Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県 Yamanashi-ken) is in the central Chubu region of the main Japanese island Honshu. Just hours from Tokyo by bus, train, or car, Yamanashi is good for a day trip from the big city and allows travelers to experience the "inaka" (rural) Japan. Yamanashi's major city, Kofu, lies at the center of this bowl-shaped prefecture, with some of Japan's most famous mountains rising along the horizon. On a clear day, a visitor can see Mt. Fuji to the south, Japan's second highest peak Kitadake and the majestic Minami Alps to the west, and the eight fractured peaks of Yatsugatake to the north. Yamanashi offers a wealth of cultural experiences and outdoor excursions to those searching for the offbeat side of Japan. Most foreign visitors overlook Yamanashi, but this small prefecture might be the ideal destination for a traveler tired of Tokyo's crowds.
Yamanashi is quite unusual amongst Japanese provinces in that its borders have remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. Formerly known as Kai Province (甲斐国), the majority of the prefecture is formed of the Kofu Basin, a flat plain in the centre of the prefecture surrounded by virtually impassible natural mountain barriers. Kai was once the base of the famous samurai leader Takeda Shingen, a man who once looked certain to unite the whole of Japan until his mysterious death whilst on campaign. The people of Yamanashi celebrate him to this day.
Though in terms of natural geography and history part of the Chubu region of Japan, in modern times Yamanashi has much closer links to Tokyo and the broader Kanto region. Its dialect is close to that of Tokyo albeit peppered with some unique local vocabulary.
For traveller Yamanashi might be seen to be composed of several regions which are not easily accessible by each other. One is the Kofu basin, a large urban sprawl centred on Kofu city. The other significant area is the south eastern Fuji Yoshida area, home to Mount Fuji. There are also several other less prominent and more rural areas such as Hokuto and Minobu.
There are no airports in Yamanashi. Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports are accessible by bus from Yamanashi; however, services to Yamanashi from these airports are rare. Haneda with its location towards the west of Tokyo rather than in central Chiba is by far recommended for access to Yamanashi, the journey from Narita to Kofu can take up to four hours by train.
You can access Yamanashi by three lines, the Chuo Line (中央線) from Matsumoto to the west and Tokyo to the east, the Minobu Line(身延線) from Shizuoka to the south, and the Koumi Line (小海線) from Ueda and eastern Nagano, by the border with Gunma, to the north. From Shizuoka you can connect to the Shinkansen which can be used to access Osaka and Nagoya, from Nagoya however the quicker option is to ride conventional express trains on the chuo line, switching between the Azusa and the Shinano at Shiojiri in Nagano. For both of these cities the bus is a quicker and cheaper alternative.
The super express trains of the Chuo line are the Kaiji (かいじ), Azusa(あずさ), and Super Azusa(スーパーあずさ). The fastest of these trains runs from Shinjuku to Kofu in just 1 hour 25 minutes. Compared to the highway bus, it is much faster, but also much more expensive. Local trains can also be used to get from Tokyo to Yamanashi with a change of train usually required from Tokyo's chuo$ rapid to the standard chuo line in Takao or occasionally Otsuki. This takes around 2 to 2 1/2 hours and costs half the price of the express train.
From special shops express tickets can be bought for 3,000 yen rather than the standard 3,500 yen (local tickets can also be bought for 200 yen savings). Several of these can be found in Tokyo including near Shinjuku station. In Kofu one can be found right in front of the station.
The super express of the Minobu line is called the Fujikawa(ふじかわ). Each day, it makes 7 round trip runs between Kofu Station(甲府駅) and Shizuoka Station(静岡駅) in approximately 2 hours.
Highway bus services link Kofu to other cities, Shinjuku, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya. Four different companies make these runs: Yamanashikotsu, Keio, Fujikyukou, and Kintetsu. Bus service may be cheaper, but the train is generally much faster, and other than of the route which goes to Shinjuku, fewer in number.
Long-distance buses use terminals in Kofu Station (甲府駅) and Fujiyoshida Station (富士吉田駅). From Kofu Station you can take buses to Shinjuku, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Narita Airport (成田空港 NRT), and Haneda Airport (羽田空港 HND). Fujiyoshida Station (富士吉田駅) has bus services to and from Shinjuku, Tokyo, Kyoto Station (Hachijo), and Osaka.
Many points in Yamanashi can be reached by the JR Chuo or JR Minobu train lines, with Kofu Station as a transportation hub for the prefecture. The southeast part of the prefecture is accessible by the private Fuji Kyu line which connects to the Chuo line at Otsuki. The Fuji Kyu line, Minobu line and Koumi line are all single tracked so services tend to be infrequent and somewhat slow. The chuo line is largely double tracked hence has two or three local trains and two or three expresses per hour each way.
