weekend in yamanashi (day one)
I’m back from my weekend trip to Yamanashi Prefecture! Yamanashi is the prefecture directly to the west of Tokyo, and it takes about 2-2.5 hours to get there by train, depending which combination of trains you take. As I’ve mentioned several times already on my blog, I went to Yamanashi to participate in the 1st annual Koshu Fruits Marathon**, which is a combination of what used to be two separate races in the same area: the Katsunuma Budoukyou Marathon (which includes a 10.2k race, half marathon, and 3.5k family pair race) and a separate 23 km race to the top of the mountain.
**As an aside, I’ve noticed that many races in Japan seem to call themselves ‘marathon’ in the name, regardless of distance. It’s very common for races which have both a 10k and half marathon included in the same event to this designation, but for races with a 5k and 10k it’s less common.
Eric and I were running late on Saturday morning and didn’t want to bother with having to change trains along the way, so we opted to take the slightly more expensive Kaiji Express train directly from Shinjuku to Yamanashi-shi Station. Taking the express train added an extra ¥1,300 (about US $13) to the fare, but for 30 minutes less travel time and far better seats it was worth it for us.
We arrived in Yamanashi-shi at 3 pm, and my friend Jun, who was a friend of a friend from way back and also happened to be an exchange student at Waseda the same year as Eric, met us at the station. Jun has lived in Yamanashi-shi for about 4 years now teaching English, but I had only been out there to visit her once, two years back. It was nice to see her again.
We posed for a few pictures outside the station, and then headed to her apartment, which is conveniently just one minute away and has a pretty nice view of the surrounding area and the mountains bordering the area.
I did not do the best job of planning out my weekend in advance and had not actually booked a hotel prior to arriving in Yamanashi. Jun had offered to let us stay with her, but I was concerned about putting her out and getting enough sleep, so I’d been leaning hotel. We spent a few minutes looking up various hotels online at Jun’s apartment, but they were all either far from the stations or expensive, and since Jun’s apartment is just one minute from Yamanashi-shi Station, and 10 minutes by train to Katsunuma Budoukyo Station, where the race would be held, we ultimately decided that the best (and most fun!) option would be for us to just stay with her.
With that settled we decided to get out and take a walk around the city while there was still enough light out.
Yamanashi-shi is a relatively small city, with just about 2 blocks of actual city in either direction from the station before you end up in the country side. It’s very different from the endless city streets of Tokyo that we are accustomed to, and made for a really nice change.
We walked around a little, got some soft cream (kinako kuromitsu for Jun, anin dofu for me, and melon for Eric), and took some pictures of the sights and scenery.
It was getting a little dark so I only took a handful of pictures and spent most of the time talking with Jun instead. But Eric got some pretty great shots of some of the animals. Including some really strange unlabeled rabbit-deer looking things, and actual deer across from the main zoo area.
After the park we walked back over to the other side of the station for an hour and a half of karaoke with Jun at the new karaoke place that had opened up since the last time I had visited. Before this place opened karaoke could only be done at actual bars. Imagine that. On the way there we passed a small local organic store, and I bought a giant shiro-kabocha that I saw on display out front. It was only 150 yen and HUGE!
Karaoke was a lot of fun, though short. We sang a variety of songs and partook of the free beverages and soft cream they offered. I had a cafe au lait with a big blob of chocolate soft cream on top, and drank as much water as I could hold. We finished up with karaoke at about 6:30 pm and headed back towards the station to have dinner at a small restaurant owned by the family of two of Jun’s former students.
I had the same thing I had when I visited 2 years before; houtou, a special kind of wheat noodle only made in Yamanashi Prefecture. I got the seasonal tennen houtou with tofu instead of the standard pork; and it came with a HUGE pile of wild mushrooms and other seasonal vegetables cooked into the miso-based broth.
The iron pot it was served in was bigger than my head, but I made sure to eat every last bite. It was delicious, and made a perfect dinner for the night before my race.
After we finished our dinner we stopped back at Jun’s apartment to pick up our toiletries, a change of clothes, and Jun’s roommate Amanda, who drove us up the side of the mountain to a local onsen. I haven’t been to an onsen in about a year and a half, and was really looking forward to spending some time soaking in the open air bath before my race. Jun and I spent a good 30 minutes in the water under the stars enjoying the view of Yamanashi at night before heading back out to reality.
On the way back we stopped at a nearby convenience store and picked up some supplies for the morning: water, more water, canned coffee for before the race, and yogurt for Eric’s breakfast. I already had my breakfast packed up in advance, because I didn’t want to take any chances on race day.
We stayed up a little longer talking, planning, and eating grapes (Yamanashi is famous for grapes, peaches, and wine) after getting back to Jun’s apartment, but were in bed and mostly asleep by a quarter to midnight.. about 45 minutes later than I’d hoped, but still pretty good timing, all things considered.
Stay tuned for part two: Katsunuma Race Day Recap.