Water is the beginning of life, and there’s one place in Yamanashi prefecture where it flows from the holiest of mountains and the purest underground springs. Here, water flows into vast forests thriving with wild game and rivers teeming with fish. Amidst this wilderness, patches of tamed, cultivated land emerge like isles of civilization in the untamed wilds. Ancestral rice paddies embrace fields in which the oldest vineyards in Japan bask in the sun. A slumbering giant, the hallowed mountain of Fuji, dominates the landscape in its glory and majesty.
For a glimpse of these wonders, look no further than Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県), only a 1 hour and 30 minutes train ride from Tokyo. Let us introduce you to one of the most ravishing places in Japan.
Toyoshima, French Cuisine with Yamanashi Spirit
Toyoshima is a restaurant where you can taste the best that nature has to offer. Here, the best of modern French cuisine meets the marvels of Yamanashi to bring you an experience involving all five senses. We didn’t mention the wild game without avail: the owner of Toyoshima is passionate about hunting, and a selection of fine game meat, also called gibier, is served.
The vegetables are cultivated locally, some grown by the restaurant, and irrigated with the waters of Yamanashi. The exquisite bread is homemade, also with local ingredients, and free of sugar. The experience provided has to be prepared in advance, and a reservation at least the day before is essential.
Ojiragawa Canyon, the Meandering of the Whitetail
One of the pastimes of courtiers in ancient Japan was making the top 100 rankings of the most excellent things that could be found in the country. Turns out that one of these rankings was of Famous Water Spots and that the prefecture of Yamanashi punches above its weight hosting three of them. Perhaps the most spectacular of those is the Ojiragawa Canyon (尾白川渓谷). Ojiragawa means “river of the whitetail,” honoring a local tradition that says that the river is the tail of a mythological horse that has inhabited the area since time immemorial.
The sight of any of the ethereal canyon waterfalls will likely remind you of this. The bottom of a valley in the mountains of Hokuto offers many options for hiking and sightseeing, from the casual to the extreme. This wilderness is fantastic for a picnic in the middle of nature, especially in the mild weather in spring or surrounded by breathtaking warm-colored foliage in fall. A key feature in summer is that bathing in the numerous river gorges and pools is allowed, so don’t miss the chance to dive in the waters of Yamanashi!
Shichiken: History and Tradition Imbued in Sake
Just a few minutes drive away from Ojiragawa Canyon is Shichiken Sake Brewery, an establishment with a tradition that dates as far back as 1750. As with our previous recommendation, the ingredients for its traditional Japanese sake are also from Yamanashi, with special mention of the rice, which is the fruit of the brewery’s collaboration with the local farmers.
Shichiken also offers free tours through its main building, designated as an “Anzaisho” lodging to accommodate Emperor Meiji during his imperial tour through Yamanashi in 1880. In addition, you can see the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove” (Chikurin no Shichiken” in Japanese) Ranma, an elaborately carved wooden panel above sliding doors, gifted by the Takato Domain daimyo to celebrate the completion of the new main building of the brewery in 1835.
Vineyard Bliss at Tomi no Oka Winery
In addition to Japanese sake, Japanese wine produced in Yamanashi is starting to make waves on the international stage. After all, grapes are one of Yamanashi’s most celebrated fruits across Japan, and in Kai city where Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery (サントリー登美の丘ワイナリー) is already a vital piece of the region.
With a history of over 100 years, the winery is in a blessed location with the ideal conditions to produce top-quality grapes, with little rainfall, long hours of sunshine, and temperature differences between day and night. While the beauty of the landscape and the breathtaking views of Mount Fuji are reason enough to entice visitors, wine lovers will find themselves in a small paradise of idyllic vineyards with several tour options depending on their specific interests and, of course, tasting experiences with some of the great wines produced in Japan.
Sample Award-Winning Whisky at Hakushu Distillery
The Suntory Hakushu Distillery (サントリー白州蒸溜所), established in 1973 in Hakucho, Hokuto city, takes pride in its award-winning whisky, crafted with only the best quality water from the Japanese Southern Alps. But what makes a visit worthwhile is the well-rounded experience that awaits you at this facility. Whisky lovers will have the opportunity to see for themselves the manufacturing process with a distillery guided tour, have an in-depth exploration of the world of whisky at the Museum of Whisky, get exclusive products at the gift shop and then wind down at the Hakushu Bar, with the best of an in-house selection as well as whiskies from around the world.
Read our six-part travel journey for more ideas on what to see and do in Yamanashi!
- Yamanashi’s Water of Life: The Source of its Unparalleled Wild Game, Wines, Whiskies, and Sake
- A Spiritual Journey Across the Temples of the Yamanashi Mountains
- Unleash the Adventurer in You in the Great Yamanashi Outdoors
- A Mindful Kind of Travel: Art, Yoga, and Stargazing in Yamanashi
- Into the Heart of Traditional Japanese Arts and Crafts in Yamanashi Prefecture
- Yamanashi Inden, the Traditional Japanese Lacquer and Leather Handicrafts by Yamanashi Artisans
How to Get to Yamanashi Prefecture
The Yamanashi main center is easily accessible by JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and other major cities. Kofu Station and Otsuki Station are two main hubs from which you can travel to all other destinations via local trains and buses. For those on a tighter budget, the Azusa or Kaiji Limited Express from Shinjuku Station can take you directly to Yamanashi’s Kofu Station via the JR Chuo Line (approx. 1 hour and 30 min.) An even cheaper option is to take one of the highway buses departing from all major cities in Japan.
The generous nature, local production, fine crafts, and delicacies of Yamanashi prefecture make the area a perfect spot for an escape from the big city, and it is not a bold statement that they will merit a trip from overseas by themselves. For all the shining examples above and more, the traveler will find Yamanashi, an example of Japan’s authentic “soul.”
Sponsored by: Yamanashi Prefecture