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An Up-Close Look at the ‘Mt. Fuji and Greatest Shogun Tour’ in Shizuoka

Experiencing the premium world of Mt. Fuji and the great shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu is a surefire recipe for excitement

Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in all of Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu is recognized both inside and outside the country as one if its greatest historical shoguns. A one-night, two-day tour on which participants can enjoy both to the fullest is slated to begin in Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Tour participants will be able to enjoy a specially-offered program developed specifically for the tour. This includes seeing special locations at temples and shrines with a connection to Ieyasu and staying at a hotel renowned for its panoramic view of Mt. Fuji. Another attractive feature of this tour is the ability to casually and comfortably go sightseeing in the area in a chartered car that departs from Shizuoka Station, complete with an interpreter-guide.

Having recently sampled this ultra-premium tour together with participants from overseas, we bring you a report of what this unique tour entails.

Meeting spot: Shizuoka Station, North Exit

Shortly after lunchtime, tour participants will gather at the North Exit of Shizuoka Station, one of the stops on the Shinkansen bullet train line. Participants will ride in a chartered car that departs from here as their means of transportation on the tour. Once the interpreter-guide gets in the car, this luxurious journey gets underway!

A five-minute stroll through the air on the Nihondaira Ropeway

After riding the charted car for about 30 minutes, we made our way up a mountain path with a series of hairpin curbs, twists and turns until finally arriving at Nihondaira Station, home of the Nihondaira Ropeway.

As we boarded the ropeway with excitement in the air, we set course for the natural treasure known as Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, where Ieyasu is enshrined. While making our way down the ropeway, we peered down to see a deep ravine floor under our feet. Spreading out below us was Suruga Bay, home of Japan's deepest waters. These sights, combined with the clear weather punctuated with a perfectly blue sky and the emerald-blue waters that sparkled every time the light of the sun touched them, caused the tour participants to emit shouts of joy.

Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, Shizuoka Prefecture's sole shrine that is a national treasure

Upon disembarking from the ropeway, we were greeted by a 500-year-old camphor tree that was firmly rooted in the bamboo forest. We proceeded down the temple path that continues from the station, made our way under the vermillion-lacquered two-story gate, and set foot into the shrine grounds.

In Japan, most people associate the name "Toshogu-shrine" with the "Nikko Toshogu-shrine" located in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, The fact is that the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine located here was built first. After he passed away, Ieyasu was enshrined at Kunozan according to his last wishes, prompting his shogun successor, Tokunaga Hidetada, to erect that shrine.

This tour also features a special way to visit the shrine. Participants can make their way up stairs where passage is not normally allowed to pass straight under the "Karamon" Chinese-style gate, which is designated as an Important Cultural Property, and enter the shrine.

Prayer in the hall of worship begins with the formidable strike of a Taiko drum. This is where Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined.

Ieyasu is known as the shogun who brought an end to Japan's warring period, becoming a "seii taishogun" or "great general" and the ruler of the entire country who ushered in the Edo shogunate that lasted for as long as 260 years after that. Just thinking about how this is the resting place of Japan's greatest general, one who is even renowned throughout the world, is enough to generate feelings of excitement.

Once prayer time concluded, premium teatime in the "Kaguraden" hall, an Important Cultural Property, commenced. Here, visitors can savor the "Honyama" green tea that Tokugawa Ieyasu was said to be fond of.

The manner of drinking this tea, which involves placing the teacup on one's left hand and lining up one's right hand beside it, may come off as difficult to some. However, the shrine maidens on hand patiently give instructions so that nobody feels embarrassed if they don't get it right. This is a fun way for everyone to experience the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi" together.

Afterwards, in the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine Museum, we gazed upon the plethora of deep articles in the Tokugawa family collection, took pictures of us sticking our heads through a picture panel, and collectively enjoyed the world of Tokugawa Ieyasu to the fullest.

Admiring 360 degrees of pristine scenery at "Nihondaira Yume Terrace"

Getting on the ropeway from Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, we made our way back to Nihondaira Station. From there, we proceeded up a gentle slope to our next destination, "Nihondaira Yume Terrace."

This facility is a stylish lookout spot designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates. The uppermost floor of this three-story structure is the lookout floor, which connects to an observation deck with a 200-m circumference. Awaiting visitors is an exhilarating, massive 360-degree panoramic view with a clear line of sight of various locations that define Shizuoka, including Mt. Fuji, Suruga Bay, the Port of Shimizu, and the Izu Peninsula.

The ability to catch a view of Mt. Fuji depends on both weather and luck. However, the fact that there are times when the mountain can't be seen makes it feel all the more special when it is visible. On this day, the blue skies transitioned into cloudy ones after sunset, keeping Mt. Fuji only faintly in view. Even so, the magnificent, unobstructed scenery was enough to make everyone feel sunny inside, and we were able to enjoy the lovely sunset that followed.

