I went on a trip to Yamanashi region, located just 1.5 hours away from JR ground train Shinjuku station, to experience a suburb Japan that is completely different from the experience of metropolitan city, Tokyo. Yamanashi is known for Mount Fuji, first of all, then hot springs, high-quality fruits production, and I believe that this is the least known, but it’s great wine! I looked for a trip that I can easily go for during the weekends and decided to go to Yamanashi because I can enjoy most of my favorite stuff when travelling in Japan over there - Mount Fuji, hot springs, and wine. This is my 2 days 1 night itinerary and hope this will help foreign travelers like me to not miss the best part of traveling in Yamanashi!
Take the “JR Limited Express Kaiji” from JR Shinjuku station and you will reach Isawa-onsen station, where you will reach my highlight destination in this trip directly in just 1.5 hours.
The journey on the Express Kaiji train was very comfortable and you can feel the change in scenery gradually from the modern city of Tokyo to the rich Yamanashi nature by looking out the window. I can’t wait to see Mount Fuji in front of me!
I departed at 1pm from Shinjuku station, then I arrived at Isawa-onsen station at 3pm sharp. I checked in at Hanayagi no Sho Keizan, which I booked in advance at a hotel booking site. The hotel was only 5 minutes away from Isawa-onsen station. It was easy to find and reasonably priced. I really recommend it!
The main event in this trip was the “Yamanashi Wine Taxi Tour” set on the following day, so I spent the first day walking around, exploring the area around Isawa-onsen. (No matter where I went, I would look around for a view of Mount Fuji).
After taking a short break at the hotel, I went to the Maizuru Castle Park, which was the ruins of “Kofu Castle”. It was just two stops away by train (approximately ten minutes) from Isawa-Onsen station.
Hanayagi no Sho Keizan
Address 822 Isawacho Ichibe, Fuefuki, Yamanashi prefecture
Access 8 minutes’ walk from JR Isawa-onsen station
Price from 10,000 JPY (98 USD)
The view from Kofu Castle was absolutely beautiful, and when I looked into the far distance, I was able to see Mount Fuji from here! In Ishiwa area of Yamanashi, wherever you go, you can see Mount Fuji. It is really fun.
*For information on Kofu Castle, click here
At night, I went to a famous local restaurant I found online. I had a meal for dinner that was served with the local Yamanashi dish, “Hoto”, and the restaurant’s signature dish, a horse sashimi rice bowl! “Hoto” is a noodle dish slightly chewier than udon and it was really flavorful eaten together with the soup. The horse sashimi rice bowl was tasty and even those who don’t like the briny taste of fish sashimi would enjoy it, too.
After my dinner, I returned to the hotel and hit the sack early for my “early morning important event”, the wine taxi tour tomorrow.
Address 701-1 Isawacho Matsumoto, Fuefuki, Yamanashi prefecture
Access 15 minutes’ walk towards north from Isawa-onsen station
Opening hours Lunch: 11:30am - 2pm, Dinner: 5:30pm - 11pm
3:00 am: Wake-up I was super sleepy, but it’s worth it for the event. As soon as I got ready, I headed to the venue of this event, “Hottarakashi Onsen”, by taxi. (If you want to save on taxi fares, you can take the train from Isawa-onsen station to Yamanashishi station and grab a taxi from there. But you need to check the train schedule.)
"The hot springs facility looks up at Mt. Fuji and down on the Kofu Basin by day, and commands a view of the reputed 'ceiling of starry skies' at night." ほったらかし温泉
Hottarakashi Onsen is the only hot spring in Japan where one can overlook the beautiful night scenery, Mount Fuji, and the sunrise all at one place! “Hottarakashi” literally means “Do self-serve”, thus, it’s very different from the luxury onsen experience you would imagine. But I enjoyed the simplicity and the “zen” time – it was as if I am alone in the galaxy. Admiring the real Mount Fuji while soaking in a hot spring, it’s one of the most extravagant experience I’ve ever had!
After enjoying myself at the hot spring, I went back to the hotel at 6:30am and went back to sleep until it was time for check-out. At 10am, I embarked on the the main event of this trip, the “Yamanashi Wine Taxi Tour”!
