For most travelers in Japan, Mt. Fuji is a common must-see destination on their lists. But the trip out to the great mountain takes a bit of a while and travelers who'd like to take it easy and enjoy a side of Japan away from the busy metropolis of Tokyo might be at a loss for what they could do. In Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, nature and history lovers can find a worthwhile side trip not too far from the vicinity of Mt. Fuji.
During the Warring States (Sengoku) period, Japan was broken up into a number of different clans ruled by powerful warriors, the daimyo. One of the most powerful and well-known among them was Takeda Shingen, who ruled over the Kai Province—modern day Yamanashi Prefecture. Kofu City was his stronghold and the entirety of the city takes pride in it, with historical monuments found everywhere from the station itself to the mountains where various sites related to the Takeda clan can be found.
Speaking of the mountains, one of the most interesting sights in Kofu is the park located on one side of the train station. Maizuru Castle Park is a historical site containing the remaining ruins of Kofu Castle (which was also known as Maizuru Castle). While most of Kofu's historical sites center on the legacy of the Takeda clan, Maizuru Castle was commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who had brought an end to the Warring States period.
Upon the castle's tallest tower: the reconstructed Honmaru enclosure, visitors can get an amazing view of Kofu City and its surrounding mountains. If the weather is great, you might even get a clear glimpse of Mt. Fuji towering magnificently over the others. As the castle is also a well-maintained park, reconstruction work is done routinely to preserve its glorious features, such as the strong, massive gates that bring to mind the tumultuous time of powerful warlords.
At either one of Kofu Station's exits, you may notice maps displaying a walking course that take visitors through the city's various monuments. The course also takes them up through a nearby mountain to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature close to the quiet city. Walking through the whole course is great for hikers interested in history as there certainly is no lack of interesting monuments along the trail. But visitors who aren't that keen on going through trails to see temples and shrines can simply walk an hour (or take a bus) up the cherry blossom-lined main street of Kofu City to the Takeda Shrine: a Shinto shrine dedicated to the guardian of Kai Province—Takeda Shingen.
The Takeda Shrine is a large and peaceful shrine featuring not just a shrine but also a Noh stage where performances are still held, and a museum housing numerous artifacts pertaining to the Takeda clan. Among these are the warlord's armor, weapons, and battle standards—including one from Takeda Shingen's fiercest rivals: Uesugi Kenshin. The enormous preserved banner bearing the "Furinkazan", four phrases from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, is also on display. Translated from the original Chinese work, they say the following:
Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your silence that of the forest.
In raiding and plundering be like fire, be immovable like a mountain.
Kofu city streets
After a long walk through the city and basking in its historical atmosphere, be sure to pick up a package of Shingen Mochi. These are squishy rice cakes coated in soybean flour and a sweet brown sauce made from honey that really brings it all together. Cherries are also a local delicacy in Yamanashi! So when it's in season, be sure to buy a bunch!
With its delightful sites that only take a day to visit and enjoy, Kofu City is a great place to take a daytrip to, whether from the Mt. Fuji area or even from Tokyo! If you've got an interest in history, this particular place in Japan is definitely a must-visit.