Losing oneself in picturesque, magnificent Mt. Fuji scenery at "Nihondaira Hotel"

Our stay that night was at the "Nihondaira Hotel," which is based on the concept of a "landscape art museum." Just like that concept promises, guests can gaze at Mt. Fuji as it shows a variety of countenances depending on when one visits the hotel and what season it is.

Yet another appealing aspect of this tour is the ability to fully savor Mt. Fuji from the privacy of your own room. The "Nihondaira Twin" guest rooms here were designed in order to maximize enjoyment of the mountain. The view from the rooms' spacious balcony makes guests feel like they have the majestic Mt. Fuji all to themselves.

After taking a load off in the guest rooms, it was time for our long-awaited dinner. The venue was a Japanese dining establishment known for its large windows with views of Mt. Fuji. Tour participants eat in a large ballroom that is rented out.

As another element of this tour on which participants can experience Tokugawa Ieyasu to the fullest, the dinner menu lives up to the same premium standard. The kaiseki cuisine menu here is centered on ingredients that Ieyasu, who lived to the ripe old age of 75, was said to have loved, as well as foods local to Shizuoka and others that give off a sense of the four seasons. Each individual dish of that cuisine reflects premium standards.

All of the dishes, which included boiled red bream and fried tilefish, brought out the flavor of the ingredients that went into them, and complemented liquor so well that it was hard to put down. Good thing, too, because this tour was all-you-can-drink. Participants made no secret of how happy they were to be able to drink their favorite alcoholic beverages with no worries. This fun and tasty time was over before we knew it.

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, which is also connected to Ieyasu, is Japan's top example of lacquered construction

Morning arrived after a long night's rest. After taking in a relaxing view of Mt. Fuji from our guest rooms and finishing breakfast, we began the next glorious day in our tour.

Our first stop after leaving the hotel was Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, which was constructed 2,100 years ago and has the longest history of any shrine in the region. It is also said that Tokugawa Ieyasu successfully united Japan under his rule by revering the temple since he was a child.

At present, Shizuoka Sengen Shrine is undergoing restoration work over a twenty-year period (the total cost of which is a whopping 5 billion yen!). Work is underway on the 26 buildings on the shrine grounds designated as Important Cultural Properties to repaint them with colorful lacquer coating.

Incidentally, the only temples and shrines in Shizuoka Prefecture containing Important Cultural Property buildings that are clearly lacquered are Kunozan Toshogu Shrine and Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, an indication of just how rare that is.

With work on the large hall of worship having just begun, it is completely covered. As one can infer from its size, the hall of worship at Shizuoka Sengen Shrine is a two-story structure, which is rare for a shrine construction. This construction was made to resemble Mt. Fuji, which is considered to be a sacred mountain. At 21m high, Shizuoka Sengen Shrine is the tallest lacquered shrine construction in Japan!

Moreover, like Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, priests at Shizuoka Sengen Shrine specially act as guides patiently providing information on the ABCs of the highly-mysterious world of shrines in an easy-to-understand manner. There was plenty for us to learn.

But the highlight of this particular leg of the tour was yet to come. With helmets on our heads, all of us were taken to the part of the called the work yard, where visitors cannot normally enter.

There, black columns in a pre-lacquered state were placed, and we were able to get a close-up look at the tools needed for lacquer work. Being able to see a shrine from a completely different perspective was quite exciting for us all!

After we were cleansed of any evil spirits, we were treated to a special visit to the main hall, which visitors normally cannot enter. The gorgeous construction of the hall contains an abundance of gold leaf. Particularly noteworthy are the ornamental carvings of elegantly-dancing celestial maidens and phoenixes that are carved from a single piece of wood. Quite a feast for the eyes!

For the final part of the tour, we made our way to "Fugetsuro," a dining establishment with a beautiful Japanese garden (*The place of dining is subject to change.). This location is the former site of residence of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, where he lived for twenty years. Yoshinobu was responsible for the great feat of restoring imperial rule. Participants in the tour took great satisfaction in enjoying sophisticated dining in a relaxed atmosphere. With just the right amount of alcohol on hand, this final meal together is a pleasurable way to cap off the tour, which concludes once lunch comes to an end.

At the conclusion of the tour, I asked a participant what they liked about it the best, to which they replied with a smile, "Everything was fun! But, if I have to choose, it would be the special tours of shrines and temples and the priests servings as guides."

The "Mt. Fuji and Greatest Shogun Tour in Shizuoka" is chock full of deep and premium activities focused on that majestic mountain and shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Because an interpreter-guide is always on hand, no frustration arises from wanting to ask a question but being unable to. Those of you who are looking to enjoy places you normally have no way to access or tastes that you can't regularly savor are highly recommended to give the tour a try. You're bound to newly discover Japan's hidden allure in Shizuoka City!