It's the iconic image of Japan: a snow-capped Mount Fuji looming over the neon skyscrapers of Tokyo. Visitors to Tokyo are understandably looking to replicate that view.
Except they can't. Those pictures they've seen have involved an extraordinary amount of camera trickery, timing, luck...and money. Because Mount Fuji is much further away from Tokyo than you would initially believe, and those skyscrapers that seemed so small in Mount Fuji’s shadow will block most views at street level. In most cases, the only way to see the elusive mountain is by paying hefty entrance fees to observation decks such as Tokyo Sky Tree.
But fear not! It can be done for free (excepting transport costs). There are some places within Tokyo where you can catch some glimpses of the notoriously shy volcano. But first things first…
When is the best time to see Mount Fuji?
November through to February offer the best chances of a view: the air is crisp and clear, with long stretches of cloudless winter days. Summer tends to be far too humid and muggy, hiding Mount Fuji behind a haze of heat.
On a day-to-day basis, around sunrise and sunset are the best times to see the mountain. It's also when it's most beautiful: the morning sun throws purple shadows across its craggy face, and in the evening it becomes the iconic silhouette of that perfectly symmetrical cone.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
In the Gotham-esque cluster of office towers west of Shinjuku station is this Notre-Dame inspired skyscraper. From the outside it looks no different from the other towers around it, but if you head inside you can find an elevator leading up to a free observation deck on the 45th floor. Aside from a plethora of souvenir stands and a pricey restaurant, you get this incredible view of the surrounding city, seeming to stretch on forever. And if you're lucky, Mount Fuji will be there, peering over the barrier of smaller mountains just in front of it.
Open 9:30am - 11pm daily. Nearest train station: Tochomae (都庁前).
Wakasu Seaside Park
Set on the teetering edge of the choppy waters of Tokyo Bay, Wakasu Park is a bit tricky to get to if using public transport, but the view is well worth it. The massive Tokyo Gate bridge soars over your head and across the bay. It's known locally as the “Dinosaur Bridge” by the way the two girder structures look like two giant beasts about to lock heads and do battle. And framed perfectly beneath the bridge is Mount Fuji, a sight most spectacular at sundown.
The park has plenty to keep you occupied besides: check out the walkway that shoots out directly under the bridge, perfect for getting up close and personal with passing boats. You can also rent a bicycle to take around the park or across the bridge itself.
Open 24 hours. Nearest station: Shin-Kiba (新木場). Either walk for 45 mins or take the No.11 bus from the station. Buses are infrequent in the afternoon, more frequent in the morning and evening.
Many tourists (and even locals!) don't realize that Tokyo is more than just a city. Head inland to its western flank and the urban sprawl quickly gives way to wooded mountains, azure rivers and excellent hiking. One of the most popular - and accessible - mountain climbs is Mount Takao, a gentle and easy-to-follow 600m ascent that even newcomers to mountain climbing can handle, as long as they have comfortable shoes and some drinks and snacks for sustenance.
Your reward for reaching the top? A majestic view of Mount Fuji, especially gratifying as it will be a view framed my nature as opposed to concrete and overhead wires, and as Mount Takao lies a bit closer to Mount Fuji, it would look just that little bit bigger.
Open 24 hours. Nearest station: Takaosanguchi (高尾山口). Hiking on the most popular route (route 1 is approx. 90 mins to the summit, but that can be can halved by riding the cable car halfway up.
Haneda International Terminal
Whether you have just arrived and want to tick a sight of Mount Fuji off your to-do list straightaway, or you're about to leave and want one last glimpse to cap off your trip, Haneda International Terminal has you covered. There’s a free observation deck that overlooks the network of runways, as well as a panoramic view back towards Tokyo, with Mount Fuji looking over it all.
Even if you're not using Haneda during your journeys, fear not! Haneda is very close to the city center - less than 20 minutes by monorail from Hamamatsucho station - so you can easily visit without committing too much of your precious itinerary time to it. The terminal also has a number of other points of interest to occupy you, including a food court fashioned to look like an old Edo town.
Nearest Station: Haneda Intl. Terminal (羽田国際線ビル).