Yamanashi is located roughly at the center of the Japanese archipelago and is surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. The Chichibu Mountains in the northeast, the close on 3000m high Southern Alps in the western part, the famed 3776 m Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest peak - in the south and the Yatsugatake Mountains in the northern part of the prefecture. Full of dramatic and beautiful landscapes including mountains, forests, lakes, and valleys, Yamanashi is blessed with the specifically designated National Park at Fuji-Hakone-Izu as well as a variety of other parks.
Famous for its agriculture, grapes, peaches and plums being especially well known due to fortunate natural conditions, its location in regards to Tokyo makes it perfect for mass producing that which will be needed in the capital.
The Roof of Japan
The 3776 meter Mt. Fuji, a beautiful and cone-shaped, currently dormant volcano is the highest mountain in Japan. The mountain has been the subject of paintings, photographs, poems and novels over the many centuries of Japan's existence and this is in part because of its ever changing seasonal face as well as the distance and angle from which the mountain is viewed. Each angle offers a slightly different view.
The sun and steep mountains have long been worshiped in Japan and Mt. Fuji especially has been a popular subject of worship due to its scale, height and occasional eruptions.
Want to climb Mt. Fuji? The official climbing season is from July 1st to August 26th and there are four climbing routes starting in Yamanashi or Shizuoka prefectures. When you climb from Yamanashi Prefecture, you will normally take the Kawaguchiko-guchi Trail (6.6km in length and with an ascent time of 5.5 hours and a descent time of 3 hours). The trail starts from Fuji Subaru Line Gogo-me (the 5th Station located at 2305m above sea level) and is the most popular of the 4 trails - particularly for first- timers.
Although climbing Mt. Fuji in summer is a popular leisure activity among the Japanese it is not a climb that should be regarded as a stroll in the park. The average temperature around the summit is 5 degrees centigrade even in summertime, and can dip below zero. Preparation including winter clothing is a must and rain gear, a fleece or other thermal clothes, thick socks, a hat, sunglasses, sun block, a headlight (for night ascent), drinking water (at least 2 liters) and food are indispensable. Walking sticks are useful in the descent and can be purchased at souvenir shops around Gogo-me. Many like to have their sticks branded at rest houses on the way to the summit and they do serve as an interesting memento of your climb. Gloves, a change of clothing, garbage bags, toilet paper and trekking shoes are also highly recommended and Mt. Fuji should not be attempted in a skirt and high heels.
* if 2 liters is a little too heavy to comfortably carry please note it is possible to purchase drinks along the route but at higher prices than normal.
The convenient and easy way to get to the starting point is to take the Chuo Kosoku Bus from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko-guchi Gogo-me. (Approx: 1 hour and 45 minutes)
Most climbers hope to see sunrise at the peak so climb all night long, starting off from the fifth station at about 10pm. However, others often start from around noon and stay at huts near the summit (prior booking is essential), where, after resting and sleeping at the hut, they restart their climb in time to see the sunrise at the top. Sunrise takes place from about 4.30 to 5am during summer and peak season and just before dawn, a line of headlights worn by climbers winds its way up to the summit in the pre-dawn darkness.
Rest houses and souvenir shops are situated all round the fifth station on Mt. Fuji and visitors, if they do not climb, can enjoy the view from this spot. Climbers start their ascent and reach the Rokugo-me (the sixth station) in about an hour. A zigzag gravel trail continues from here to the seventh station with mountain huts lining the steep hillside at this point. Taking frequent breaks at these huts is definitely a good idea to avoid altitude sickness. From here on up, the trail becomes a steep and slippery slope of rocky lava and it takes about 2 hours to the eighth station from the seventh. The last stretch to the summit usually takes about 90 minutes from the eighth station but can take longer at peak times and at night. On the summit scores of visitors will be seen waiting for the sunrise, numb with cold even in their warm clothes yet when the sun appears in the distance, it triggers cheers and applause and all numbness is forgotten. Some people even shed tears with emotion.
For those with energy leftover, a walk around the crater often passes the time before the descent - a time to be careful not to hurt your knees.
Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes)
Kawaguchiko (Lake Kawaguchi)
The area around Kawaguchiko is one of the most resort like areas in the Fujigoko area with a great many fancy hotels, restaurants and museums to entertain visitors. Those visiting between late June and mid-July can also enjoy the beauty of the local lavender - at its peak at this time.
Fujikyu Highland is an amusement park located at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and contains over 30 attractions including the "Super Shiver Maze," the longest haunted house in the world, Dodompa, Fujiyama and Tondemina.
