Honshu, Asia, Japan, Kanagawa, Newsletter, Trip Reviews, Yamanashi

Exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo. Immerse into Japan’s serene countryside.

20/12/2016 by .
Exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo

The colourful chaos that is Tokyo with its high rises, nightlife and neon is stuff of legend, but no more than an hour outside of the city, Japan’s countryside is another world entirely. Andy Mossack goes exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo.

With the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic Games in 2020, Tokyo on Japan’s main island of Honshu, is looking forward to welcoming over 40 million visitors during the run up. Yet two of Honshu’s prefectures illustrate perfectly the magic that awaits just an hour or so outside of Tokyo.

IMG 9858

Yamanashi and Kanagawa are areas of natural beauty; forests, national parks, mountains and hot springs. Ginkgo trees celebrate the autumn with lavish gold leaf. It’s a landscape light years away from Tokyo’s bright lights and perfect for me to grab a few days of fresh air, recreation and mindfulness as i go exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo.


Yamanashi’s three national parks are magnets for hikers and climbers, particularly the impressive Nishizawa Gorge, but its biggest draw is Japan’s national icon Mount Fuji. And no wonder, because it is an extraordinary mountain. Perfectly conical and that famous snow capped summit, it’s like gazing at a giant picture postcard. Particularly today with such a clear blue sky, I feel a spiritual connection.

I’m at the Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine, having climbed the four hundred steps to the top. It’s a small park on the side of Mount Arakura, but what it gives me is a magnificent panoramic view of Fujiyoshida City below, literally dwarfed by Fuji towering behind.

IMG 9954

Perhaps it is my jaw gaping open that prompts a local gentleman next to me to remark, “You think this good? Come here spring time, cherry blossom everywhere.”

Pushing my spring envy aside, I walk back down very reluctantly, even though an even more remarkable experience awaits at Kawaguchi-ko Lake.

This is one of five lakes that surround the base of Mount Fuji but this offers the best view. A view I am about to take full advantage of. I’m staying the night at Japan’s very first glamping resort; the remarkable HOSHINOYA Fuji, hidden high up on the slopes of a red pine forest directly overlooking the lake and Fuji. I say remarkable because it is the epitome of luxury lodging.


Top of the range cabins with floor to ceiling windows offering a privileged personal view of Mount Fuji, a fine dining restaurant,  a cloud terrace bar and even an outdoor cinema. It is a perfect luxury retreat with plenty of forest trails to hike or horseback ride.

IMG 2821

To wake up practically holding hands with Mount Fuji is an extraordinary experience.

Back down by the lakeside I hire a bike and pedal around the lakeshore with Fuji a constant companion, like a huge silent sentinel watching over me.  It is a lovely ride, past opulent country homes of Japan’s well to do, numerous lakeside cafes and local folk just taking a walk.

Not far from here is the Ichiku Kubota Museum, the former studio of a gifted textile artist, whose astounding dyeing technique has become legendary. Using his own version of a 15th century dyeing process, Kubota specialised in creating giant decorative kimonos, each one so meticulous it took him over 2 years to complete.

IMG 0628 1

His artistry was rewarded with a unique showing in the USA at Washington’s Smithsonian in 1995 and there are many of those priceless kimonos on show in the museum.

Koshu is city that at first glance is a little unremarkable save for the necklace of mountains surrounding it. It may be in the north east of Yamanashi but it is the epicentre of Japan’s wine industry. The climate, soil and mountains combine to produce the famed Koshu grape and over 80% of Koshu’s population is involved with it in some way.

It’s an industry which has been producing quality wines here since the early 1900s. I drop in for a tasting at the Grace Winery, still family owned and run since 1923 and now looking to the future with granddaughter Ayana.

“My grandfather started producing wine here when he planted this sapling here.” She tells me, pointing to a huge tree stretching up through the winery roof. Trees apart though, wine is a serious business here and the crisp whites I sample would cause a few raised eyebrows in France.

IMG 2787

The wine may be a surprise, but Koshu’s delightful Hotel Kikori, is quite the opposite. A very traditional Japanese hotel which positively oozes the charm and elegance of Japanese hospitality.  My bedroom has sliding panels everywhere  and a floor futon bed which turns out to be extremely comfortable. There’s even a communal  indoor and outdoor Onsen, the traditional Japanese hot spring bath to indulge in before bed. I’m feeling quite spiritual now.

Speaking of spiritual, the Erinji Buddhist Temple with its beautiful landscaped gardens crafted by 14th century Zen priest Muso Soseki, the Capability Brown of his day, is well worth a detour. It is a wonderfully peaceful place and while the gardens are worth taking in, Soy Kaneko, the Chief priest,  is probably the coolest Buddhist monk I have ever met.

IMG 9934

As he walks me down an ancient corridor whose wooded boards deliberately sing “like Nightingales”  as a warning of trespassers, he tells me the story of legendary Samurai warrior General Takeda the ruler of the district. The old warrior’s bones rest in the temple grounds and after a respectful visit, Soy brings me back inside where I get to create my very own miniature Zen Garden.  Outwardly I am respectful and calm, inwardly I am thinking “how cool is this?”

