Want to get away from the city and unwind in the rural mountains just two hours from Tokyo? Add to that an array of attractions from hiking to winery tours, and most importantly the famous onsen (hot springs), and Isawa Onsen, Yamanashi is a superb getaway accessible right from Shinjuku on a two-hour train ride. While Isawa Onsen is a popular destination for a weekend trip, or even a couple of days, it is also an ideal location for a day-trip particularly if you are visiting from Tokyo.
There are several options to get to Isawa Onsen, but in terms of convenience and comfort, taking the train would probably be the best option. Isawa Onsen is accessible both by a local JR train as well as limited express trains. Needless to say, the fastest option is the limited express train Kaiji, one that leaves Shinjuku and stops at a few stations within Tokyo. It will take only an hour and a half from Shinjuku to Isawa Onsen Station, but convenience comes at a cost. A one-way ticket will cost a little over ¥4,000. There is of course a cheaper alternative being the local JR train (a combination of Chuo, and Chuo-honsen line), which could take upwards of three hours but is relatively cheap at around ¥2,000 from Shinjuku. There is, however, a middle-ground between the two options - the semi-express line known as the Yamanashi Holiday View Express. While the ride from Shinjuku is about two hours making about ten stops on the way, the train's fee is still commensurate with that of the regular JR line. The train is also a comfortable double-decker!
Things to do in Isawa Onsen
Upon arriving at Isawa Onsen Station, there are a variety of attractions that await you, but here are a few suggestions:
1. The Yamanashi-Prefectural Museum
Built by the prefecture, the modern museum is very similar to the Edo-Tokyo museum, housing various artifacts as well as dioramas that narrate the life of Japan from a few centuries ago. The special exhibit is perhaps the gem of this museum. This summer (2013), the world-renowned woodblock prints of Katsushika Hokusai were showcased.
2. Local Food
Yamanashi is home to some delicious local seafood as well as fresh vegetables. A dish that contains both is the famous Hoto, a traditional miso soup based noodle.
Yamanashi is one of Japan's most famous regions for wine-making. It is for this reason that there are two famous wineries right in Isawa. With a reservation in advance, you can take a tour around the factory. The free tasting service is also a refreshing addition to the tour.
4. The Onsen
While many ryokan, or traditional Japanese inns, will have relaxing onsens, the Ashiyu may be of interest for those visiting just for a day. Instead of a full body bath, you can just dip your tired feet into the same warm, mineral-rich spring water that will take all the fatigue out of you.
Needless to say, there are numerous other attractions, such as hiking, but for a day trip, the above should provide some great options. Head to Isawa Onsen, Yamanashi and have a perfect getaway trip!