It had been another very hot, humid evening in Tokyo so I was looking forward to the cool mountain air in Yamanashi prefecture. To get to my destination of Kai-Oizumi, I was traveling on the Super Azusa to Kobuchizawa, and then transferring to the Koumi line. I had read that the Koumi line train journey was very picturesque and included a stop at the highest altitude train station in Japan. What’s more, Kai-Oizumi features an onsen called Panorama no Yu, which boasts views of Mount Fuji. In more ways that one, I had high expectations for my weekend away!
The train trip was indeed a pretty one. One hour out of Shinjuku, the scenery changes from grey to green as the train winds it way in and out of tunnels through the mountains. Soon after, the train travels across the plains of Kofu featuring orchards and vineyards before reaching Kobuchizawa. At Kobuchizawa I changed to the Koumi line, a 2 car train with wide view windows to allow you to enjoy more pretty mountain views. On a clear day, you can look back across the ranges to see Mount Fuji as you leave Kobuchizawa. You know you are in the sticks though when trains only come once an hour so you need to plan your travel carefully.
Panorama no yu
I reached Kai-Oizumi smoothly, and found Panorama no Yu within a 5 minute walk from the station. My first impressions as I walked through the door was that it was an older onsen, but also quite popular with the locals. After I bought my ticket, I was told I could spin the barrel for a chance to win a prize as it was “bath day”- a special monthly event! I won a vegetable juice so that was a pleasant surprise.
The elusive Mt Fuji
Panorama no Yu features both indoor and outdoor baths. I was of course very keen to head straight for the outdoor bath, but alas, it was very cloudy and overcast. As I sat meditating in the bath, I was willing the clouds to lift so I could see the elusive Mt Fuji.
My prayers were answered when I finally made out a very faint outline of Mt Fuji in the distance. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the peak of Mt Fuji as a very small blip on the horizon! Note to self – beware of clever marketing luring me with views. All jokes aside, during the winter months, apparently there are a number of scenic points with great views of Mt Fuji.
The other view that Panorama no Yu boasts is an evening sky full of stars. This is a rare sight in Japan due to the many built up areas. Unfortunately I was only there during the day, but the evening sky may also have been a bit overcast.
An evening with the locals – “Ichigo Ichie”
I stayed overnight in a little bed and breakfast up in the mountains. During the evening I had a lovely meal at a local cafe called “Po-Le Po-Le”. This was another random find as I walked along the quiet dark road and was drawn by the sound of piano music. I was hosted by a lovely couple and soon got talking to the other locals who were at the cafe.
We got to talking about my onsen blog, and the owner of the cafe very kindly offered to drive 40 minutes to take me to an onsen the next day. I was very humbled that he was so hospitable and generous, He reminded me of the Japanese expression “Ichigo Ichie” which literally “one time, one meeting” or a “once in a life time experience”. He loved meeting new people and doing whatever he could to make every moment count.
Ultimately our schedules did not quite match for the next day, but it was indeed a very special meeting and a unique memory.
Early next morning, I headed off to Sun Meadows Kiyosato which is a panoramic view point. Chairlifts take you up to an altitude of 1900 metres where you can enjoy a coffee or glass of wine at a great terrace area overlooking the expansive plains and mountain ranges. Unfortunately again it was quite cloudy, but an amazing view, nevertheless. During the winter months, it is a popular ski run.
Change of plans
Following Sunmeadows, my goal was to get back to the station and take a train and bus to Takiminoyu, an onsen featuring beautiful views of a waterfall. Alas, I was soon to learn that despite lots of planning, the transportation is extremely limited and if you miss one transfer, there are no options and you need a Plan B! I was quite disappointed but I headed to the information Centre and asked for the nearest onsen.
I was introduced to Aqua Resort Kiyosato. Basically unfortunately this turned out to be a real flop! It reminded me of the Toshimaen Niwa no Yu that has both a pool as well as onsen facility but it was so much older.
As I sat in the bath for a brief reflection, the phrase that came to mind was “beware the moldy oldies”! Yes – very old onsen do exist in Japan, and sometimes despite the scrub down, you don’t exactly feel that refreshed if you are looking around at less than pleasing surroundings – including mold and cracks…Again, I felt so disappointed that I had missed the transport connections to the onsen with the waterfall views….
All was not lost. As I headed back to the station, I came across a local event where there was an amazing Taiko group playing. I was mesmerized by the precision of the group and the many contrasts in beats and rhythms. Unfortunately I can’t post the video I took on the blog to fully share the experience.
A snoozy afternoon trip across the ranges
It was finally time to catch the Koumi line again for a 2 hour journey across the mountain plains to Sakudaira, before transferring to the Shinkansen to travel back to Tokyo. I chose this route home as I was keen to travel along as much of the Koumi line as possible.
The train travelled through Noboribetsu which is the highest altitude train station in Japan at 1,345 metres above sea level. I couldn’t believe the number of train enthusiasts who were standing at the platform or boom gates to take pictures of the Koumi train as it came through stations. It obviously is a sentimental favourite, and as a passenger you feel a bit special!
The journey was a snoozy one at a gentle pace with many fields of green, mountain ranges and streams. Again, it is just so nice to be able to escape the metropolis of Tokyo and take in the charming countryside of Japan.
From Shinjuku, take the express train bound for Kobuchizawa (113 minutes) and transfer to the Koumi line to Kaioizumi. (16 minutes). If you would like to travel further along the Koumi line, travel to Sakudaira (2 hours) and transfer to the Hakutaka Shinkansen to return to Tokyo (76 minutes).