IMG 9950

To round off my tour of Yamanashi I am visiting the small village of Kamijyo where the villagers provide an authentic rustic hoto dinner over an open fire in the village folk house. Fresh handmade udon noodles in a broth with pounded mochi rice cakes. There’s plenty of opportunity for a bit of rice pounding with what looks like a giant mallet and helping the ladies to roll out the noodles.

IMG 9902


Kanagawa is a much bigger prefecture, with its capital Yokohama hosting the 2019 Rugby cup final in its Nissan Stadium. This is a prefecture where volcanoes carve a dramatic landscape on one side of it and the Pacific Ocean carves an equally dramatic coast on the other. A world away from Tokyo and a fitting destination in my quest exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo.

Odawara City is perhaps better known for its famous castle, the fortified home of the Hojo ruling family. But remarkably, I found the city to be the transport hub for getting to practically anywhere in Japan via the convergence of Japan’s three main rail routes including the famous Bullet train.

IMG 2835

But I’m exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo, not here for cities, and deep in Odowara’s forest, I find a zip line paradise that is the Forest Adventure, the largest treetop adventure park in Japan. Three different courses of varying difficulty built 10 metres up in the trees. Again, for me, there is something almost spiritual in climbing a treetop course built amongst 300-year-old trees. Yes it is fun, but up here listening to birdsong, less the occasional scream from a terrified participant, I feel a connection to nature.

The nature theme is enhanced further at the Only You Healing Spa resort set even deeper in the forest. Bathing in natural outdoor hot springs with just the sounds of passing nearby streams as a small distraction is an almost decadent way to spend an afternoon.

There are numerous treatments and meditative therapies too from foot spa and Japanese calligraphy therapy to stretching and  Zaizen meditation. I muster just enough energy to eat lunch at the all-inclusive Japanese buffet before collapsing into a welcome hammock for a snooze.

800px Odawara Castle ratamahatta

Odawara Castle is on the other hand, an entirely different matter. An unfortunate victim of the Meiji government’s purge of all Japanese fortifications in the 1800s Odawara has thankfully been completely restored to its 15th century former glory. There is much to see here including an impressive display of Samurai armour and swords. I climb up to the top of the main tower and I’m rewarded with a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean and Kanagawa’s rugged interior.

Historic castles can be a little too dry for me, but Odawara works hard to keep up interest. Particularly in the House of Armour where you can dress up as a Samurai, a ninja or a princess. With the first two options already taken, my attempt at being a Japanese princess is a big hit with the locals.

IMG 2851

Just around the corner from the castle is a remarkable shop which has traded from the same location for over 500 years. The Uiro Sweet Shop has been in the same family since 1368 when the first Mr.Uiro arrived from China and began selling his tiny pearl coloured pills to help digestion.

Today those mysterious pills are still on sale but these days the famous uiro sweet cakes are the big draw. I’m greeted by current owner  Mr.Takeshi Uiro who gives me a fascinating tour of the original wooden storehouse behind the shop which shows no sign of wear and tear having survived numerous earthquakes over its 500-year tenure. The uiro sweet cakes are offered of course and I have to say, these little chewy steamed sweets made from rice, flour and sugar are very addictive.

IMG 0732

However I can’t leave Kanagawa on the Bullet train without sampling some more traditional Japanese food, and lunch at Darumaya ticks all the boxes for me. Delightful service from ladies garbed in traditional costume, delicious tempura, sashimi, matu and steaming hot miso soup. All delicately put together and proudly delivered.

It is a fitting end to a remarkable tour of Japan’s Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo . So close to Tokyo yet so far away in comparison. I come away with plenty of positive feelings about exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo; the welcoming people who respect and embrace their culture, the dramatic landscapes, the fresh healthy food and for me a real understanding of an authentic Japan which offers so much to visitors keen on exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo.

All images (c) Andy Mossack except Odawara Castle and Hoshinoya Fuji lake and lodges.

Tell me more about exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo

British Airways runs daily flights to Tokyo Haneda and Narita Airports.

For more details on exploring Honshu beyond Tokyo and all the attractions mentioned here and more can be found at  Yamanashi Prefecture Tourism  and Kanagawa Tourism

Grace Winery Tours 

Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine above Fuji’s  five lakes

Erinji Temple Tour 

Ichiku Kubota Museum 

Cycling around Kawaguchi -Ko Lake

Odawara Forest Adventure

Only You healing Spa 

Odowara Castle Tour. Restored 15th centure castle.

Uiro Sweet Shop 

Darumaya Restaurant  Traditional Japanese Restaurant in Odawara.

Where to stay in Yamanashi

Hotel Kikori Traditional Japanese Hotel with Onsen

Hoshinoya Fuji Glamping Mountain Retreat

Where to stay in Kanagawa

Washintei Hougetu Hotel Traditional Japanese Hotel with Onsen




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *