After Chichibu and the contemporary-townhouse-inspired Hotel Beyer, we felt like we were finally digging deep into Japan’s onsen culture when we walked into Yanagiya.
The wooden sliding doors at the entrance, the large lantern next it litting a path to the reception, the foyer just behind the entranceway, also know as Genkan 玄関 where we traded our shoes for indoor slippers and of course, the kimono-clad hostess welcoming us with a warm Irasshaimase! Yeah!
From Nagatoro, we’d taken a train back to Hachioji station, switched to the Chuo line for JR Kofu Station 甲府, then hopped onto the ryokan bus which was waiting. It was a short bus ride to the ryokan, about 15 minutes.
If taking a local bus from Kofu station (10 mins, ¥220), alight at the Yumuraonsen Iriguchi 湯村温泉入口 bus stop along Yamanote Dori 山の手通りand walk along Yumura Dori right to then end (450m).
As the bus neared Yumura Onsen 湯村温泉, we saw plumes of steam billowing above the buildings; proof that Yumura was very seismically active!
Yumura Onsen, discovered 1200 years ago by Kukai 空海, was the oldest onsen in Yamanashi Prefecture. Centuries later, it would become the exclusive spa of Takeda Shingen 武田信玄, considered one of the greatest military commanders of the Sengoku-era (戦國時代 c. 1467 – c. 1600).
Which was why Yumura was also known as Shingen no yu 信玄の湯, literally Shingen’s spa, (and also to differentiate itself from the other Yumura onsen in Hyogo). At that time, Kofu 甲府 was the centre of the Kai 甲斐 domain ruled by Takeda.
Yanagiya 柳屋, was located at the base of the Yumurayama Castle ruins 湯村山城跡, though there was nothing much left of it.
Youkosou (to) Yanagiya
Yanagiya was a traditional-styled ryokan comprising a 2-storey building with 31 rooms overlooking a central garden. There were 6 dining rooms on the second floor and 1 on the first floor. Yanagiya had 3 baths: two ie Ishi-no-yu 石の湯 & Hana-no-yu 花の湯 had ensuite outdoor baths while the third, Take-no-ha 竹の葉 was a private bath and required reservation.
We checked in, did a quick exploration of our rooms then got ready for dinner. It was the first time all 13 of us dined together, banquet-style, in a room exclusive to us. I wasn’t sure we were more excited by the idea of us having our own exclusive banquet hall or by the spread of dishes laid out before us.
The dinners were multi-course Kaiseki or Kaiseki-Ryori 懐石料理, curated to showcase the local seasonal produce, tantalise taste buds and impress visually. Our hostess began by introducing the menu of the evening, the ingredients used and (especially for us foreigners), the sequence by which to savour and enjoy the dishes.
We stayed 2 nights so they made sure there were no repeats. Quite a feat considering they also tried to accommodate guests with special dietary restrictions. Here’s some selections from the second night dinner.
Breakfast was simpler but also belly-filling.
We made full use of the baths: before dinner, after dinner, before breakfast, anytime where there’s an hour of ‘downtime’ between activities. That’s right, we were very busy washing ourselves throughout the day. Someone quipped that he’d never felt so clean and scrubbed in his entire life.
The Mitake-Shosenkyo Gorge 御嶽昇仙峡 is a spectacular gorge in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park and one of the key attractions in Kofu.
On day 2, the hotel shuttle dropped us off on the motorised trail along the Arakawa river 荒川 near Nagatoro Bridge 長潭橋 (30 mins from ryokan). This trail was open to vehicular traffic but only in one direction – so it was possible to drive all the way to the Greenline Shosenkyo bus stop; that would have shaved off 3 km of walking but look what we’d miss.
Shosenkyo 昇仙峡 was a 4-km-long gorge flanking the Arakawa River; there were multiple look-outs along the trail; we got excellent views of the riverscape and those beautiful nature-sculpted rocks.
We strolled past Kakuenbou 覚円峰, a bare-faced boulder jutting skywards, where monks of yore were said to mediate on top; we walked under the Ishimon 石門, a natural opening created by 2 boulders stacked against each other, walked along a passageway whose crevices were stuffed full of 1 yen coins. Finally, we reached Sengataki 仙娥滝, the 30m tall waterfall, which marked the end of the gorge (photos: Mabel).
The entire jaunt took us 2 hours – we could have been faster but with so many photo ops along the way, it was impossible to hurry.
Moving past Sengataki, we reached a flat plateau, a road with many shops alongside. Here, we came to the Shosenkyo ropeway, which we boarded to get to the Panorama Platform. We walked the trail on the left to Granite Peak 弥三郎岳 where one might catch glimpes of Mount Fuji on a good day (no we didn’t), then backtracked and took the trail on the right to Yakumo Shrine.
Kofu is known for its fruits, particularly grapes, and has cemented its position as Japan’s centre of wine production. Many wineries offered wine-tasting tours; our wine haven of choice was Chateau Sakaori.
From Shosenkyo, we took the local bus back to town then a train to Sakaori Station 酒折駅 (1 stop from Kofu) and leisurely walked 700m to the winery. For a token amount, we toured the facilities, got a crash course on wine-making then settled down to do the highlight of the tour – wine tasting. I think we spent a good 2 hours there leaving only when our bags were full of goodies – jams, cookies, minature wines.
Goodbye and Kofu Castle
It was a light, wintry morning as we prepared to leave Yanagiya and we finally had some time to enjoy its beautiful garden.
The hotel shuttle dropped us off at Kofu Station. Seeing we had ample time to spare, we stuffed our bags into lockers and made a impromptu trip to see Kofu Castle which was 3 minutes away.
Kōfu Castle was also known as Maizuru Castle 舞鶴城, and the present-day site was known as Maizuru Castle Park. The ruins were well preserved and fun to explore. It was the perfect place to let loose.
Interestingly, Kōfu Castle wasn’t built by Takeda; it was built by retainers of the then big boss, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Toyotomi would eventually unite Japan under a central military rule, becoming its de facto leader. After his dealth, Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded him and founded the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kofu Castle was eventually possessed by Tokugawa.
After Kofu castle we returned to Kofu Station. To save time, we decided to get a quick lunch: McDonald’s. It was a McDonald’s of a different league from what we had at home: 100¥ burgers, pork burgers, bacon potota pies, 150¥. So economical and so good!
Yanagiya: Japan, 〒400-0073 山梨県甲府市湯村 3丁目 16-16-2
Stayed 2 nights, 2-3 March 2010
References: Shosenkyo Gorge, Best hot springs in Yamanashi, Yamanashi hot springs, Shosenkyo: Japan’s most gorgeous gorge, Travel Yamamashi, Kofu City Official Guide, Japan Visitor -Shosenkyo, Kofu Castle
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