Thanks to Japan’s high-speed train network, a Tokyo day trip is easy and very, very fast. In just half an hour you can be whirring through Japanese countryside or en route to the sea. Escape the city for the day to one of these destinations and be back in the capital in time for ramen.
What Scaling Japan’s most famous peak is naturally on many a traveller’s bucket list. It’s more often a night trip than a day trip: do the five- to six-hour climb at night and you’ll arrive at the summit in time for the sunrise (you’ll need to be in good shape for this). There are four routes up the mountain, but most people climb the Yoshida Trail as it’s the easiest to reach from Tokyo; this also means it’s the most crowded. Using a tour service like Fuji Mountain Guides makes it easier to tackle one of the less-frequented routes.
Time to go The official climbing season is 1 July to 10 September.
Distance from Tokyo The Yoshida trailhead is a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Bus Terminal; the other three trails can be reached by private transport in about the same time.
Stopover Break up the hike (and get acclimated to the altitude) with a stay in one of the huts on the mountain, like Fujisan Hotel.
What Hakone is a quintessential Japanese hot-spring resort, sequestered in the hills (volcanoes, really) south of Tokyo. It has long been the place for Tokyo’s well-to-do to beat the summer heat, and in the cooler months, to unwind in the natural baths. Many 19th-century villas are now ryokan (traditional-style inns). The crème de la crème is Gōra Kadan, which was once a retreat for the imperial family. For daytrippers, such inns offer lunch plans, which include the use – sometimes privately – of one of the properties’ baths.
Time to go Clear winter days are the best time of year for spotting snow-capped Mt Fuji from the shores of Hakone’s Lake Ashi.
Distance from Tokyo All-reserved, limited-express ‘Spacia’ trains run from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to local transport hub Hakone-Yumoto Station in one-and-a-half hours.
Stopover To fully appreciate Hakone, you want to spend the night. Gōra Kadan is fantastic; a more casual (and easier on the wallet) choice is Hanaori, overlooking Lake Ashi.
What Nikkō, in the mountains north of Tokyo, is one of Japan’s great cultural repositories, home to monumental temples and shrines whose ornate designs embody the height of early-17th-century artistry. The main temple complex, Tōshō-gū, is nearly finished with a lengthy restoration process that is bringing back its original lustre; other structures remain beautifully weathered, blending seamlessly with the mossy forest that envelop them.
Time to go Locals love Nikkō in October for the brilliant backdrop of autumn leaves; this means crowds though, even on weekdays. Nikkō is also great for escaping the hot city in summer.
Distance from Tokyo All-reserved, limited-express ‘Romancecar’ trains run from Tokyo’s Tobu Asakusa Station to Tobu Nikkō Station in just under two hours.
Stopover Spend the night (and get a head start on the daytrippers) at ageing beauty Nikkō Kanaya Hotel; it has the best location, nearest the sights.
What Shōnan’s beaches aren’t the prettiest in Japan, but they’re Tokyo’s beaches and locals are fiercely attached to them. Come July, the tawny, coarse-grain sands of Kamakura and the silty black sands of Enoshima are all but masked with a multi-coloured tapestry of beach parasols. These are public beaches, drawing early-morning dog-walkers, followed by young families and students on summer break who linger past sundown. There are scrappy beach shacks, but also cultural attractions for the high-minded: both Kamakura and Enoshima have historic temples.
Time to go The highlight of the season is the summer firework festivals, when beach-goers swap swimsuits for traditional yukata (colourful cotton kimonos).
Distance from Tokyo Trains run from Shinjuku Station to Kamakura or Enoshima in just over an hour.
Stopover Rooms on the third and fourth floors of the Kamakura Prince Hotel overlook Enoshima to Mt Fuji.
What Yuzawa, in Niigata prefecture, is the closest ski and snowboard spot to Tokyo, and no other resort makes it easier to tack on a ski break than Gala Yuzawa: it has its own shinkansen (bullet train) station. You can rent everything you need (down to gloves and goggles) from the gondola station attached to the train station. Absolutely go on a weekday, when your main competition for the lifts will be uni students skipping class and you’ll mostly have the slopes to yourself.
Time to go Ski season runs from late-December through April, but the best snow conditions are in January and February.
Distance from Tokyo One hour and fifteen minutes on the Jōetsu shinkansen from Tokyo Station.
Stopover Hatago Isen, in hot-spring town Echigo-Yuzawa (one train stop before Gala Yuzawa), is a modern take on an old country inn.