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How to Break for Nature Just Outside Tokyo

by Team Fathom
Riding into nature. Photo courtesy of JR Central.

There’s a growing appetite for slow, deliberate, outdoor exploration fueled by responsible travel practices all over the world. In this post-pandemic era, travelers are doing more than blazing through the heart of a city — they’re investigating its outer edges. People are mixing urban and rural scenes, planning with more care, and allowing for spontaneity. Small communities are being appreciated in new ways. This new global mindset is exciting!

So where will travelers go once the world opens up again? There’s no better place to put these new traveler attributes to the test than Japan, and in particular, Tokyo. The capital city, in all its fast-paced, colorful, and wildly unique glory, is surrounded by lush river valleys, bamboo forests, sparkling lakes, piney woods, and snow-capped mountains.

And it’s easy to reach all of it by train! Not just any train, but the most efficient, resilient, and safe train system on Earth. Foreign visitors can take advantage of ticket types that allow for ease of travel in a given region. Go ahead: Make the most of your time in Japan by exploring as much as you can. Here’s how.

Photo courtesy of Odakyu Electric Railway Co., Ltd.
Open-air bath. Photo courtesy of Hoeiso.
Private dining room. Photo courtesy of Hoeiso.

Day 1: Tokyo → Hakone

Leave from Shinjuku Station en route to Hakone after reserving a seat on the charmingly named Odakyu Romance Car (note that an express ticket for the Romance Car is needed in addition to your boarding pass). Enjoy your bento box lunch and dreamily stare out the window.

Where to Stay

Drop your bags at Hoeiso, where you can hear a murmuring river, a wild bird call, and a pin drop. This quiet, 18-room ryokan is part of a small village surrounded by mountains. Step into a tranquil room decorated in the traditional style — wood, tatami mats, and views of nature. A wild grass garden changes with the seasons, and a luxurious open-air hot spring bath is surrounded by verdant views. In-house cooking showcases pheasant, a specialty. Meals can be taken in the room and the kitchen can accommodate young children (a rarity!).

If you’re interested in communing with nature and people, the (still very chill) 150-room Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu offers public baths with indoor and open-air pools, three restaurants (including a soba restaurant and dishes featuring both Japanese and Western techniques), a garden, spa, and an “infinity hot spring” on the sixth floor, and access to various activities (like the decorative technique known as marquetry). Ceramic hot springs baths in the guest rooms are made from Shigaraki pottery and have forest or mountain views.

What to Do

Soak up the nature of Hakone — while soaking in a bath.

Glamping. Photo courtesy of PICA Fujiyama.
Inside the geodesic dome. Photo courtesy of PICA Fujiyama.
A different vantage point. Photo courtesy of Yamanakako Activity SUP.

Day 2:Lake Yamanakako and Lake Kawaguchiko

Take the bus from Sengoku to Kawaguchiko Station via Gotemba Station. Use the Fuji Hakone Pass to explore the Five Lakes region.

Where to Stay

Camping at PICA Fujiyama is charming and highly Instagrammable. Cute wooden cottages and amazing dome tents at the foot of Mt. Fuji are close to sightseeing spots like Fujikyu Highland and Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine. Evenings are spent cooking around bonfires or relaxing in mini mobile saunas.

What to Do

Lake Yamanakako, one of the five lakes of Fuji located at the foot of the mountain, is popular for its active offerings on the water, from fly boats to banana boats to stand-up paddle boards (a Western import, but still a lot of fun). Yamanakako Activity SUP offers boards, paddles, lifejackets, changing rooms, and showers.

Lake Tanukiko. Photo courtesy of Fujinomiya City Tourism Association.
Dining room. Photo courtesy of LOQUAT.
Villa. Photo courtesy of LOQUAT.

DAY 3:Lake Tanukiko and Nishi-Izu

Head southbound to Fujinomiya by train for sightseeing at Lake Tanukiko. Then pick it up to continue to Nishi-Izu.

Where to Stay

Through renovation, new life has been breathed into the former Suzuki family mansion at LOQUAT Nishiizu, where the industrial details feel fresh and exciting. There are only two rooms: a one-story warehouse retrofitted with contemporary furnishings, a daybed, and a terrace overlooking loquat trees; and a two-story maisonette-type room with wooden beams. Both have open-air baths. Everyone has access to the gorgeous meals inspired by Italian cooking, from fresh bread to gelato, made from local produce, meat, and seafood.

What to Do

A perfect image of Mt. Fuji is reflected in the glassy waters of Lake Tanukiko, a body of water located in a corner of the vast Asagiri Plateau. Dotted with cherry blossoms in the spring and fiery red leaves in the fall, it’s a setting only Mother Nature could create. Around April 20 and August 20, the sun rises behind the top of Mt. Fuji — the scene is called "Diamond Fuji” because of the picture-perfect symmetry.

Next Stops

Return to Mishima station and take the Shinkansen west for further exploration. Or loop back to Tokyo refreshed, relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready for more action.

Plan Your Trip

Smart Ex App 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 around Hakone and Fuji-Goko from Shinjuku, Tokyo, easy and enjoyable. Before using the pass, please check the available area for excursions.

The Mt. Fuji-Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini gives travelers unlimited rides on JR local trains, buses, ferry and private rails along the route, as well as unlimited rides on non-reserved seats on limited express, rapid, and ordinary trains of JR conventional lines.

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.