Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of stories featuring the aesthetic landscapes of Mount Fuji, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture and Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture, which have been visited by an increasing number of tourists from overseas. Based on conversations with travelers, the series casts light on sceneries and cultural heritages that gave form to these areas.

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A Western man was quietly jogging up a slope near the Owakudani valley on the morning of Oct. 31, the air permeated with gas from volcanic activity. His light-gray T-shirt was damp with sweat across the chest.

When I called out, Brian Cahill, 40, was kind enough to stop and answer my questions.

“I’m here for the rugby,” the Irishman said, adding that he was going to see the Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama.

I received an e-mail from Cahill later that afternoon. He said the readings of his wristwatch showed that he made a round trip totaling about 7 kilometers with a difference in elevation of 258 meters.

Cahill also said in the message that he decided to go for a run because “It was a quiet morning ... and (there was) beautiful scenery, so it was a lovely run.” He added that he saw “the picturesque lakes and Mount Fuji ... and did the cruise on Lake Ashi(noko). It has been the best part of my trip in Japan!”

The natural beauty of the mountains in Hakone has fascinated foreign visitors since the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

The Fujiya Hotel in the Miyanoshita district, which was made exclusively available to foreign nationals since 1893, had provided visitors with an English-language guidebook titled “Notes for Tourists to Miyanoshita and the Immediate Vicinity.”

It recommended Mount Sengenyama for a short stroll, saying: “A 30-minute climb up the wooded hill immediately at the back of the bachelors quarters of the hotel. Tea shed on the top and beautiful view of the peak of Fuji-yama, the tooth-shaped mountain Kintoki-zan, and on the other side, the sea with Enoshima and Cape Misaki.”

In one of the day excursions, visitors were encouraged to walk to the southern shore of Lake Ashinoko and journey north by boat to Kojiri, before returning to Miyanoshita through Owakudani.

As there was no ropeway at the time in the valley, which was referred to as “Ojigoku” (great hell), the guidebook warned hikers, “It is necessary to walk down a dangerous part of the Ojigoku gorge.”

The route offers the opposite sightseeing course from the so-called Golden Route, which has become popular in recent years.

This year, Fujiya Hotel is undergoing major renovations to improve the sturdiness of the building. Citing its storied past of receiving famed visitors such as Charlie Chaplin and John Lennon and playing a leading role in international tourism for Japan, the hotel boasts “a restoration of a time of elegance” after the improvement work is completed.

A large bath with a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains will be installed before the hotel reopens for business in July in time for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Until then, visitors can enjoy lunch at the annex, the Kikka-so Inn, and stroll through the garden.

The former imperial villa, built in 1895, was apparently frequented by Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), posthumously known as Emperor Showa, who stayed there during summer breaks when he was crown prince. The building was sold to Fujiya Hotel after World War II.

There is a pond that appears to be in the shape of the kanji for "heart" in Kikka-so's garden. Time seems to pass slowly when standing on a small hill after having crossed a red bridge and taking in the view of the pure Japanese-style architecture surrounded by the rich greenery of the mountains and forest.

Hakone “yosegi-zaiku” marquetry, a craft that has been passed down through generations making use of a rich variety of tree species from the Hakone mountains, is also popular among foreign tourists.

Chelsea Grant, 32, from the United States, was pleased with her purchase of a box and trays with marquetry designs at a souvenir shop in Miyanoshita on Nov. 9. “We got trays in this pattern to take to people back home for Christmas,” she said. “It’s very beautiful.”

“It was nice on the ropeway," her companion, Chad Zavala, 32, said. "We could see Mount Fuji.”

They also visited Tokyo and Kyoto, but they said they loved Hakone more than anywhere else because the landscape had something in common with the U.S. state of Utah, where they are from.

“(The) mountains are similar here (to those in Utah),” Zavala noted.

Standing in front of Fujiya Hotel during its renovation work, Grant added: “(There is) a lot more to see in Japan. We’ll have to come back.”

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Eiichi Murano is chief of The Asahi Shimbun’s Odawara and Atami bureaus.