The prefecture is landlocked, featuring a fertile central valley, the Kōfu Basin, surrounded by many of the highest mountains in Japan including the highest, Mount Fuji located on the southern border with Shizuoka.
Pre-history to the 14th Century
As in most other Japanese regions, prehistoric society in Yamanashi progressed though the hunting, fishing and gathering stage of the Jōmon period, then the rice-producing stage of the Yayoi period and subsequent village and regional formation. The Maruyama and Choshizuka Kofun (earthen burial mounds) located on Sone Hill of Nakamichi Town (Southern Kōfu) are believed to have been built from the end of the 4th century. From these remains it can be assumed that the people of Sone Hill had great influence.
15th to 19th Century
Among the many Kaigenji generations, those of the Takeda, Ogasawara, and Nanbu families were particularly prosperous. During the Sengoku period of the 16th century, Takeda Shingen attained the status of daimyō and built Tsuzuji Mansion and the Yōgai Castle in Kōfu. From this base, he attempted to unify and control Japan.
After Takeda’s death in 1582, Kai-no-Kuni came under the control of the Oda and Toyotomi clans before being subsumed into the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period. Beneath the Edo shogunate, the Kofu clan (based in Kuninaka, or Central and Western Yamanashi) and the Yamura clan (based in Gunnai, or Eastern Yamanashi) were formed, but in 1724 the area came under the direct control of the Shogunate. With the development of the Kōshū Kaidō (highway) and Fuji River transport, goods, materials and culture flowed into the region.
By the mid-19th century, the contradictions of military government and clan system caused stability to erode and resistance to erupt across Japan, paving the way for the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
Meiji Restoration (1868) to End of Second World War (1945)
During the Boshin War the Battle of Kōshū-Katsunuma on the 29 March 1868 was a significant battle between pro-Imperial and Tokugawa shogunate forces immediately prior to the Imperial Forces march on Edo Castle. Preceding the Kōshū-Katsunuma battle, Kofu Castle had been captured by troops loyal to the Emperor Meiji.
The province was renamed Kōfu Prefecture in 1869 and then Yamanashi Prefecture in 1871. The anniversary of this event on November 20, 1872, is now celebrated as Prefectural Citizen’s Day in Yamanashi.
In the early part of the Meiji period (1868–1911), industrial promotion policies furthered sericulture, silk textile production and wine making industries. In 1903, the Chūō Railway Line from central Tokyo reached Kōfu, reducing journey times to the Capital and bringing significant change to local industry and culture.
Agricultural production in farming communities was still on a small scale at the turn of the century and land reforms had yet to be introduced. From the 1920s however, tenancy and contract disputes between landowners and farmers in Yamanashi grew increasingly common.
In 1926, the Minobu Railway Line connecting Kōfu with Shizuoka Prefecture opened, bringing an end to Fuji River transportation. The Koumi Line connecting Kobuchizawa to Kiyosato was opened by Japanese National Railways (JNR) in 1933, providing access to hitherto remote highland areas on the slopes of Mt. Yatsugatake in the North of the prefecture.
1945 to Present
The capital city, Kōfu, suffered extensive damage during a major air raid on the night of 6 July 1945. From 1945 onwards, as part of economic initiatives introduced under the post war Government of Occupation, agricultural land reforms significantly increased the number of individual farms and promoted fruit farming throughout the prefecture. At first with limited success in 1946, but on a much more sustained basis in 1951, dairy farming, introduced by American Paul Rusch, became a feature of highland pastures surrounding the town of Kiyosato.
Small scale manufacturing industries and commerce grew at rapid speed during the expansion of the post-war Japanese economy. The 1982 opening of the Chūō Expressway also led to significant growth in service industries, transport logistics and tourism.
In common with many similar sized cities during the 1990s, rapid growth in car ownership, out of town shopping, and improved transportation links to Tokyo, caused a drop in commercial activity and land values in the center of the prefectural capital Kofu. To counterbalance this trend the prefectural government launched a city center revitalization plan in 2008, promoting downtown tourist attractions such as redeveloped land North of Kofu station, Maizuru Castle Park and new residential, cultural and government office facilities.
Planned changes in transportation infrastructure also promise to significantly impact the Yamanashi economy in the coming decades; under mountains in the eastern part of the prefecture is a completed 42.8 km section of the SCMaglev test track, a section of the planned Chūō Shinkansen.
Central Government permission to proceed with an extension to the existing test track was granted on May 27, 2011. At the end of 2013 construction was already well advanced as far as Fuefuki.
JR Central is considering opening a demonstration service from a new station in Kofu by the 2020 Summer Olympics so that visitors can also ride on the experimental track through the Yamanashi mountains.