While work has resumed slowly for me, this blog has taken a long, quiet break.
Since my last blog post, I have actually gone on many mini excursions with my family mostly within the Kanto region. Since it is private time and not the usual work trip, I have not dedicated much time creating detailed content over here… until I re-read my own book last night. It was almost like reading an ancient history of blogging in Malaysia, reliving the scenes when I spent a copious amount of time exercising my fingers on the keyboard multiple times a day. This blog was my best friend. Sharing a memory, that’s what I did, mostly for my future self, whether there are people reading it or not. Maybe I should do that once in a while. So here it is.
Anyway, I am happy that I am finally creating a new category for Yamanashi, for this prefecture located just outside of Tokyo has never made an appearance on this blog before.
Yamanashi Prefecture 山梨県
What is Yamanashi famous for, you ask? Mt Fuji (although a shared prized heritage with its neighbours Kanagawa and Shizuoka), wineries, fruit farms, lakes (the famous Lake Kawaguchi is in Yamanashi), temples and more. Most parts of Yamanashi look just like the above picture. It was just a random spot we found on our way to the orchard.
Given its proximity to Tokyo, Yamanashi can actually make a good day trip destination if you have access to the convenience of wheels. Otherwise, it is also easily accessed via JR Tokaido shinkansen, local trains and buses, depending on the area.
Here’s how our day trip looks like:
10:00 – Leave Tokyo by car
12:00 – Arrive at Yamanashi
I got the idea from an ad featuring insanely affordable cherry picking experience at an orchard in Yamagata Prefecture, which honestly is way too far for a short road trip from Tokyo. Upon a quick search, we found that the nearest cherry picking spot is just a 2-hour drive from us, in Katsunuma city, Yamanashi.
There are quite a handful of orchards offering affordable cherry-picking experience, but since we only decided the day before, this was the place that accepted our last minute booking.
We first went to the store, where freshly picked cherries are sold at wholesale price. A huge box of cherries for only JPY500!
Here are some of the strictly shortlisted gift-quality sakuranbo (cherry) you can buy too, although comes with a much higher price tag.
The actual orchard is another 1-2 minute’s drive away.
The very friendly orchard keeper will briefly explain to you how cherry-picking works, and you are on your way to savouring as many cherries as your stomach can take within 1 hour, for only JPY1600!! (JPY800 for children).
(Note: It could have been a special promotion to attract tourists during corona time. Do check their updated prices.)
Cherries are one of my favorite fruits, imagine walking into a heaven filled with these shiny precious jewels all around me!!
IS THAT NOT A DREAM COME TRUE??
Throughout the all-you-can-eat hour of cherry buffet time, Sakura was mostly silent. She just kept popping these lustrous, bright rubies into her mouth one after another, or several all at once haha.
Actually, that was what we were taught by the farm keepers – that the best way to savour cherries the super luxurious way is to stuff many cherries (at least 3-4) at one go into your mouth and just burst them… and let the fresh sweet liquid flows into your throat as if you are gulping down pure cherry juice.
It was amazing.
We also had some nice exchanges with the chatty and super kind farm keeper, an elderly ojisan. He enthused over how charming his beloved prefecture is – fresh, unpolluted air, pure, quality water from the Minami-Alps, pleasant, stable climate all year round, warm, affectionate locals…
He also insisted that in Yamanashi, especially the suburb areas, fruits and vegetables are not commodities to be exchanged with money. It is something you will find on your front door – a bag of newly harvested sweet corn, a basket of peaches… left by a friendly neighbour.
I found this to be true, as I witness the exact custom of suburb folks on Japanese TV. Maybe someday, I would really leave Tokyo and come here to live for a while!
Anyway, here’s how we measure our ROI hahaha. Probably easily 5X what we have invested hahaha.
13:30 – Arrive at Chateau Katsunuma
Katsunuma is actually the birthplace of Japan’s first wines, and Chateau Katsunuma is a wine resort where you get to learn the origin of Yamanashi-made wine, if you are into winery.
Unfortunately the factory was closed due to covid-19, but we had a great time shopping for limited edition wine, ciders, and other souvenirs.
