Japan’s wine country in the Fuji foothills
Pack a prized Yamanashi piece of fruit in your camping bag and head for the hills.
A ring of emerald mountains around a low plain forms landlocked Yamanashi prefecture in the Chubu region; a landscape ripe for outdoor activities. Hiking, climbing, fishing, camping and hot springs are all within easy reach, while fertile conditions have blessed the region with some of Japan’s most delicious fruit.
Yamanashi is also a premier producer of wine and growing champion of wine tourism; this can only be a good sign.
Mount Fuji is the highest peak in Yamanashi, reflected in the pristine waters of the Fuji Five Lakes. Kawaguchiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, Motosuko and Saiko run along Fuji’s northern foot; Kawaguchiko is the main gateway to the region – take the Fujikyu railway for a scenic approach – or hop on a direct bus from central Tokyo for easy access to Japan’s most iconic views.
Yamanakako is a popular summer resort, especially for water sports, with lots of camping spots around the lake. The surface of Shojiko is where you can photograph the classic reflected image of Fuji upside-down, while at Motosuko you can recapture the scene of Mount Fuji that’s printed on the 1000 yen bill. During late April through May, get your camera ready for the spectacularly photogenic shibakazura flower festival, where thousands of tiny pink and purple moss phlox form a giant flower carpet with Fuji as a backdrop.
Lake Saiko is the least developed, sadly notorious for the Aokigahara suicide forest at its southern shore. It’s still a beautiful place for hiking though, perhaps all the more so because of its mysterious power to draw people into the abyss.
In the Southern Alps, Mount Kita is Japan’s second-highest mountain, famous among climbers for its challenging 600m sheer rock face known as ‘The Buttress’. Sacred Mount Minobu attracts worshippers to Kuonji temple, headquarters of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.
The hills of Katsunuma draw a different kind of devotee, come to sample some of Japan’s finest Koshu wine. Produced since the late 19th century, Koshu wine is gaining international recognition and there are around 100 wineries in the area offering plenty of options for tours and tasting sessions.
Don’t leave without picking some of Yamanashi’s incredible fruit. Peach, grape and plum are the fruity frontrunners, but you can also harvest your own strawberries, blueberries, apples, persimmons (above) and pears.