Photos by Ichiro Katayanagi
Photos by Ichiro Katayanagi

Day trippin' on a bus to Yamanashi

by Ichiro Katayanagi
Stripes Japan

When tourists travel around Japan, especially for the first time, taking the train might seem like the only option. But don’t forget about buses, which are often overlooked and underrated.

Recently, I used a private bus company to tour and explore parts of Yamanashi Prefecture, home to Japan’s most famous landmark – Mt. Fuji. It was a great day trip. I left at 8 a.m. and returned home at 8 p.m.

I traveled to Kofu City, the capital of Yamanashi, on a two-hour bus ride while I sat back and enjoyed the views from the window. There’s no hassle of transferring trains or stopping at every station when you’re on a private tour bus headed to your destination.

Besides being famous for Mt. Fuji, Yamanashi is known for its exquisite forestry as woodland covers about 80 percent of its land. The prefecture itself is abundantly blessed with nature and the transportation network is not as well developed as other areas of Japan’s countryside. Due to this, it is difficult to reach tourists spots solely by train, which is why I went with Hatobus, a popular bus tour company.

Not only can you leave the driving to the drivers while you hit every tourist spot on your list, but the company also offers guided tours in English, too.

Most of the tours start near train stations in Tokyo, Kanagawa, or Chiba. My tour started in Nishifunabashi Station in – Chiba and it took me to five sites:

Kofu City is about a 2- to 3-hour car ride or around 2 hours by train. Yamanashi Prefecture is known for its grapes, peaches and as a great foliage viewing region in the fall and a lavender field area in the early summer. Many flock to the area for mountain climbing, hot spring dipping, hiking, spelunking and water sports on the lakes that also feature great views of Mt. Fuji. 

Yamanashi official travel guide: https://www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/english/

Bus tour company: https://www.hatobus.co.jp

1. Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center

Upon entering the museum, a maglev test train which in 2003 established the then-fastest train speed at 581 km/h, greets visitors. The three-story building has more than 10 exhibits, including a maglev theater, a maglev diorama, and history of maglev. Check out the miniature maglev, the museum’s most impressive exhibit. You can actually take a ride on it. Even though the ride is only 15 meters long, it gives a different feeling than riding on a regular train. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

The Yamanashi Maglev Test Track, with a total length of about 26 miles, passes in front of the center, allowing for prime views of the train on test days. Visit the lounge and terrace of the museum building on such days. Central Japan Railway Company has announced a plan to make a new maglev line operational in 2027 which will connect Tokyo and Nagoya within 67 minutes.

Maglev is a system where the train is suspended on a magnetic cushion above a magnetized track, allowing it to travel at high speeds because there is no friction.

Location: 2381, Ogatayama, Tsuru City, Yamanashi Pref.
Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.)
URL: https://www.linear-museum.pref.yamanashi.jp/english/index.html
TEL: 0554-45-8121

2. Shingen Yakata (Restaurant)

This Kofu City roadside restaurant specializing in sukiyaki, beef hotpot and houtou, which is Yamanashi’s local noodle dish, also features a souvenir shop. It has more than 600 seats to accommodate travel groups. A special sukiyaki lunch set was served to the members of my tour group. The set included four kinds of Japanese beef: Kobe, Matsuzaka, Yonezawa and Omi beef. The dish was great, but as far as taste was concerned, I could not tell the differences between each of the cuts of beef.

Location: 2311-1, Enzan Oyashiki, Kofu City, Yamanashi Pref.
Hours: Weekdays 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. (last order 2:45 p.m.), Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays 10:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. (last order 2:45 p.m.)
URL: https://www.shingenyakata.com/
TEL: 0553-33-3555

3. Erin-ji Temple

The temple, founded in 1330, is located just a few minutes’ walk from Shingen Yakata. It is a family temple for Shingen Takeda, who is one of the most famous warlords in the Warring States period (1467-1568). Takeda governed Kai Province, which is now Yamanashi. A guide showed us around the vast grounds, which are surrounded by mountains and feature a large garden with many tall, lush trees. The four-legged red gate at the entrance is designated as a national cultural asset.

Location: 2280, Enzan Oyashiki, Kofu City, Yamanashi Pref.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
URL: http://erinji.jp/
TEL: 0553-33-3011

4. Chateau Sakaori Winery

Yamanashi is known as a grape-growing district, as it produces about a quarter of the total output in Japan.  Many wineries here produce the best wines and Chateau Sakaori Winery, located in Kofu City, is no exception. For its wines, the winery mainly uses grapes indigenous to Japan, such as Koshu and Muscat Bailey A. I had an opportunity to taste those wines after the guided winery tour. The wines from Chateau Sakaori featured subtle flavors that were fresh, very fruity and not too strong, making them sure to appeal to any wine drinker, experienced or not.

Location: 1338-203, Sakaoricho, Kofu City, Yamanashi  Pref.
Hours: 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
URL: https://www.sakaoriwine.com/english/
TEL: 055-227-0511

5. Hottarakashi Onsen

The onsen is located about 700 meters above the sea level in Yamanashi City. You can see Mt. Fuji and Kofu Basin, famous for the grapes and peaches grown there. The hot spring opens an hour before sunrise and offers a great view as you soak in the outdoor spring while the sun rises. At night, you can enjoy a view of the basin and the night sky far enough from the city lights to provide great stargazing opportunities. Since the onsen offers both hot and lukewarm baths, I was able to enjoy the scenery for a longer time in a lower temperature bath.

According to the staff, the onsen’s name means “leaving alone” since it was originally meant to be a nursing home with hot springs. The plan for this was suddenly cancelled and the property stood neglected for a long time. Today, Hottarakashi is not as neglected as its name suggests, instead it a is a relaxing place offering great views and nice baths.

Location: 1669-18, Yatsubo, Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Pref.
Hours: 1 hour before the sunrize - 10 p.m. (last admission 9:30 p.m.)
URL: http://www.hottarakashi-onsen.com/
TEL: 0553-23-1526

It was great to take a bus tour because I did not need to struggle to make an itinerary, nor did I have to worry about getting lost on my first visit here. There are many bus tours from the Kanto region to choose from, but Yamashi’s close proximity is why I recommend it. Beautiful views, relaxing hot springs and delicious produce await you just a stone’s throw away. A visit will refresh your body and mind.

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