The Yamanashi Gem Museum: A Hidden Treasure Near Mt. Fuji

The “Fuji Five Lakes” district refers to an area near the base of Mt. Fuji (in Yamanashi Prefecture)–which, not surprisingly, is home to five different lakes (Yamanaka, Kawaguchi, Saiko, Shōji and Motosu). The mild weather and spectacular views of Fuji-san draw visitors year round, and there are lots of things to do.

…which is probably why, though I’d known about the Yamanashi Gem Museum (on the shore of Lake Yamanaka) for years, I never went inside until last October, when I spent two days at Yamanaka-ko and found myself with a few extra hours at the end of the trip.

The museum sits inside a fairly unassuming brick building about two minutes’ walk from the lake. A sign inside the door explains that the exhibits serve a dual purpose: to educate visitors about precious and semi-precious gems, and to revitalize Yamanashi’s crystal mining and jewelry industries, which have existed for centuries but peaked shortly after World War II.

I paid the nominal entry fee and stepped into a room that looked more like a massive, high-end jewelry store than a museum:

Some of the gemstone exhibits

Each glass case was dedicated to a different gem or mineral.

Across the room, more displays contained works of art fashioned from various minerals, crystals, and other stones.

Lots to see and lots to learn

I hadn’t expected so many displays, and I was glad I had several hours to enjoy them. Even better, the museum wasn’t crowded–fewer than half a dozen people came and went while I was there–which meant I could move through the room at my own pace.

Every case contained multiple specimens, and basic information about a specific gem or mineral

It was interesting to see the way the exhibits were arranged. A card at the front of every case identified the specimens inside, explained where in the world the gem or mineral naturally occurs, its hardness on the Mohs scale (diamond is a 10, and the numbers decrease from there).

Some of the cases had two gems on display instead of one

Each exhibit contained both cut and uncut specimens, which was really neat, because so many stones look vastly different in nature than they do when they’ve been cut and polished.

I spent a lot of time reading the cards, as well as looking at the stones – and although I thought I knew quite a bit about minerals and gemstones, I learned a lot that day.

One of my favorites…

Enormous crystal clusters separated the front half of the museum, which held individual displays, from the even more educational exhibits at the back.

Big crystals. Each of these was more than half a meter in length.

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to discover these massive crystal clusters in the earth. How exciting that must have been–even to people who hunt them for a living.

At the back of the museum, exhibits in Japanese (with some English–which is fairly rare in Japanese museums) explained about the Mohs hardness scale:

And the special effects some gemstones exhibit:

And even the way diamonds are cut:

More exhibits contained gemstones mined in Yamanashi, and talked about the history of mining, crystals, and jewelry production–both in Yamanashi and around Japan.

One of my favorite exhibits was an enormous map of Japan, covered in various specimens, each of which was mined in the prefecture and approximate location where it was placed on the giant, tabletop map. Unfortunately, my pictures of that exhibit didn’t turn out well–between the lighting, the glare from the stones, and the size of the exhibit, I haven’t got even a blurry picture that showed it well enough to use. A goal for next time!

Have you got a favorite gemstone? If so, let me know in the comments!

HOW TO GET THERE: Yamanashi Gemstone Museum:

  • Closest Train Station: Kawaguchiko (FujiQ Line)
  • From Kawaguchiko Station, it’s either a 20 minute walk or 10 minutes by local bus to the Museum
  • Bus Access: Highway Bus from Tokyo Station to Kawaguchiko Station (about 2 hours)
  • Train Access from Tokyo: Chuo Line to Otsuki Station (75 minutes); Transfer to Fujikyuko Line to Kawaguchiko (55 minutes)
  • Website: Yamanashi Gem Museum (in English and Japanese)