Another two-day, one night trip out of Tokyo for around ¥10,000. A great trip to see the Southern Alps on a budget.
I’ve always heard of Yamanashi as being a fruit paradise – indeed, it is an important place for the growing of many of the wonderful fruits in Japan – from grapes, peaches, persimmons, it is also the main region for Japanese wine. I first picked my destination as Koshu from the famous route Koshu Kaido which is a famous route from what is now Shinjuku to Yamanashi during the Edo period. This route is a main thoroughfare near where I live, so that piqued my interest. After finding that Koshu is that not big of a place, I changed my main destination to Kofu, the capital city of Yamanashi prefecture. I have found that for accommodations, it’s always easier and more affordable in the larger cities.
JR Chuo Line is a really wonderful line here. Rather than the express, I took the kakueki train. While it added about one hour to the total journey, the savings were significant – around ¥1,000 vs. ¥3,000 for the express.
The seating was the old-style cars, with two rows seats facing each other. Since it was off-season, it was quite empty and a good choice of seats. Not only that, there is a car with a lavatory, and you can consume food and drinks onboard.
The views from the window were great, and taking the slow train gave me a chance to see the local people as they traveled between the local points.
Kofu is another great walking city, so upon arrival, I set out to see the city. It was a pretty busy day – I made 33,000 steps that day.
Kofu was built up during the Meiji Era as the Yamanashi capitol, so the streets are very wide and Meiji architecture is everywhere.
Most of the buildings are very well preserved. It is a very clean and neat city.
This famous building is the Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Centre which is famous with architecture buffs around the world as a representative of “Brutalist” architecture.
Kofu had a castle, but it was mostly destroyed during the Meiji Era. The foundations and main gates remain, but it was never restored. However, you can go to the remains and get a very good view of the city.
Great views of the city, Southern Alps and even a peek at the top of Mt. Fuji.
As I mentioned before, Yamahashi is one of Japan’s main wine growing regions established in the early 1900’s. So I visited one of the main wineries, the Sadaoya Winery that is just a 10 minutes walk from the station. The grounds have a very European atmosphere. There are cellar tours available that last about 40 minutes and include tastings for only ¥500. They are offered on an hourly basis, but you must book in advance.
You get to taste three types, but as even the guide mentioned, they are really not up to world class standards, unlike Japanese whiskeys and beers. However, they are fruity and quite drinkable and pair well with Japanese foods.
I like really basic and simple places. When traveling solo in Japan, izakaya is always a good option – you don’t feel out of place eating by yourself, and the atmosphere is always noisy and fun. Also, a good chance to meet locals. I went to this little yakitori place and it was good and cheap.
I decided to stay in a guest house this time, so I chose the Bacchus Guest House which was close to the center of the city. It was only ¥2,600 and despite it being pretty empty, they stuck me in a four-bunk room where another guy was staying. I usually don’t stay in this kind of place, but thought it might be a good chance to meet some new people. However, the guy in my room never left his bunk and would not reply to a greeting. Anyway, it was just for one night.
The next day, I walked around Kofu a bit more, went to a cafe and pondered my next. move. I decided to move on to Koshu, just a few stops away along my return leg.
Since I like to always include a light mountain climb on my trips, “Shionoyama” or “Salt Mountain” Seemed to be just right. The entrance to the trail was a little hard to find, but it went through some an old neighborhood that was very interesting to see.
View from the peak.
As for the origin of the “Salt Mountain” name, I have yet to get the real reason. One person told me that salt was mined from this mountain. Another explanation that I got was that commerce along the Koshu Kaido route was dominated by the salt trade – salt was an essential commodity and was even a currency. Even today, salt sold in Japan is through a government agency. Also, note that the trains stop for Koshu city is “Enzan” which is the onyomi of the two same characters. I will have to do some followup research on this.
On the way back, I walked by this old onsen resort. Many in the town are like this and the resorts have been a main part of the economy for years.
Koshu is famous for its bountiful fruit production, and you can see references to it everywhere.
When I travel, I’m generally very curious and when traveling on the train I follow my journey progress on my iPad. When I pass through an area, I try to identify key landmarks and discover other tidbits.
One of the stops I passed through on the Chuo line going back was Shiotsu. What I thought was unusual about the satellite view was that layout that looked very similar to an American suburban development. So, I looked it up and found that it was a planned community built during Japan’s bubble era as an affordable alternative to the skyrocketing housing prices in Tokyo, yet still accessible by express train, It also boasts of having one of the longest escalators in Japan (see the line from the train stop in the picture). With many of these schemes, prices collapsed after the bubble and owners lost a lot of money them. I actually want to go back and check it out, as it seems to be a really affordable place to live, surrounded by beautiful mountains and still not that far from Tokyo.
All-in-all, it was a great short and affordable trip out of Tokyo. No need to take the express – you can keep a much more flexible and schedule and you won’t miss an opportunity to learn about those interesting places like Shiotsu!