A short, fast bullet-train ride from Tokyo offers spectacular glimpses of Japan's Mount Fuji. It will also bring you close to rural Hakone, famed for its lush vegetation, natural hot springs, open-air sculpture museum, and even more viewings of that splendid mountain
There are few more memorable ways to get a close-up of Japan's famous peak than from the comfort of a bullet train heading fast as lightning out of the capital. Catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji – Fuji-san to the Japanese – is often a top priority among visitors to Japan, alongside eating industrial quantities of sushi, watching sumo and visiting Kyoto's temples.
The bullet train in Tokyo
A bento-box selection at Tokyo station
And quite rightly, too. The mountain that has launched a thousand poems and paintings is a captivating sight, with its gently sloping sides and perfectly formed white snowcap. On clear-blue sky days, Mount Fuji can admittedly be seen in the distance from Tokyo (a prime spot is through the dramatically tall windows of the 38th-floor lobby at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo). But the best views are from on board a bullet train, ideally in the winter months when the skies are bright, or during early mornings in the summer.
After picking up a takeaway latte and handmade pastry snacks for later in the day from the ground-floor Mandarin Oriental Gourmet Shop, it's time to hop in a taxi and head for Tokyo Station. I give in to a quick bento-box-purchase, then swap the crowds of one of the world's busiest stations for the sleek, clean calm of a bullet train and sink into my seat – having made sure I bought a ticket next to the right-hand windows, for premium Mount Fuji views.
Odawara Castle, which is on the bullet train line
It takes me by surprise. I am sipping green tea while gazing idly out of the train window when it appears – before vanishing so quickly behind a rush of buildings that I wonder if I've imagined it. But then, it reappears in my line of vision, this time for longer, and its solid form is unmistakable: it is Japan's world-famous Mount Fuji. Satisfied, I nestle back into my seat, my first sighting accomplished.
The journey to my destination, Odawara station, is less than 35 minutes – just enough time to join my co-travelling salarymen by tucking into my bento-box lunch of rice, fish and vegetables. Although there are some snatched – and easily missed – glimpses of Mount Fuji along the way, the main show comes after the train pulls out of Mishima station. Under a clear sky, I find myself holding my iPhone flat against the window, inadequately attempting to capture the beauty of this triangular splendour.
Sculpture at Hakone Open-Air Museum
Odawara station is the gateway to Hakone, a rural area famed for its dense green mountains, natural hot-spring baths and, of course, views of Mount Fuji. And after catching two far slower, local trains that chug higher and higher through the scenic mountainous terrain, I spend the day gazing at contemporary sculptures at Hakone Open-Air Museum (aided by a restorative hot-spring footbath full of oranges), slurping noodles in a local village soba shop, and hopping on a ropeway and cable car to gain even more stunning close-ups of Mount Fuji.
Come early evening, I head back to Tokyo on the bullet train. The sun is sinking in a dusky-pink sky as that familiar form once again swings into view. This time, I don't bother trying to capture it on my phone. Instead, I soak it up as an only-in-Japan moment to treasure.
Bullet trains run regularly between Tokyo Station and Odawara and tickets cost around JPY3,740 each way. Visit www.jorudan.co.jp and click on Products for train routes and timetables. For the Hakone Open-Air Museum, visit www.hakone-oam.or.jp