Big in Japan: Best weekend escapes from Tokyo

Living in one of the world’s biggest metropolises can certainly take its toll on your health and sanity!

On a good day, Tokyo is an adrenaline-fueled hedonists’ playground where you can overwhelm your senses with fine cuisine, cutting edge fashion and some of the planet’s most beautiful people. On a bad day, Tokyo is a neon-ringed urban jungle where you can dull your senses on grey concrete, jumbled streetscapes and some of the planet’s most crowded spaces.

Indeed, the secret to living in Tokyo is to embrace the idea of being a dedicated weekend warrior. After punching out from work on Friday afternoon, race home, grab your bags and make haste to the surrounding countryside. After all, the area surrounding Tokyo is not only surprisingly green and lush, but it’s also dotted with ancient temples, sacred mountains and therapeutic hot springs.

So, without further adieu, I present to you today some of Tokyo’s best weekend escapes…

1) Mt Fuji – While the climbing season doesn’t officially open until June 1, catching an iconic glimpse of this scared mountain is one of the classic vistas of both ancient and modern Japan. The area surrounding Mt Fuji is known as the ‘Fuji Five Lakes” (富士五湖, Fujigoko), and is home to traditional country-style inns, rustic restaurants and some of the island’s best hiking. In fact, all of the lakes are connected via a network of elaborate trails, which means you can explore the area on foot while soaking up vistas of Mt. Fuji in the distance.

2) Kamakura – In the 12th century, Kamakura was the de facto capital of Japan, the fourth largest city in the world, and home to the aptly named Kamakura Shogunate. Today, the modern city is interspersed with storied shrines and temples, though most visitors hone their sights on the Great Buddha (大仏, daibutsu). Built in 1252, this huge outdoor bronze statue is a testament to the city’s former power and influence. Of course, Kamakura isn’t just all about temples and statues, especially since the city is also home to some of the region’s best beaches.

3) Hakone – Tokyoites love to spoil themselves silly, which is probably why this famous hot springs town is one of the city’s best weekend escapes. Comprised of dozens and dozens of hot springs hotels, Hakone offers therapeutic relief from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Simply choose a hotel that takes your fancy, soak your tired bones in volcanic-heated mineral water that literally seeps up from the ground, fill your gut with homemade Japanese cooking and unwind in the early evening with a bottle of fresh sake and good friends in a traditional tatami room. Bliss!

All of the above destinations are easily accessible by train from Shinjuku station. Also note that these weekend escapes are just a few of my favorites, though there are plenty of noteworthy places all within a few hours striking distance of Tokyo.

On that note, if you’d like to share a few of your own frequented spots with the rest of us, feel free to chime in and give us all some tips!

** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **