Yamanashi may get most of its fame from being the home to the iconic Mt. Fuji, but there's plenty more to do than gawk at the stunning natural scenery in Japan's central prefecture. The region is a popular destination for weary, wellness-seeking Tokyoites looking to shake off the stresses of city life, and for tourists interested in discovering the country's most famous wine region, soaking in traditional hot spring baths or riding some of the world's most impressive roller coasters. Here are the top nine things to do in the Yamanashi Prefecture.
Visit the Itchiku Kubota Kimono Museum
Kimonos in Japan may seem like a dime a dozen, but the works of textile artist Itchiku Kubota are some of the most intricately designed in the world. In a museum designed by Kubota himself on the property where he lived in the shadows of Fuji-san, the artist's unique tsujigahana dying method is on display in full form. A captivating video tells the tale of Kubota's life, from his years spent as a WW2 prisoner in Siberia dreaming only of making kimonos, to his years of debt incurred by his sole focus on his art. The building itself is a work of art as well — Kubota modeled the gallery off of Antoni Gaudi's surrealist Barcelona designs and oversaw the opening of the museum before his death.
Taste Local Wine and Fruit
Yamanashi's orchards and vineyards are impossible to ignore during a drive through the prefecture's valleys — the region is the number one producer in the country of peaches, grapes, and plums and produces one-third of all Japanese wine, after all. Join the local crowd at the country's largest fruit museum — the Fuefukigawa Fruit Park — or simply pull over to photograph vibrant stands of drying persimmons that line the roadside in December and January. Wine drinkers will enjoy the chance to try Japan's famous Koshu white wine at the region's many wineries and sake breweries.
Experience One of Japan's Most Iconic Views
Yamanashi's Arakura Sengen Shrine provides perhaps the most iconic of Japan's beautiful views. The five-story, red-and-white Chureito Pagoda lies at the top of nearly 400 stairs and sits before a backdrop of Mt. Fuji. The shrine is surrounded by a rotation of cherry blossoms, fall colors and snow, so no matter what season you visit, your Instagram audience will be happy.
Camp in Luxury at the Country's First Glamping Resort
Tucked away from the tourist crowds at Lake Kawaguchi sits Japan's first glamping resort, the ultra-luxurious Hoshinoya Fuji. Each of the resort's cube-like concrete cabins offers an identical view of Mt. Fuji and the lake below, and outdoor balconies offer personal campfires and lounge furniture, like the traditional Japanese kotatsu, which turns an outdoor table into what's essentially a heated duvet. But the idea here is for guests to spend most of their time making use of the resort's grounds. Each guest at the resort receives a stylish backpack full of gear upon arrival — a headlamp, water canteen, bird caller, portable seat cushion and even a jacket for chilly nights — and daily activities include the likes of sunrise canoe rides, woodchopping, morning stretches and horseback hiking.
Stay and Soak at a Steamy Ryokan
Japan's traditional lodgings have become a major part of any foreigner's visit to the country. Ryokan come with a very particular set of qualities and etiquette — the main feature at these accommodations is the presence of natural, hot spring baths, called onsen. While ryokan and onsen are available across the country, Yamanashi is one of the country's leading destinations for the tradition due to its abundance of hot springs and diverse bathing environments. Most ryokan, like the colorful Kikori in the town of Fuefuki, feature both indoor and outdoor baths, tatami mat bedrooms and traditional set meals included in the nightly rate. Be sure to leave your shoes at the door, wash thoroughly before bathing, and rock your provided yukata robe as often as possible!
Visit the Erinji Temple
Take in a matcha tea ceremony and some meditation at the peaceful Erinji temple, home to a famous and protected garden plotted by the abbot Muso Kokushi around 1330 A.D. The temple is a celebration of local Samurai warrior Takeda Shingen and features monuments and references to his life and stories. A long wooden corridor leads to a shrine with a sacred wooden figure of Shingen himself — while walking the corridor, it's impossible to ignore the sound of chirping birds produced by the specially designed floor meant to announce the presence of visitors.
Hike the Nishizawa Gorge
Indulge in some "forest therapy" on the easygoing trail through the Nishizawa Gorge to the impressive Nanatsugama Godan waterall, part of a much longer hiking loop that winds through the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. The trail is closed through the winter months but enjoys colorful rhododendron blooms in the spring and striking fall colors come Autumn. "Forest therapy" guides for the trail, who focus on a slow-paced appreciation of nature (actual tree hugging included), are available from the Yamanashi City Therapy Promotion Association via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hit Record-Breaking Roller Coasters at Fuji-Q Highland
Japan's most famous amusement park would be nothing without a picture-perfect view of the country's most beloved mountain. Well, it would still be home to four world record-holding rollercoasters — the Eejanaika holds the record for the highest number of spins, the Takabisha has the world's steepest drop and the Dodonpa was the long-time champion for the world's fastest acceleration (it's now second to Six Flags' Kingda Ka).
Climb Mt. Fuji
Yep, it's possible to climb Mt. Fuji. The climbing season begins each year on July 1 and lasts through the summer months. Committed climbers will want to scale the mountain's Yoshida Trail during the night in order to be at the summit for sunrise — the crowded climb takes about six hours, and mountain hut accommodations are available along the way for mid-climb rests (reservations are recommended).
More casual visitors may prefer a quick trip to the touristy starting point of the climb, the 5th Station. Here, visitors can take in views of the Fuji Five Lakes region, buy souvenirs, visit the Komitake Shrine, hike the lateral Ochudo Trail or have a meal.
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