[From June Issue 2012]
Yamanashi Prefecture is adjacent to the western side of Tokyo. The prefecture, whose capital is Kofu City, boasts a number of historic sites that have some connection to the military commanders of the Warring States Period, the most prominent of whom was TAKEDA Shingen. Because 80% of the land is mountainous, there are many places to go climbing, the most famous of which is Mount Fuji, the symbol of Japan. Yamanashi is also known for its clean spring water, which is sold at convenience stores and supermarkets across Japan.
Yamanashi is also a major production area of fruit: cherries, blueberries, strawberries, and peaches are grown there. There are dozens of farms in the prefecture where people can pick their own fruit. The award-winning Koshu wine, in particular, produced in areas with many vineyards, such as Katsunuma, is well-regarded around the world. Among the wineries in the area is Lumiere. Famous for making wine presented to the Imperial Household in Japan, Lumiere has attracted attention from wine connoisseurs both at home and abroad.
A local specialty in Yamanashi Prefecture is “houtou,” a variety of noodle that is similar to thick udon. Huotou is cooked in an iron pot with a miso-based soup. Another famous local dish is “Kofu-tori motsu-ni” (a stew made with the intestines of Kofu chicken), which was awarded the grand prize in the fifth B-kyuu (B-class) Gourmet Contest. This motsu (chicken intestines) dish, stewed in a salty-sweet sauce, had previously been known not so much as a home-cooked dish, but as a side order served in soba shops. Now it is available for sale at souvenir shops and online, and has become popular as a snack to enjoy with drinks.
Yamanashi Prefecture produces the largest amount of polished jewelry in Japan and has facilities where people can buy jewels and gemstones, and look at sculptures and artifacts of rough amethyst and crystal. Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture is a well-known “power spot” (area believed to have an intense spiritual energy), and some people purchase “power stones,” such as crystal and amethyst, at the foot of the mountain to carry with them as lucky charms.
Being close to Mount Fuji, the area of Fuji-goko (Fuji Five Lakes) also in Yamanashi Prefecture is a popular sightseeing spot. It takes two hours to drive there from the central part of Tokyo on the Chuo Expressway, and two hours and 15 minutes to get there by train from JR Tokyo Station. Plenty of expressway buses are available from Tokyo, and sightseeing bus tours to the Fuji-goko area are available almost every day, allowing a large number of tourists from all over Japan to visit the prefecture.
Before turning off the expressway at the Kawaguchiko Interchange, Fuji-Q Highland comes into view. This amusement park is known for having a number of roller coasters and other white-knuckle attractions featured in the Guinness Book of World Records. A different kind of thrill can be had from exploring an abandoned hospital called the Horror House, which takes 50 minutes. Other attractions in the park include Thomas Land, which is hugely popular among little children.
Besides the amusement park, the area is home to Kawaguchiko Sarumawashi Theater. Popular with adults as well as children, Sarumawashi is a traditional art that has been performed in Japan for 1,000 years. You can enjoy a play performed by a monkey and its trainer who work together to comical effect. At the theatre, English, Chinese and Korean subtitles are displayed on a screen.
There is also a canine theme park called Fuji Subaru Land Doggy Park, where you can look at, and play with, 110 dogs of about 45 species. At Sylvans, a restaurant located on the same site as Doggy Park, you can eat pizza baked in a stone kiln, or char-grilled herb wieners, while drinking “Fujizakura Heights Beer” – a beverage made with natural water from Mount Fuji using authentic German production techniques.
Of the five lakes that make up Fuji-goko – which include Lake Yamanaka, Lake Saiko, Lake Shoji and Lake Motosu – Lake Kawaguchi, located in the northern part of the Fuji Five Lakes area, is the second largest. It is also known as a good spot for bass fishing, and fishing competitions regularly take place there. In the vicinity of the lake there are a number of caravan sites equipped with barbecue facilities. Besides fishing, you can also enjoy skiing, golfing, horseback riding, and tennis.
Other than fishing competitions, depending on the season, a variety of events are held at Lake Kawaguchi. Festivals can be enjoyed all year round: the Sakura Festival and the Mitsuba-tsutsuji Azalea Festival in spring; the Lavender Festival and a lakeside fireworks display in summer; the Momiji Festival and the Farm Festival in autumn; and, in winter, illuminations and the Juhyou winter fireworks display.
Renowned for its beautiful forest and lava formations, Aokigahara Jukai (Sea of Trees) Forest was selected as one of the “100 Mysterious Lands of Japan” by environmentalist Clive Williams NICOL and others at a symposium hosted by travel agency JTB. There are a variety of tours that beginners can easily take part in, and there they can study the natural environment with help from a local guide. A tour which passes through an ice cave in Narusawa Village and the Fugaku Wind Cave is also popular because it offers a sense of adventure.
There are hot spring facilities that are said to be effective in relieving fatigue, promoting good health, and speeding up the healing process. You can use day onsen to heal tired limbs after trekking or mountain climbing. Near the ski slopes, there are hot spring facilities including Fujichobo-no-Yu Yurari, which offers 16 kinds of hot spring and superb views of Mount Fuji.
In the vicinity of Lake Kawaguchi, you can enjoy not only nature and sports, but Japanese art as well. Itchiku Kubota Art Museum exhibits numerous kimono that KUBOTA Itchiku – who was designated a living national treasure of Japan – designed during his lifetime. At the Kawaguchiko Muse Museum “Atae Yuki-kan,” doll creator ATAE Yuki’s handmade dolls of kimono-clad children or fairies are on display. These museums have been featured in the Michelin Green Guide.
Since the Fuji-goko area is also popular with foreign tourists, the website of Japan National Tourism Organization introduces accommodation facilities and tourist spots in English, Korean, and Chinese. The reason for the area’s popularity among Japanese and non-Japanese alike is that it is able to stimulate the five senses all year round.
Text: BOTAMOCHI Anko