The ‘Art Town’ of Fujino 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. Looking at the view, it was hard to believe that we had only set off an hour earlier from Shinjuku along the Chuo line, and hadn’t had to change trains once.
Fujino’s sights are somewhat spread out, so a car, bicycle or sturdy pair of legs is a necessity. After arriving, we set off to Café Shu for lunch, attracted by its minimalist chic and refreshingly cool outdoor seating area. We enjoyed a bowl of buta kakuni ankakedon (slow cooked fatty pork on rice) and a hamburger set so beautifully presented it was almost a crime to start eating it. This was followed by a smoked cheesecake that was rich, moist and very tasty, and two excellent cups of coffee.
Suitably fuelled, we made our way across the valley to Geijutsu no ie (The House of Art), where budding designers can try their hand at a number of arts and crafts, from woodwork to glass engraving. For 1000 yen we were taught how to copy a design onto a sake glass, and then use sand to blast around the design, leaving you with your very own personalized drinking cup. The whole process proved so absorbing and therapeutic that we decided to make one more each and go home with a full sake cup set.
A short walk up the hill from The House of Art sits a row of artists’ studios, overlooked by another delightful café, Café Shimizu, where we stopped for a coffee to recover from our 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 a frog to an uncanny degree.
It would have been very pleasant to stay at Café Shimizu all day and enjoy the view, but as we intended to fully ease away the stresses of the big city, it felt only right to visit an onsen (hot spring) as well. At the top of the valley sits Yamakami 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.
We were now about as relaxed as it’s possible to be, and we returned once more to Café Shimizu for their evening menu. After a few glasses of local sake, drunk out of the glassware we had made a few hours previously, it was time to catch the last train back to the concrete jungle. But now I know that whenever the pace of the big city gets too much, perfect relaxation is just an hour away.