I was surprised to find the kiddos kneeling down obediently watching a documentary about wine-making. Yup. Future cult leader in the making.
14:30 Arrive at Hottarakashi onsen
Hottarakashi Onsen – the explanation of how this name come about is amusing.
In Japanese, it means something like “to leave (something) alone”. Usually with slightly negative connotation, such as neglecting something, someone or intentionally not attending to a matter. But in this case, it carries the subtlety of “putting your worries to rest for now“. You can imagine just how peaceful and calming it must be to soak into the warming thermal spring and forget about what bothers you just for the time being. I like the concept.
No idea what these two giant tortoises are doing here, but they are what welcomes you at the entrance of the onsen!
An out-of-place but nonetheless adorable smoothie truck.
Note that Hottarakashi Onsen is a “Higaeri Onsen”, meaning “day trip onsen”. There isn’t an accommodation here (although camping by the camp site nearby is an option, if you are into that kind of outdoor fun) so it is encouraged that you bring your own change of clothes and amenities, although towels can be purchased at a small fee and shampoo/soaps are provided at the shower area.
There are two onsen—”Kocchi no Yu” and “Acchi no Yu” (“This Onsen” and “That Onsen” lolol I love how banal yet amusing the naming is for this whole facility). Both This Onsen and That Onsen are outdoor baths, and it will cost JPY800 (JPY400 for children) for one entry, and you can only pick either one.
We went to That Onsen, which was, to put it conservatively, breathtaking. Understandably it is not possible for me to snap photos as it is a public bath, so here’s a photo from the official website:
Mt Fuji in view. While you sit in your bathtub of nature.
It’s indeed not a time to think about the unread emails in your inbox, in all fairness. “Just leave me alone.”, Touche, Hottarakashi Onsen.
Note that the highlight of this onsen is that it offers a smashing view of sunrise – with Mt Fuji view as part of the reward, of course. Depending on the season and timing of daybreak, the onsen opens just an hour before dawn, so imagine you will have to be here by 3am-ish in mid summer – if you xan summon to strength to wake up that early.
Haha my gremlin amidst overly friendly oijisans lol.
After a good soak, take your time to relish the quiet “leave me alone” time you have left at the open-air food court – where you get to sample simple but comforting soul food such as udon and ramen.
My pick was the famous curry rice here. Really yummy!
Fried tamago was a hit. It’s from a different vendor but order it ala carte and top it on your curry for a flavor bomb.
Don’t forget to drop by the small souvenir shop and grab some local specialty to support local businesses, before you head home!
17:00 – Arrive at Fuefuku Fruit Park
This was actually a bonus itinerary outside of our initial plan. En route back home, the kids spotted a huge playground and demanded some play time. So we decided to make a brief stop and ended up spending more time than we intended.
Other than a large outdoor playground over a gorgeous backdrop of Kofu basin, this massive fruit-themed urban park is so popular among locals that we had a hard time finding parking. I can see why – all the facilities are free of charge, and there was no entrance fee.
Amazed that they still have energy left after onsen, as hot spring usually leave me so comfortably dozy.
There’s an indoor playground too, in the event of rain, inside of the Fruit Museum (or Fruit Plaza, either one it is). Everything about this park is fruit-related! There’s the greenhouse featuring tropical fruit trees, there are also a fruit workshop, a library, a large gift shop, a fruit restaurant and finally, a really nice outdoor garden.
A stroll in the garden, I learnt that blueberries are pink before they are blue.
Plants of berries, pears, mandarins and other season fruits dot the park randomly and it’s always a surprise what you will find at the next turn of a corner.
Oh look! A massive stretch of hydrangeas in full bloom! How lucky are we!!
A final surprise before we left Yamanashi – look out for the fruit-themed street lamps.
AZ Yamanashi Circuit
This was an additional spot for some thrill if you have some extra time.
We spotted this on our way back to Tokyo, just a few minute’s drive away from Fuefukigawa Fruits Park.
Unfortunately the kids are still underage to try even the kiddy kart but we’ll be back next time!
That’s all for today, I hope you enjoy my first entry on Yamanashi Prefecture. There are sooooo many photos sitting in my iCloud and stories lying around in my head that I can’t wait to share.
Till next time!