Oshinohakkai and Yamanakako (Lake Yamanaka)
The eight ponds in Oshino named Oshinohakkai, are said to have been naturally created some 1200 years ago by melt water from Mt. Fuji seeping underground and then spending the next twelve centuries rising to the surface. These mysterious looking ponds are full of water designated as a natural treasure due to its clarity. Touring the Oshinohakkai area was once considered a form of ascetic training and throughout the Edo period, a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji was a popular pastime.
The view of Mt. Fuji from Yamanakako is without equal in the region and enables visitors to enjoy the flowers of Hananomiyako Park year round with Mt. Fuji as a backdrop.
Fruit and Wine
Yamanashi Prefecture boasts an over abundancy of fruit, fertile soil, abundant water and a year round ability to attract the sun. Grapes, peaches, cherries, strawberries, plums, pears, apples, persimmons and blueberries are all grown in the prefecture and various kinds of fruit trees are even planted in Fuefukigawa Fruits Park where visitors can see the complete view of the Kofu Basin with Mt. Fuji in the distance, a scene enjoyable by day and by night.
Tourists can enjoy peach picking from July to late August and grape picking of the Delaware grapes in July to picking of the Koshu grape variety in November.
Yamanashi Prefecture produces more wine than any other region of Japan and is home to approximately 90 wineries. Katsunuma, located in the eastern part of the Kofu Basin, is famous as an area producing Koshu wine. It is said that taste of wine depends on the grapes but also essential is of course sufficient sunshine and a large difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures as well as between annual patterns of dry and wet weather. The Katsunuma region began grape cultivation some 800 years ago and as Katsunuma meets all the aforementioned conditions, it is ideal for fruit cultivation.
Lumier's wine is produced under royal warrant with the best grapes the best local vineyards can produce. It isn't the only winery of local interest however, as Ishikura, the stone warehouse in which Ishikura wine is made is itself designated a cultural asset and attracts many visitors.
The Haramo Winery offers wine, and grape picking and visitors, before or after their picking experience can relax at this unique winery's cafe, housed in a building first erected over 100-years ago.
Shirayuri Jojo is a unique winery, producing Yamanashi Prefecture's first peach wine and offers tourists the chance to enjoy filling a bottle with wine as well as making a label.
Chuo Budoshu aims to produce wine known throughout the world and so works hard to cultivate grapes capable of achieving this goal.
Marufuji Budoshu Kogyo started wine production in 1890 and is another winery with a similar goal.
Budono-oka is a facility run by Katsunuma town where visitors can try 170 brands of wine recommended by the town in an underground wine cellar for just 1000 yen before visiting Budono-oka's other facilities such as restaurants, hot springs and hotels.
There are approximately 100 hotels and ryokan in the Isawa Onsen area where visitors and tourists can relax making it one of most popular hot spring destinations in the nation.
Large fireworks festivals are held during summertime in Yamanashi and include: Kawaguchiko Kojosai - August 4th-5th at Lake Kawaguchi, Shinmei-no-Hanabitaikai - August 7th and the Fuefukishi-Isawa-Onsen-Hanabitaikai - August 21st.
The Yoshida-no-Himatsuri is held annually on August 26th at the end of the official climbing season of Mt. Fuji. A 2 km long road is illuminated with approximately 70 torches and fascinates evening visitors.
Harvest festivals are held everywhere in Japan and Yamanashi is no exception. Visitors during harvest season can taste wine and are presented with grapes in the grape picking festival in Katsunuma in October.
Food and Souvenirs
Yamanashi local cuisine is famed for being plain, and has such household names as Hoto, udon in Yoshida and cooked abalone among its ranks. Both fruit and wine make good souvenirs as does Koshu inden, a special craft made from deerskin with a Japanese lacquered pattern. For the slightly more expensive souvenir, the local jewelry industry is one of major industries in Yamanashi, having been founded when crystal was first discovered at Mt. Kinpu around 500 years ago, and is well worth looking into.
The perfect day trip
Taking a mere 2 hours from Tokyo to nature filled Yamanashi, the prefecture is the ideal place to visit on a day trip from the capital or surrounding areas. Staying at locally provided accommodation, visiting for longer and seeing some places in more depth is also a fun way to spend time away from the humdrum of daily life.
To reach Yamanashi takes 90 minutes from Shinjuku Station to Enzan Station by limited express on the JR Chuo Line. When heading for Mt. Fuji and the Fujigoko areas, travelers need to change to the Fuji Kyuko Line at Otsuki Station on the JR Chuo Line and the time needed from JR Shinjuku Station to Fujikyu Highland Station on the Fujikyu Line, if using the limited express from Shinjuku Station to Otsuki Station is 160 minutes. The Mt. Fuji and Fujigoko areas are also accessed by bus from Gotemba Station on the JR Gotemba Line.
It takes 95 minutes by express bus from Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal to Katsunuma, and 100 minutes from Shinjuku to Fujikyu Highland Station, but does depends on traffic conditions.