Everybody. Wants. To. Go. To. Japan.
Although a reopening timeline has not been announced, travelers are already clamoring for future travel to the Land of the Rising Sun.
When they arrive, the number one destination will be Tokyo, with its incredible skyline, energy, and dizzying array of contemporary culture — art, food, nightlife, shopping, fashion — as well as sphere of traditions both iconic and little-known.
Of course, even most steadfast city slicker can appreciate — and fall hard for! — the natural beauty just outside the city. (Here’s looking at you, Mt. Fuji.)
A quick trip (solo, in pairs, in a small group) on the bullet train will transport your trip to another level. Have a few days? Make the most of your explorations outside Tokyo by utilizing the high-speed railway, arguably the best — and the safest and the most efficient — in the world. Train travel is a highly affordable and super chill way to experience the incredible nature, history, and culture the country has to offer.
Here’s where to go and how to do it.
Day 1: Tokyo → Kamakura → Hakone
Take the Train: Your bags are packed and you’ve got tickets to ride from Tokyo to Enoshima. Head to Shinjuku Station, and don’t forget to pick up an adorable bento box before settling into your reserved a limited-edition ticket for the delightfully named Odakyu Romance Car (note that you'll need to purchase an express ticket in addition to your boarding pass). All stations along the route offer coin locker storage for luggage so that you can explore with ease.
First stop: Kamakura
A mix of history and lush nature 90 minutes from Tokyo.
Zen Moment: Visit the beautifully preserved Engakuji and Hasedera Temples, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, or Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kotokuin Temple), a colossal bronze statue sitting in the open air. For a Zen primer, book a 90-minute course with Samurai Project, to practice meditative circle painting, drink matcha, and swing a Samurai sword.
Sand and Sea: First-time travelers may be surprised to find beachy communities so close to Tokyo. Take in the views of the water, Enoshima Island, or Mt. Fuji in the distance as you walk on the volcanic sands of Sagami Bay.
Catch the Caboose: Pick up your luggage and take the Odakyu Line to Hakone.
Where rocky outcrops, dense foliage, and a volcanic past and present equal a steamy bath in your future.
Up in Smoke: The volcanic activity in the region has resulted in a glorious natural environment in Hakone Geopark, with the steaming lava vents of Owakudani, ancient flows by the shore of Lake Ashinoko, and wild foliage and animals in the mountainous forest. For a bird’s-eye view of the past, take the Hakone Ropeway. Visit a public or private onsen for a hot bath in the great outdoors.
Catch a Wink Hotel Hatsuhana is nestled along the old highway of Hakone, a typical Japanese inn guided by the seasons (the name, which means “the first cherry blossoms of the year,” provides a clue). Enjoy views of Mt. Yusaka from the dining room, where guests are served thoughtfully prepared kaiseki plates made with local ingredients. The hotel is undergoing a major renovation in January 2022 for a fall re-opening as a high-end hotel.
Day 2: Hakone → Oshino
Take the Bus: to Gotemba Station; change for the bus to Oshino Hokkai.
Quaint village meets popular retreat in the Five Lakes Region.
Drinking Snow Water: Lots of folks flock to Ohsino Hakkai, an area with eight sparkling ponds fed by melting snow from Mt. Fuji. (You can taste the water from the Spring of the Gods here, too.) The Mt. Fuji views, especially in winter, are spectacular.
Paddle Prowess: Hop in a canoe and paddle Lake Kawaguchiko, one of the Fuji Five Lakes, located at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Experienced instructors at Kawaguchiko Canadian Canoe teach paddling and etiquette basics before pushing you out in one of their sturdily built Canadian canoes.
Artful Exit: Make a little side trip to the tiny (six-room), striking Hotel Keyforest Hokuto, where travelers connect with nature and art, tradition, and modernity in Kobuchizawa Art & Wellness at the base of the Yatsugatake mountains. The grounds include the Nakamura Keith Haring Collection and the golf course. The modernist concrete slab hotel offers a private open-air bath with free-flowing hot spring water, a bar with spirits produced in Yamanashi, and a dining experience with views of the forest.
Day 3: Mt. Fuji, Up Close and Personal
Take the Train: Buy a ticket on the JR local train to travel south toward Fujinomiya.
Destination: Mt. Fuji
Like seeing those famous woodblock prints come to life.
Mountain Virtues: There was a time when no one would dare climb the sacred Mt. Fuji for fear of eruption; worship only happened from afar. But since its dormancy began in the 11th century, there has been a movement of faith from “distant” to “ascending” worship. And climbing is on. You can learn more at the Shigeru Ban-designed Mt. Fuji World Heritage Centre, Shizuoka before making your way to the Fuji Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine.
Smooth as Glass: Lake Tanuki, in Fujinomiya City, offers views of Mt. Fuji against a perfect reflection on the water — a view made even more enchanting by a border of cherry blossoms in the spring and fiery foliage in the fall. Travelers are lured to boat, hike, camp, and fish. Around April 20 and August 20, the sun settles directly into the apex of the mountain — known as the "Diamond Fuji" phenomenon.
Rest and Relax: Stretching out a little further, take the train to Atami. Check into ATAMI Sekaie, a small luxury resort with fabulous Pacific Ocean views. Two restaurants — one specializing in Japanese and the other in meat — source and show off Japan’s best ingredients. Rooms are sophisticated and subdued and have open-air baths overlooking the sea. The hotel can arrange a healthy program of fitness, yoga, bodywork, and nutrition for the duration of your stay. It’s hard to believe you’re less than an hour from Tokyo Station.
Day 4: Back to Tokyo — or Keep Going
Take the Train: Hop on the Shinkansen from Shin-Fuji/Mishima/Atami stations to Tokyo. Continue to Kyoto or another destination. Or just take one more bath before deciding where-to next.
Tokyo Park Life: It’s hard to believe the lush and verdant Shinjuku Gyoen, one of the city’s largest swaths of green space, is just a short walk from bustling Shinjuku Station. Tranquil paths meander through forests, linked ponds, wide open spaces, traditional Japanese grounds with teahouses, a formal garden, a landscape garden, and, of course, groves of cherry trees that offer early, mid, and late blooms. Maple trees burst with changing colors in autumn. Come winter, the warm glass rooms of the greenhouse brim with tropical plants.
All About the Views: If you’ve absorbed some of that “Fuji viewing culture,” you can get one last peek of the majestic action from the Tokyo Sky Tree, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, or the Fujimidai observation deck at Haneda Airport.
Plan Your Trip
Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Online Reservation Service is the best resource for train planning. The Tokaido Shinkansen is a high-speed railroad line between Tokyo and Osaka, operated by JR Central. Travelers can easily explore beyond Tokyo and Kyoto on the Golden Route by Shinkansen. The Fuji-Hakone Pass makes hop-on/hop-off travel connecting Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line to the Hakone and Fuji areas (with stops for hot springs, seafood, and Mt. Fuji!) easy and affordable.
Note that for the Tokyo-Enoshima route with the Fuji-Hakone Pass, purchase a ticket to Enoshima (between Sagami-Ono and Katase-Enoshima Station). When you return to Hakone on the Odakyu Line, you will need a ticket from Katase Enoshima Station to Sagami-Ono Station.
Produced in partnership with Fuji-Hakone-Izu International Tourism Association, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau, ODAKYU Electric Railway Co., Ltd., Central Japan Railway Company, and Kanto District Transport Bureau.