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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK

Shizuoka - On the up

If the hustle and bustle of city life is getting you down, then a relaxing trip to Shizuoka is just what the doctor ordered.

With Mount Fuji to the east and Lake Hamana to the west, this is truly picture-postcard Japan, and the perfect place for visitors to cleanse both body and soul.

Of course, most of the people doing the cleansing tend to be the nation's ever-increasing retired population.

The trains are brimming with large groups of pensioners chattering and digging into their packed lunches as they make their regular pilgrimage down the south coast of central island Honshu.

Area facts

  • Population: 57,000
  • City: Fukuroi
  • Location: Between Osaka and Tokyo on central Honshu island
  • Local team: Shimizu S-Pulse, Jubilo Iwata
  • Sights: Mount Fuji, Lake Hamana, Atami Hot Springs
  • Top drink: Tea
  • Of course, many of these travellers are on their way to Atami to take advantage of the health-giving qualities of the famous hot springs in the area.

    There is no feeling like shedding your clothes and taking a dip in boiling hot water with a bunch of complete strangers.

    More active visitors may fancy the challenge of conquering Japan's tallest mountain, Mount Fuji.

    This dormant volcano is deeply ingrained in the Japanese psyche and there is no getting away from it wherever you are in the country.

    Its familiar snowy top can be seen from hundreds of miles away, even from as far away as Tokyo.

    In the summer months, the mountain is open to climbing, which is less glamorous and exciting than it sounds.

    The Fuji challenge

    Despite the altitude, the route to the top of Fuji-san is just a straightforward footpath on volcanic rock and ash with regular stops on the way.

    Should you decide to take up the challenge, you are in for about a five-hour trek to the peak.

    It could take less time, but even young and agile legs invariably get stuck behind a line of 60 pensioners moving at one step every 10 minutes.

    On reaching the top, your sense of achievement is soon deflated by the sight of a soft drinks machine planted next to the giant lifeless volcanic crater.

    But, on a clear day, the views from that height are definitely something to behold and make it all worthwhile.

    After that, it is time to consider the long climb down.

    Shizuoka is truly a breathtaking place and, with such healthy surroundings, it may not be surprising that Shizuoka has produced most of Japan's top division footballers.

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