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47 Prefectures from A to Y


Mountain Highs and Nature’s Bounty

She’s inescapable: visible from almost anywhere you go in Yamanashi Prefecture, Mount Fuji presides over a wooded and mountainous region featuring lush valleys bursting with fruit and flowers. In the summer, she welcomes numerous climbers who scale the peak. In the springtime, Mount Fuji with cherry blossoms in the foreground is a picture-perfect combination of two quintessentially Japanese symbols.

Long venerated and sometimes feared, as many believed that a god dwells in the mountain, the sleeping volcano has several climbing routes. The most popular is the Yoshida Trail, starting from southern Yamanashi near Fujiyoshida City and Lake Kawaguchi. Around 180,000 climbers a year start here, stopping at the base of the path at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine before their climb. The mountain is now known as a World Heritage site, but people have paid homage to her for several thousand years. With a history of nineteen centuries, this Shinto shrine is the home of the Fuji-ko sect, which is dedicated to worshipping this mountain.

When visiting Yamanashi, visitors may want to consume some local stick-to-your-ribs cuisine called houtou, a fortifying noodle dish similar to udon. At Sengenchaya, which specializes in houtou, the noodles are thick, hand-cut, and made from wheat flour, but the commonalities end there. Thicker than traditional udon, houtou noodles are put straight into a white miso-based broth rather than boiled separately, so the soup absorbs the flour and becomes almost like a stew, studded generously with hearty mountain vegetables like burdock root, shiitake mushrooms, carrots and kabocha squash.

Those who just want to take in the scenery rather than tackle the ascent should catch the ropeway at Mount Kachikachi, or “Crackling Mountain.” Immortalized in a short story by Osamu Dazai as well as a famous folktale, Mount Kachikachi provides an excellent vista of both Lake Kawaguchi and Mount Fuji from its peak of 1075 meters. Characters from the folktale—a tanuki (raccoon dog) and a rabbit—appear in statue form around the lookout point, and tanuki dango—big, fluffy mochi (rice cake) balls dipped in a sticky sweet soy sauce and emblazoned with Mount Fuji—are available for snacking.

The famous mountain isn’t the only game in this prefecture. The green plains ringed by steep mountains have a wide temperature range and plenty of sun, making it an ideal environment for growing fruit. The “fruit bowl prefecture” is a major producer known for all kinds of fruits, including strawberries, peaches, plums, cherries and especially grapes. In fact, Yamanashi has more wineries than any other prefecture in Japan—over eighty—and grows over a hundred varieties of grapes.

Château Mercian is one such winery, and has been bottling for more than a century, producing over thirty different wines. The winery makes vintages that go especially well with Japanese cuisine, using domestically developed grapes like the Muscat Bailey A and the Koshu varieties, as well as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Served at Japanese embassies abroad to introduce foreign dignitaries to Japanese wine, these vintages have started making inroads abroad, especially on the U.S. West Coast and in the UK. Visitors to the château can sit on an expanse of green overlooking the vineyards and the surrounding mountains while they savor the natural beauty and bounty of Yamanashi poured into a glass.
This prefecture seated at the foot of Mount Fuji offers history, a World Heritage site, memorable scenery and cuisine, making it a worthwhile destination in any season.