As fall settles in and you think about getting out and enjoying the nice weather and the trees, there is one region in particular that you might want to consider. The Yatsugatake area offers beautiful nature, an abundance of foliage, hiking trails of all levels of difficulty, a plethora of other outdoor activities and a wide variety of fall festivals.
Going Ten Rounds with Fuji
Bordering Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures Yatsugatake region is located in the middle of the Japanese Alps. While its neighbor to the south – Mount Fuji – garners all the publicity, the eight peaks of Mount Yatsugatake offer stunning hikes and views without the queues of tourists.
Legend has it that as the mountains were being formed, Yatsugatake competed with Fuji to become the tallest mountain in Japan. But Fuji became jealous of its rival and therefore used his fist to strike Yatsugatake down. Upon hitting Yatsugatake, the mountain was broken into eight peaks, stopped growing, and allowed Fuji to become the most dominant mountain in Japan.
This legend is in part the reason why hikers and climbers are drawn to Mount Yatsugatake. The other reasons are the wide variety of trails and the abundance of nature and wildlife. The most popular to climb are Akadake, Yatsugatake’s highest peak at 2,899 meters, Yokodake, the second highest at 2,829 meters and Ioudake at 2,760 meters.
Many climbers make the trek from peak to peak. There are amazing views of the surroundings and even views of Mount Fuji. Of course, there are plenty of less challenging trails along the base where one can enjoy the splendor of the fall foliage. If lucky, hikers can spot wildlife like foxes, tanuki, kamoshika, or deer.
Take In the Foliage by Hoof or Rail
At the base of the Yamanashi side of Yatsugatake is the city of Hokuto that encompasses several towns, including Kobuchizawa and Kiyosato. Those towns offer endless possibilities of fall activities and opportunities to enjoy the splendors of nature. Known as the town of horses, Kobuchizawa offers several horseback riding stables. Head out on any of the variety of riding experiences to explore the forest and mountains from horseback.
Another way to take in views of the fall foliage is by train. The Koumi-sen runs from Kobuchizawa to Komoro, Nagano. This train route offers the highest crossing of any JR line (1,375 meters) as well as the two highest train stations in Japan – Nobeyama (1,346 meters) and Kiyosato (1,275 meters). The special High Rail 1375 that offers guided trips in luxury – and at nighttime allowing passengers to truly appreciate the starry mountain skies.
Speaking of night skies, every fall Kobuchizawa hosts the Yatsugatake UFO Convention (this year on December 1). You can learn more about what is out there beyond our skies.
A Taste of Kentucky in Yamanashi
The tourist town of Kiyosato, located at the base of Mount Yatsugatake, is worth a visit in part for its quaint downtown. After exploring the shops and cafés, stroll up to the non-profit retreat center Seisen-Ryo to enjoy the farming experience and their famous and delicious soft ice cream. For dinner there are several places in Kiyosato where you can enjoy the local Yamanashi dish of houtou, which is a thick noodle miso soup full of chunky vegetables.
Every October (this year October 13–14), Seisen-Ryo hosts the Paul Rusch Yatsugatake County Fair Festival. Artists come from the American state of Kentucky to sell handicrafts. Local food is on sale and the whole festival has a US country-western atmosphere.
This fall why not come for a visit to one of Japan’s most famous mountain regions. Outdoor activities, train rides, festivals, and local delicacies .
Access: By train, from Shinjuku take the Azusa Express to Kobuchizawa station on the Chuo Line (approximately 90min). By bus, from Shinjuku take the Highway Bus to Kobuchizawa (approximately 2h 30min). By car take the Chuo Expressway to the Kobuchizawa exit (approximately 2h).