Most cities throughout the prefecture have local bus lines in addition to trains.
Public transportation in Yamanashi isn't the best and even the central Kofu Urban Area itself is designed around the idea that most people have cars. Driving is highly recommended to be able to see the entire prefecture.
- 1 Mount Fuji. Japan's highest and most famous peak. The northern half of Mount Fuji is located in Yamanashi and the mountain can be seen from most of the prefecture. Also within Yamanashi is the Fuji Five Lakes Region, which is located at the foot of Mount Fuji and is a very popular scenic spot amongst Japanese tourists. The five lakes are: Kawaguchi, Yamanaka, Sai, Shoji and Motosu.
- Shosenkyo Gorge (In the rural reaches of northern Kofu.). This is considered to be the most beautiful gorge in Japan. It is part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.
- Minobu Temple (In Minobu.). This scenic temple is the head temple of the Nichiren Shū sect of Buddhism.
- Takeda Shrine (In northern Kofu). On the site of Takeda Shingen's former home, this temple dedicated to Yamanashi's prefectural hero.
- Kofu Castle. Split in half by Kofu Station itself Kofu Castle does not rank as one of the greatest castles in Japan however it is nonetheless a beautiful place, particularly in cherry blossom season.
- Takeda Katusyori Festival (In Nirasaki, running the main street (behind the station) and passing in front of Nirasaki Station.). In the fall, annually. A festival honoring feudal lord Takeda Shingen's son, Takeda Katsuyori. The parade through downtown Nirasaki features locals dressed as Takeda Katsuyori and his court.
- Fuji Yoshida Fire Festival. Fuji Yoshida City (located at the foot of Mt. Fuji) holds this annual 2 day festival to honor the goddess of Mt Fuji on August 26th. Beginning at 2pm at Fuji Sengen Shrine, two omikoshi (portable Shinto shrines) are carried through torch lined streets. Festival goers can also enjoy Japanese taiko drums and Fuji Yoshida's famous udon noodles during the festival. Fuji Yoshida is accessible by the Fuji Kyu train line.
- Katsunuma. This village is a major centre of Yamanashi's wine making, its train station is called Katsunuma-budōkyō (勝沼ぶどう郷), i.e. Katsunuma Wine Town. As well as walking amongst the vineyards one can visit the wine cave, where for ¥1000 several hundred different types of wine can be tasted. Additionally in October there is an annual wine festival where after buying a cup for ¥500 lots of wine can be drunk.
- Meditation. Zuigakuin in Otsuki is a large international meditation center.
- Tennis. Lake Yamanaka, one of Fuji Five Lakes, has a tennis court complex at the lakeside. During vacation, many students stay in a camp for training.
- Shingen-Ko Matsuri (信玄公祭り,Shingen-Ko Festival) (Accessible from Kofu station by bus or by foot.). Early April. This annual festival honors feudal lord and Kofu founder Takeda Shingen. Over one thousand locals dress as Takeda's army and march through the streets of Kofu.
- Yoshida Trail up Mount Fuji. Climb Mount Fuji from Kawaguchiko.
- Kita Dake (北岳). Climb the second tallest mountain in Japan, in Minami Alps city. Though not so big as Mount Fuji it is considered a less touristy and more challenging climb.
- Fuji-Q Highland (In Fuji Yoshida.). A famous roller coaster theme park. Several of its roller coasters hold or have previously held various world records.
Yamanashi is famous for its grapes and peaches. The centre of the prefecture lies in a basin and has quite a unique climate which makes its fruit very sweet. Yamanashi is the centre of Japanese wine making, with many companies large and small making wine in Yamanashi. Due to the sweetness of Yamanashi's fruit the wine from Yamanashi also tends to have a somewhat sweeter taste than is the norm, this can have rather mixed results when it comes to Yamanashi red wines, however Yamanashi white wines are delicious.
Hōtō is a wheat noodle that looks like wide udon. In winter, Yamanashi gets really cold, so it is sometimes eaten at home or in restaurants. The ingredients of Hōtō contains various vegetables, including: burdock, pumpkin, radish, carrot, taro, sweet potato etc. Its base is miso soup.
Yoshida Udon is a firmer thick Udon noodle soup. Served in versions ways with or without meat.
Basashimi is another local speciality; raw horse meat.
Due to the car centric design of Yamanashi and the proximity of Tokyo there is little in the way of night life to be found in this prefecture. There are some pubs to be found in Kofu; however, Yamanashi is the Japanese wine capital, hence day drinking opportunities such as vineyard tours and Katsunuma's wine cave are a good option.