This Region Is Japan’s Hidden Gem (And It’s Right Next To Tokyo)

Mt Fuji and temple, Yamanashi

Against the majestic backdrop of Mt Fuji and just a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo’s central, Shinjuku Station is a region packed with natural beauty and cultural treasures. As well as visiting the famed peak, you can mountain bike through pristine alpine terrain, stay at an ancient guest house, discover the 500-year-old Koshu Inden lacquer practice or try whisky and sake made with the purest water in Japan. This is Japan’s most under-the-radar prefecture: Yamanashi.

Biking, hiking and lake life

Minami-Alps Mountain Bike Club, Yamanashi

Yamanashi Mountain Bike Yamamoribito

Yamanashi is home to the country’s most sacred peak, Mt Fuji, but this postcard-famous snow-capped mountain is just the tip of the region’s natural beauty. Yamanashi is also home to serene lakes – including the mirror-clear Fuji Five Lakes – along with thundering waterfalls, hikeable alpine terrain and some of Japan’s best grape-growing terroir. Cycling enthusiasts can rent a mountain bike and explore the Minami-Alps Biosphere Reserve with the Yamanashi Mountain Bike Yamamoribito, or for something slower-paced but just as invigorating, join a Sunday morning stand-up paddleboard yoga class on Lake Yamanaka, which includes time to lazily paddle the sapphire-blue waters on your own after the class ends.

Surrounded by natural beauty in Yamanashi Amazing things to do in the Yamanashi region, Japan's hidden gem

Visit the sacred hills and soul-healing views

Sacred hills and soul-healing views, Yamanashi

Mount Fuji from Shichimen-san

The mountains here are filled with deep spiritual importance – something that can best be experienced as the dawn breaks while visiting the 750-year-old Buddhist temple Minobusan Kuonji for morning prayers. Stay the night before at the peaceful Shukubo Kakurinbo Temple Inn set in a garden of hydrangea and koi ponds (which accommodates English-speaking visitors) then make your way through lush bamboo forests – you may even be lucky enough to spot a family of wild macaque monkeys. Another place of spiritual significance is Mt Shichimen-san in the southwestern part of the region, home to the sacred Nichiren Buddhist Keishin-in Temple, where you’ll find the Ichinoike Pond. Keep an eye out for ripples; those are believed to be signs of the dragon goddess moving beneath the waters. It’s a challenging but rewarding steep walk to the top of the mountain to reach the temple – it can take up to four or five hours – but determined hikers are rewarded with magnificent, clear views of Mt Fuji.

Drink in Yamanashi’s finest tipples

Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, Yamanashi

Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery

Pure mountain water from Mount Fuji, as well as rich soil and slopes, make Yamanashi Prefecture Japan’s epicentre for wine, whisky and sake. The Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, located in Kai City, is prized grape-growing land. With volcanic soils, mild temperatures and views of Mount Fuji and the Kofu Basin, the vineyard produces wine to match the beautiful surrounding – the flagship being the Tomi no Oka red — a Bordeaux style blend of mainly petit verdot and merlot that offers a gorgeous fruity aroma and a full, elegant flavour. Whisky lover? Suntory, one of Japan’s most celebrated name in whisky, has a distillery in Yamanashi, but with a twist: the Suntory Hakushu Distillery is nestled deep inside a forest. Visitors can explore at their leisure, take a guided tour or tasting or wander nature trails, home to many species of wild birds including great spotted woodpecker and ural owls. And then there’s sake. Located in Hokuto City comes 300-year old distiller Yamanashi Meijo Co. — founded by the Kitahara family. The brewery is surrounded by the Ojiragawa Valley and uses water drawn from a subterranean river of Mt Kaikoma for an elegant, balanced range of sake made from local rice and water.

Delicious dining in Yamanashi Amazing things to do in the Yamanashi region, Japan's hidden gem

Experience history, art and fireworks in Yamanashi

Experience history, art and fireworks in Yamanashi

Inden Museum

Yamanashi is the home of Inden, or Koshu lacquered deer leather, a more than 400-year-old craft that was used as armour in the Warring States period. With its history on display at the Inden Museum in Kofu City, this ancient craft preserves tradition to make beautiful, collectible products including bags, wallets and pouches.

Yamanashi is also known for its fireworks displays – such as the Shinmei Hanabi Taikai – represent Japan and are held annually in August in Ichikawa Misato Town, with 20,000 combustibles lighting up the sky. The event showcases the region’s connection to fireworks, with ties to locals releasing fireworks to commemorate the passing of Jinzaemon, the man who introduced washi (Japanese paper) to the region.

Be sure to learn about the history of washi making at the Nishijima Washi no Sato facility and get involved in a paper-making class to create one-of-a-kind original works of art, or visit the Rokugo Seal Museum to view the ink-stamp seals that are an artform in daily Japanese life. The museum has seals dating back to the 19th century, including an ink-stamp image of Mount Fuji created by an uncountable number of individual images earning a place in the Guinness World Records.  

Yamanashi, Japan

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