Bryan Walsh, Time’s former Bureau Chief, suggests a visit to Hakone as a relaxing alternative to climbing Mt. Fuji.
“There’s a saying about Mt. Fuji – a fool would fail to climb the mountain at least once in their lifetime, and only a fool would climb more than once. I’m the first kind of fool, but I do like making my way up the splendid lakes and onsen around Fuji. Come here during July to check out the Fuji Rock festival, by far Asia’s best concert.”
Okay, not really a day trip, as it takes up to three hours even with the super-zippy bullet train, but if the itinerary can be stretched, do include the ancient capital. The journey itself is extraordinary: it’s aboard a shinkansen, (www.japanrail.com), or bullet train, that leaves absolutely on the dot, with passengers waved aboard by uniformed and gloved station assistants. Each carriage has an attendant who gives a little bow before making announcements. Kyoto itself is a small city compared to Tokyo, fairly easy to get around, with temples galore, many in spectacular woodland and hillside settings. Hire a guide to maximize time, or pick two or three sites to allow plenty of time for contemplation and to appreciate nature as the Japanese do. The historic downtown of the city is nothing special; stay on the fringes, at the newly opened Hyatt Regency (www.hyattregencykyoto.com), which has its own mini spa, and dip in and out of Kyoto’s cultural treasures. This, rather than Tokyo, is where the full might of the nation’s ancient and cultured history is on open display. The temple’s ample grounds easily accommodate simple yet amazingly effective displays of rocks and stones that induce tranquility.
On a clear day, its snowcapped peak, as iconically Japanese as a sumo wrestler or a kimono-wearing woman, can be glimpsed from the top floors of the major hotels. The highest peak in Japan, at 12,288 feet, Mount Fuji is doable in a day from Tokyo, either by car, bus, or, more interestingly, by train. Frequent (and punctual) express service connects with a suburban train that plods toward Mount Fuji’s slopes. If time permits, stay overnight so you can potter around the picturesque lakes surrounding the mountain. Fuji can also be climbed, but that involves planning and serious amounts of stamina. The official climbing season is July through August.