Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes
Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji is a must for visitors to the Tokyo area. At 3776 meters above sea level, it is Japan’s tallest mountain peak. The mountain is located in the Fuji Five Lakes region, which offers plenty of activities such as scenic hiking trails and water sports on the lakes. Even if you don’t intend to climb the mountain, a visit to Fuji Sengen-jinja (shrine) is highly recommended. The 400-year-old Shinto temple is a 15-minute walk from Fujisan Station. Japan Tours offers tours of the region from Tokyo; otherwise, Fuji-Yoshida and Kawaguchi-ko are the two main towns providing access, if a self-guided adventure is more your style.
The Shrines and Temples of Nikkō
Around two hours north of Tokyo on the Tōbu Nikkō line, lies the ancient forest and town of Nikkō, whose 103 religious structures form a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. At the Tōshō-gu shrine, halls commissioned by the Tokugawa family — the family who ruled Edo Japan until the Meiji Restoration — leave visitors in awe. If it isn’t too crowded, you can really lose yourself in the history of feudal Japan among the towering cedars and ancient shrines. Other attractions include the Shin-kyō Bridge and the Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss, a wooded path protected by jizō statues.
Kusatsu Hot Spring Town
Located in Gunma Prefecture, Kusatsu is Japan’s favorite onsen (hot spring) town. The draw is its strongly-scented emerald waters, which are rich in sulphuric acid, the same compound that gives cooked eggs their unique odor. The hot water spring in the center of town, Yubatake, is also one of its most popular attractions, and is lit up at night. Other than enjoying a good soak, visitors can visit Mount Shirane for hiking in the fall or skiing in the winter.
While not exactly around the corner, thanks to Japan’s excellent rail system it’s entirely possible to visit Kamakura in just one day from Tokyo. The city is famous for its extremely high concentration of Zen, Buddhist, and Shinto temples, thanks to its rich history and former title as the nation’s capital. Kamakura has its own mini rail system to take visitors to all the different temples and down to the sea, so getting around is a breeze. Besides the required visit to the Daibutsu or Giant Buddha, you won’t want to miss seeing Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū for its sprawling grounds, and Jomyo-ji for its distinct wa-garden and traditional teahouse.
Another popular day trip from Tokyo is Mount Takao. Visitors can enjoy a nature hike on one of the many trails that ascend the mountain, or if they’re not feeling particularly adventurous, a cable car is there to carry passengers part of the way up. The ancient Yakuo-in, a Buddhist temple established in 744, is one of Takao-san’s must-sees. It takes less than an hour to get to Takaosanguchi Station on the Keio line.