is the longest trail. Due to the proximity of Gotemba to Mt. Fuji, you can usually see Mt. Fuji on most clear days. Mt. Fuji is a very fickle mountain. I have heard many people complain about the problems of heading out to the foot of Mt. Fuji only to be greeted by clouds instead of the majestic mountain. Due to its isolation from other mountain ranges and its height Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds. In order to see Mt. Fuji, you need to go there on a perfectly clear day. If there are any clouds in the sky, it is highly likely that they will slam into Mt. Fuji and hang out for a while leading to a huge disappointment. Gotemba is one of the few places you can visit and not feel too bad if Mt. Fuji is obscured. Most people visit Hakone, and I actually recommend visiting Hakone over Gotemba, but it can be harder to see Mt. Fuji as Hakone is located in the nearby mountains which can make seeing Mt. Fuji a little harder. Kawaguchiko is the other famous place to see Mt. Fuji but aside from FujiQ Highlands, an amusement park, there is nothing to do there. Gotemba can be better but only if you enjoy shopping.
Currently, Gotemba is well known for its shopping opportunities. If you tell anyone in Tokyo that you are going to visit Gotemba, almost everyone will ask if you will be going there to go shopping. The outlet mall in Gotemba is called Premium Outlets and it is an American brand of outlet malls run by the Simon Property Group. In Japan, they set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Estate who operates the Premium Outlet Mall chain in Japan. The Gotemba branch is the flagship mall in Japan and well known among people in Tokyo. It is a destination for people with long lines to get into the mall on weekends and holidays. The easiest way into the mall is to purchase a ticket on one of the special direct buses. These buses run from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station. They leave in the morning and return by dinner. All you have to do is show up at the station, board the bus and then board the same bus to return back to Tokyo. Tickets for the weekend do sell out quickly so it is best to reserve seats ahead of time. For those who can’t get tickets, you can still easily take a regular highway bus. A highway bus is a long distance bus that uses highways to get from A to B, but on the way to Gotemba there are several bus stops on the Expressway itself. There is also a train service but the best option for this is via Shinjuku but it is more expensive than the bus. For most people, shopping at Gotemba will not be very different to shopping at any other outlet shop in the world. Most of the shops are the same as in America, but there are several Japanese brands that you can’t find elsewhere. Depending on your own fashion sense, you may or may not enjoy shopping in Gotemba but if you enjoy shopping anyways, you can always spend a day visiting Gotemba and attempting to see Mt. Fuji up close at the same time.
To the north of Gotemba is Oyama, the home of Fuji Speedway. Fuji Speedway is the most famous race course in the Kanto region. It was host to the F1 Japan Grand Prix in the past and considered the most beautiful race course in Japan. This is mostly due to the fact that you can easily see Mt. Fuji from the track. Today, the track is used mostly for local racing championships and Toyota sponsored events. The track itself has undergone several changes over the decades. Due to financial difficulties by its owner, Toyota, the track was discontinued as an F1 circuit but continues to be used for national races and local events. Unfortunately, it appears that the racing course will not be used as an F1 circuit in the foreseeable future. It is a bit of a shame but when compared to Suzuka’s greater history, Fuji Speedway will probably continue to suffer from the lack of attention.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Gotemba is not a place most people will ever visit, nor will they really want to. It is a beautiful place to go but compared to the more popular areas such as Hakone, Gotemba will be overlooked a lot. For nature, people will visit Hakone. For Mt. Fuji hikes, people will go to Kawaguchiko. For shopping, most tourists will stay in Tokyo or visit one of the outlet malls that are easier to visit such as the Mitsui chain in Makuhari. For locals and people living in Tokyo, Gotemba will be a place to visit once in a while. If you can justify a visit to the region, I recommend doing so, but unfortunately, I doubt most will want to spend the time to go there.
Note: Unfortunately I have no photos of Gotemba Premium Outlets. I almost never go there to take pictures, only to do shopping. 🙂