Autumn in Yamanashi Prefecture – A Great Time for Grapes and Mt. Fuji
Yamanashi, about 2 hours by bus from Tokyo, certainly changed a few perceptions I had of Japan: where Mt. Fuji was, where Japanese wine was made, what the technology to make the world's fastest train looks like. I had wondered about these before moving to Japan, but was completely unaware that one prefecture in the entire country could answer all of them at once. Thanks to an autumn school trip to this amazing place, my view of Japan has switched gears and likely will change you too if you visit.
My trip started with a 4 hour bus ride from Nagaoka City, Niigata to Ichikoen Winery for the first part of our tour. Yamanashi is famous for the largest amount of wineries and most wine production in Japan. Because it was autumn, it was peak harvest season. This vineyard has a wide selection of grape picking tours, including regular grape picking, high quality grape picking, global grape picking, barbecue and grape picking, or nabe and picking (not mixed together of course) all allow you to eat all the grapes you take in 1 hour. My group got the barbecue plan and I got to eat lunch under a large canopy of grapes. After lunch we got to pick and eat to our heart's desire.
Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Centre
Next on the trip was the Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Centre. Which is home to the maglev train, the fastest train on planet earth. I had always admired the renowned Shinkansen train that can transport people from one part of Japan to another at unbelievable speeds. This museum specialized in exhibiting the technology and it sounded fascinating. I was beyond excited to enter.
Maglev Train Test. Video taken by author.
I also got to see what the maglev could do at speeds of 550km/h. At first, I thought it was running late or maybe I had blinked and missed it. Neither was the case though, and I got to see maglev in action. It truly earned its name as “the bullet train”.
The exhibition centre is open all weekends to the public and they offer discounts to students showing their student ID. At the centre you get to see the Yamanashi maglev test track and learn about superconductive maglev models.
Mount Fuji Radar Dome
Next on the tour was a visit to Mt. Fuji Radar Dome, a facility where you can learn about weather observations and the history of the radar dome which served as a warning device for typhoons before satellites were constructed. The dome could detect a huge storm from 800 km away. Since typhoons are common throughout the year in Japan, this dome must have once been considered very important to the local population.
Today it is a symbol of meteorological study in Japan and, now out of use, it has become an exhibition facility in Fujiyoshida City to spread the importance of meteorology.
Mt. Fuji was right within reach of the radar dome so getting to see it was an added bonus. The bus ride takes tourists to the 5th station where tourist and potential climbers can have a warm meal, buy souvenirs, and even restock your climbing inventories. There was a post office and even a museum showing the ecology of Mt. Fuji.
Gazing at its peak, one can see why so many scholars and artists have mentioned about it. With legions of fans, all kinds of merchandise, and fan clubs dedicated to it, the Japanese have basically given Mt. Fuji celebrity status. Many travelers erroneously think it is right within view of Tokyo, but actually it lies between Shizuoka and Yamanashi, both hours from Tokyo.
Of course, a great day had to end with a great meal. Hoto stew is a local dish of Yamanashi our group ordered at a local restaurant.
A miso flavored stew with udon (Japanese thick noodle) and a healthy helping of vegetables (cabbages, mushrooms, carrots, leek onions, etc.) with pork or chicken. It was hot and hearty. Just the right meal after the very chilly visit to Mt. Fuji 5th station. Cooked in a large pot then served to group members in individual smaller bowls. This is a meal you must try on your visit here.
Of every place in Japan I know about, Yamanashi was not a prefecture I imagined visiting but am proud I did. This was a great autumn destination that gave me the most thrilling vacation I could ask for. Yamanashi will stay in my mind as a wonderful memory of Japan.