There was a reception desk of this tour at the Isawa-onsen station. If you had already made a reservation online, you just need to tell them your name and you will receive a tour pass. The transaction was very simple. With this tour pass alone, you will get a tour to visit four major wineries in the region, just like the name of the tour suggests. You will also be driven around in a taxi without any surcharges. Superb!
Yamanashi Wine Taxi Tour!
Details and booking available from here Yamanashi Wine Taxi Tour
There was a reception desk of this tour at the Isawa-onsen station. If you had already made a reservation online, you just need to tell them your name and you will receive a tour pass. The transaction was very simple. With this tour pass alone, you will get a tour to visit four major wineries in the region, just like the name of the tour suggests. You will also be driven around in a taxi without any surcharges. Superb!!
The taxi arrived soon after I finished the procedures at the reception. (There was a car sticker labeled “Wine Taxi” so it was really easy to recognize!) Even though taxi drivers weren’t fluent in English, they could understand some simple phrases. Besides, the course is fixed, so drivers could take you directly to your desired destinations. It’s quite the VIP experience!
These were the four wineries I visited:
Besides wine tasting, I could also see first-hand the grape juice-making process and join a tour of the vineyard. It has an additional fee, but the grape juice I made by crushing the grapes was unbelievably tasty. The 100% grape juice for sale here is the best grape juice I have ever tasted in my life.
2. Chateau Mercian
Enjoying fine wine in an open space surrounded by mountains was a really exquisite and fun experience. The 1,200 JPY (12 USD) lunch plate was also very delicious!
You can check out the wine brewing and fermentation process in a tour of the underground brew chamber. Besides that, at the very authentic restaurant, various types of wine to be paired with each dish were prepared for us. It was a great opportunity to learn more about wine. Also, there was a wide variety of wine for sale at the souvenir shop here, so I used the souvenir coupon (worth 1,000 JPY or 10 USD) that came with the tour to buy some wine for my girlfriend as a souvenir.
This is a winery where you can taste wine that are only available in Japan. What I found unique about the wine here is that they are kept in Japanese Shochu (distilled spirit) bottles, which sort of brings out its Japanese-ness. I found the wine here to be generally sweet, and maybe that gives people who don’t like the bitter taste of alcohol a chance to enjoy wine, too.
Yamanashi Wine Taxi tour
Meeting point: In front of Isawa-onsen station
Tour dates: Weekends and public holidays only till the end of December for this season
Price JPY5,000/USD 50 (icluding JPY1,000/USD10 coupon)
After the tour, I returned to Isawa-onsen station, of course, by taxi. Return the tour pass and you’re done! There was still time until my train back to Shinjuku station, so I went to the foot bath in front of the Isawa-onsen station to soak my feet and rest. It was super relaxing and I wanted to stay there forever. (Although I thought it was a little too hot, all the Japanese people I saw just soaked their feet without batting an eye. Japan is truly the country of hot springs).
Also, there was a souvenir shop near the station, so I bought some things for my friends.
The total cost : 31,500 JPY (310 USD)
Round trip from Shinjuku Station to Isawa-onsen station: 6,600 JPY (65 USD) Accommodation (Including breakfast): 10,000 JPY (98 USD) Round trip from Isawa-onsen Station to Maizuru Castle station: 400 JPY (4 USD) Dinner at Kuimonya: 1,500 JPY (15 USD) Round trip taxi fare to Hottarakashi Onsen: 4,500 JPY (44 USD) Entrance fee for Hottarakashi Onsen: 800 JPY (8 USD) Wine taxi fare: 5,000 JPY or 49 USD (Includes a souvenir coupon worth 1,000 JPY or 10 USD) Lunch plate: 1,200 JPY or 12 USD Souvenirs: 1,500 JPY or 15 USD
There aren’t many activity-packaged tours like this one to enjoy hot springs, see Mount Fuji, and taste wine. The best part of it all, the whole itinerary can be experienced within just 1.5 hours away from Tokyo. It’s well worth it! Why don’t you come to Yamanashi and see it for yourself!
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