Mount Fuji,Shizuoka and Yamanashi , Honshu , Japan
Revered in the Shinto religion as a sacred mountain, 12,388-foot Mount Fuji is Japan highest peak and its national symbol. Elegant, snow-capped, symmetrical – and spellbinding when not shrouded in clouds – Fuji-san (as it is affectionately called by the Japanese people) is particularly beautiful when reflected on the mirror-calm surface of Lake Ashi.
The Japanese say that goraiko (sunrise) on Fuji summit is a spiritual experience. Prepare yourself for a lot of company and camaraderie on what is reputedly the world’s most climbed mountain: Huge numbers of trekkers show up every summer (an impressive percentage of senior citizens among them).
The various mountains paths that lead to the summit all have ten stations, and most climbers begin the 4- to 8-hour trek to the top from the fifth station (reachable by paved road) at either Gogome, on the north side, or Shin-Gogome, on the south. Many climbers hike at night with flashlights, arriving at the summit by dawn to catch sunrise, avoiding the packed dormitory-style accommodations along the way. The descent is a (3 hour) breeze.
Fuji last erupted in 1707, but in the nearby resort area of Hakone, within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (Japan’s most visited park), intense volcanic activity can be observed daily from the funicular that passes above the Valley of Great Boiling and its steaming, sulphurous gorge. For centuries, public baths have tapped into searing-hot, mineral-rich onsen (hot springs) that promise to cure everything from stress to rheumatism to sore muscles. On weekends, wonderfully scenic Hakone fills with Tokyoites who come for a long, hot soak.
Of the handful of traditional ryokan inns with their own indoor and outdoor onsen, Gora Kadan, the former summer residence of the Kan-In-No-Miya imperial family, is one of the most acclaimed in the country. Enjoy their exquisite spa followed by a traditional 10-course kaiseki meal served in your tatami room.
Those with a less imperial budget should check into the old-fashioned Fujiya Hotel, the sprawling grande dame that has welcomed guests since 1878. The renowned Hakone Open-Air Museum is an escape from the summer weekend crowds and is home to sculptures by Henry Moore, Rodin, Giacometti, and Takeshi Shimizu. An indoor pavilion is filled with Picasso pieces from his later years.
WHERE : 44 miles/71 km south of Tokyo.
BEST TIME : Mar – Apr during cherry blossom season; May when azaleas are in bloom; Jul – Aug for climbing Mt. Fuji, but you won’t be alone.