Japan's highest mountain, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mt Fuji, has been a source of inspiration for artists and pilgrims throughout the ages. You're likely familiar with the nearly symmetrical, often snow-capped cone of Fuji-san -- as the mountain is known locally -- through images of Japanese classical artworks, most famously in the print series by Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. We've narrowed it down to the eight best ways to view the country's most famous site.
Mount Fuji by Bullet Train
If traveling by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, be sure to sit on the right-hand side of the train for a clear view of Mt Fuji as you pass. Fuji-san comes into sight a little under an hour after leaving Tokyo and stays in view for around 10 minutes. If you would prefer to get closer and have the time, you can take the bullet train to Fuji's 5th Station and spend a day around the mountain. While there you can cruise Lake Ashi, ride on the Mt Komagatake Ropeway and take the aerial tram to the top of Mt Komagatake for fantastic views of Fuji and the surrounding valley.
Visit with Monks at Sengen Shrine
Mt Fuji became an ascetic Buddhist training center in the 12th century and is revered as a sacred mountain to this day. Throughout history, the mountain has been a place of pilgrimage, and pilgrim routes, and shrines, torii gates and huts to accommodate those pilgrims are found all around the mountain. To gain a deeper insight into the significance of the mountain in Japanese culture, it is possible to arrange a private visit to Sengen Shrine, which is located at the foot of Mt Fuji and marks the traditional beginning of the pilgrimage to its summit. There you can spend some time talking with the shrine's priests and learn about life in the area.
Combine Mt Fuji with an Onsen Visit
At the foot of the mountain, the Fuji Five Lakes area is famous for its hot springs, or onsens as they are known. What could be better than admiring one of Japan's most famous views while enjoying a distinctly Japanese ritual -- soaking in soothing waters heated by the area's volcanic activity? If you have a full day available, you can combine a visit to Mt Fuji with a rejuvenating soak at a hot springs resort in the village of Yamanakako, set among lovely gardens with excellent views of the mountain.
Combine Mt Fuji with Aokigahara Forest
Known as the Sea of Trees for its density, Aokigahara Forest lies at the foot of Mt Fuji and can easily be combined with a visit to the mountain. The quiet and atmospheric forest -- thought by some to be haunted -- is famous for its unusual topography, with above-ground tree roots, hardened lava and scattered chunks of volcanic rock. The forest is also home to several caves, including the icicle-covered Fugaku Wind Cave and Narusawa Ice Cave, a challenging excursion for adventurous hikers, which is covered year-round by ice as it can only be entered in the company of a guide.
Combine Mt Fuji with Lake Kawaguchi
One of the five lakes of Mt Fuji, the shore of Lake Kawaguchi is one of the most attractive and accessible spots for unobstructed views of the mountain. The lake is also a popular destination for water sports and fishing all throughout the year, as well as attractions such as museums and a retro-style sightseeing bus. A great way to take in the beauty of the area is by hopping on a bicycle and riding around the lake, taking in the scenery at your own pace.
See Mt Fuji at Sunrise
"A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice." If you are going to pay heed to this old Japanese saying, you had better time your ascent carefully. Climbing Mt Fuji overnight in order to watch the sunrise over the summit is one of the most popular ways to experience the mountain, but, as the saying would suggest, it's not easy. If you would prefer not to rush, spreading the climb over a couple of days offers the opportunity to spend more time taking in the views and makes for a less challenging excursion. Booking a tour with a local guide ensures you're in safe hands and that logistics, such as accommodation and meals, are taken care of. You can even reward yourself for your efforts by soaking tired legs in an onsen afterward.
See Mt Fuji Plus More of Japan
Located about two hours southwest of Tokyo -- conveniently in the direction of other major attractions such Kyoto and Osaka -- Mt Fuji can easily be incorporated into a wider Japanese excursion. In three days you can comfortably fit in many highlights. You could see Mt Fuji; cruise Lake Ashi and ride the aerial tram up Mt Komagatake. Afterward, you could hop on the Shinkansen to the ancient capital of Kyoto and visit attractions such as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle and Imperial Palace. With a three-day trip, you'd then still have time to see nearby Nara's attractions, including Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Nara Park with its famous freely roaming deer.
If you don't have the time, or prefer to spend more of it closer to Fuji, you could instead spend two days exploring it and the surrounding area by traveling on the Shinkansen and staying overnight in the nearby resort town of Hakone. For an extra indulgence, make sure your accommodation in Hakone has its own onsen so that you can end the day with a relaxing soak.
See Mt Fuji From Afar
Finally, how about seeing Mt Fuji from a unique, off-the-beaten-track, angle? Japan may not be famous (yet) for its wines, but the green hills of Katsunuma, just north of Mt Fuji, are home to dozens of wineries. There, you can visit Katsunuma Winery, founded in 1937, and sample varieties made from the local Koshu grapes -- as well as some of the peaches and plums that also grow here. While in the area, you can take an invigorating stroll around one of the Fuji Five Lakes -- such as Lake Kawaguchi or Lake Yamanaka -- while taking in the picturesque surrounding fields that bloom with lavender, zinnia and sunflowers, depending on the season. The blooming flowers form a picture-perfect frame to Mt Fuji in the background, making the day-trip a feast for all the senses.
-- Contributed by Karen Gardiner