The ‘Art Town’ of Fujino (藤野) is only 55 kilometres (35 miles) from Tokyo, but feels half a world away, and you’ll be very unlikely to bump into any other tourists despite its proximity to the big city. It announces itself to the world with a huge heart-sealed envelope on the hill opposite the train station. This is just one of many sculptures and works of art dotted around the town like Easter eggs, on roadsides, in parks and on hills. Fujino nestles in a valley of deepest green, bisected at its base by the shimmering blue ribbon of Lake Sagami (相模湖). This beautiful view is easily accessible on the Chuo line (中央線) from Shinjuku station (新宿駅) in an hour and ten minutes. If you get the train at 9:12 heading for Otsuki (大月) you won’t even have to change trains, though do allow some time at Shinjuku station to find your platform as it is absurdly big and confusing.
Fujino’s sights are somewhat spread out, so a car, bicycle or sturdy pair of legs is a necessity. First, make your way across the valley to Geijutsu no ie (芸術の家, The House of Art), where budding designers can try their hand at a number of arts and crafts, from woodwork to glass engraving. For example, you can learn how to trace designs onto glassware, then sandblast the designs leaving you with your very own personalized drinking glass (1000 yen).
A short walk up the hill from The House of Art sits a row of artists’ studios where you can pick up a unique handmade souvenir, all overlooked by a delightful café, Café Shimizu, which makes a fine stop for a coffee to recover from your artistic endeavours.
Shimizu boasts a brilliant view, an old-fashioned log burning stove, a beautiful garden and a small ‘frog shrine’, which houses a rock that resembles, you guessed it, a frog.
I’m always tempted to while away the whole day at Café Shimizu and enjoy the view, but to fully ease away any travelling stress it’s only right to visit a hot spring as well. At the top of the valley sits Yamanami Onsen where for only 600 yen (400 yen after 5pm) you can wallow in one outdoor and three indoor baths, and slowly cook yourself in the steam room. If you’re getting hungry at any point, head for Café Shu, back near the station, where the coffee is strong, the main courses a feast for eyes and mouth, and the desserts decadent.
If you have a car, you may want to take a drive around the valley, as the views are excellent and there are also numerous pieces of art on display. It’s also worth stopping in at the Ishii House (石井家), a well preserved 17th century house where you can get a good idea of what life was like in Japan in the pre-industrial age for the more prosperous citizen.
Later on, it may be worth returning to Café Shimizu, which becomes a very relaxed and friendly bar in the evening with jazz music, well-made drinks and kindly locals.
Don’t drink and drive, however, as it is illegal to have any alcohol in your bloodstream when driving in Japan. When you’ve drunk your fill, return to Shinjuku on the Chuo line, being careful not to miss the last train at 23:19.