Translated by Jelena Kitamura
A Day Trip To Koshu - Wine And Japanese Meditation Near Tokyo
Written by Kobayashi
Today we introduce Koshu in Yamanashi Prefecture, only 90 minutes by train from Tokyo. It took us a day to try the specialties of Koshu and view its historical sites and beautiful nature. Pay a visit if you are looking for a relaxing day trip from Tokyo.
Head to Koshu, the City of Wine and History
The city of Koshu in Yamanashi Prefecture is not only famous for its historical legacy and beautiful nature, but is also widely known as one of the wine-producing areas in the country. Let’s not forget its accessibility when coming from Tokyo – only 90 minutes away from Shinjuku Station, which makes it another great point of this city. Let us suggest an itinerary for a one-day trip when taking off from Tokyo, and have you experience all of its local specialties to your heart’s content!
8:00 - Depart from Shinjuku Station
The fastest means of transportation from Tokyo to Koshu is by JR Chuo limited express trains, Azusa and Kaiji. It takes approximately 85 minutes to reach Enzan Station in Koshu. The one-way ticket costs 3280 yen, and those with a Japan Rail Pass can ride in the regular cars of Azusa and Kaiji trains.
11:00 Savor Hoto, the Traditional Dish of Yamanashi!
First on our schedule is trying out hoto, the local dish of Yamanashi!
Hoto is a miso stew made by boiling different vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, scallions, mushrooms and such, together with flat and wide noodles. Served warm and containing a mild taste, it is a perfect dish for cold winter days.
You can treat yourself to a bowl at many restaurants around the city, or even participate in a hoto-making workshop at Kaiyamato Rest Area.
How to Make Hoto
First, slowly add water to the flour and knead it, either using your hands or the rolling pin. The dry flour gradually turns into a thick integrated dough.
After that, spread out the dough, making a thin layer, and cut it into 1 centimeter-wide noodles. Put it into a bowl, paying attention to not let noodles stick together during the process.
Next, all you have to do is put the noodles into a pot and boil them together with some mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, scallions, pumpkin, and various other vegetables.
You will create a more delicious soup if you remember to add in the ingredients starting with the vegetables that take longer to cook!
The whole dish for approximately 40 minutes to make. The chewy noodles, as well as the hot and tasty vegetables, are soaked with the flavor of the mildly salty miso soup.
At Kaiyamato Rest Area, where the hoto-cooking event took place this time, also has many shops selling souvenirs Yamanashi is famous for.
You can enjoy hoto at one of many restaurants serving it in Kai City in addition to this rest stop. The soup generally costs around 1000 yen, so be sure to give it a try!
*The hoto-preparing event is held in groups of 10 people and more (only in Japanese). Please make a reservation using the phone number listed in the information section below.
How to Get There
Head to JR Chuo Line Shinjuku Station and hop on Chuo limited express of Chuo Line bound for Otsuki Station. Change trains upon arriving at JR Chuo Main Line Otsuki Station and ride Chuo Main Line train bound for Kofu. Get off at JR Chuo Line Kaiyamato Station and walk about 15 minutes to your destination.
12:30 - Encounter History at Kanzoyashiki
Our next stop is Kanzoyashiki. The grandiose roof covered with copper sheets, together with the outer space divided by the shoji, transport us back in time.
This mansion was built in the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1868). It is believed that the name comes from kanzo (licorice), a raw material for a type of medicine, which was produced for the government in this area.
This time we got a chance to try kanzo tea. It tastes somewhat spicy, and would be great if you are suffering from a cold or a sore throat.
This room was used as a guest room for visitors from Tokyo during the Edo Period. Many of these guests were bureaucrats and government officials, so in order to show respect, one part of the tatami floor was elevated for them to sit on.
On the second floor of the building you’ll find wooden plates and kitchen furniture that were used during this period.
A festival called Hina-kazari to Momo no Hanamatsuri (Hina doll-decorating and the peach flower festival) that is held throughout the city from February to April each year. Of course, the main venue is in Kanzoyashiki. As this celebration is all about Hinamatsuri (Hina Festival), the space is decorated with many Hina dolls.
How to Get There
Ride the JR Chuo Main Line train bound for Kofu for around 10 minutes, and get off at JR Chuo Main Line at Enzan Station. You will arrive at this building right after leaving the station from northern exit.
13:30 - Cleanse your Soul with Zazen
Our next stop is Erinji.
This temple is widely known as the location where you can admire the tomb of Oda Nobunaga (*1), one of the main leaders of Sengoku Era (The Warring States Period). You can try out zazen (Zen meditation) at this temple containing so much historical value.
*1 Oda Nobunaga: the shogun (military leader) who ruled the province of Kai (the region of present-day Yamanashi Prefecture) during Sengoku Period (1467-1568).
It’s Time for Some Zazen!
Zazen is a spiritual ritual and practice that emphasizes full concentration, while sitting with a good posture and with your legs crossed. It is quite popular and known worldwide, so some visitors may already be familiar with this activity.
It is said that Oda Nobunaga shared his opinion on the zazen with his vassals, stating, “the important thing when practicing zazen is genuinely confronting yourself and your life." His thought is still preserved and followed at Erinji, and conveyed to guests through these try-out zazen experiences.
When doing zazen, you are supposed to take off your hats and socks. You cannot use your cell phone or take pictures or videos with your camera, as it is important to maintain an environment suitable for deep concentration.
The first zazen session lasts for 5 minutes only, and the second for 20 minutes. You have to sit up straight and take deep breaths. The trick for being able to concentrate properly is to slowly counting in your mind.
As the silence continues, you will start hearing gentle sounds of nature, such as the sound of the water flowing in the stream outside. If you lose concentration, raise your hand, and you will receive a light slap from a kyosaku, a wide and flat bamboo stick, from the chief priest. The slap on the back from the kyosaku will break your concentration completely, allowing you start all over again once more.
The time we spent practicing zazen flew by, leaving us feeling rejuvenated afterwards.
Instructions are in English, too!
As there are some priests who studied abroad in the United States as students, you can receive an explanation of the zazen process in English, as well. Those who wish to have instructions in English should request this when making a reservation.
How to Make a Reservation
You can partake in the zazen practice without making a reservation on the 2nd Sunday each month, from 15:00 to 16:00. If you wish to engage in the activity during a different time, just fill out the inquiry form (Japanese) to make a reservation.
How to Get There
From southern exit of Enzan Station ride the bus on the Yamanashi Kotsu Kubodaira Line bound for Erinji-Kubodaira for 11 minutes.
15:00 - Wind Down at a Winery
The next destination after the zazen experience is the winery.
Yamanashi Prefecture’s Koshu is widely-known for its production of wine. There are as many as 40 wineries in the Koshu alone, and many of them make wine from the grapes produced in the surrounding area.
The one we chose for today is called Asaya Winery, a winery with close to100 years of history.
Search for the Wine that Suits Your Palate
At this winery you can taste test various wines! Under Japan’s law, anyone who is underage (19 and younger) cannot drink, and we suggest bringing identification to confirm your age.
As most of the wine uses grapes grown and picked in the Yamanashi Prefecture, we think a bottle would make a great souvenir. Wine-tasting is 300 yen, allowing you to taste part of the wine collection for free. Fortunately, we were able to taste a many different wines and found our favorite. The fruity and delicious aroma seduced us into drinking more than we initially intended!
There is also something for guests under 20 and those who don't drink alcohol can look forward to : 100% natural grape juice. It is a truly rich and tasty drink that we thoroughly enjoyed.
How to Make a Reservation
The tour around the winery is available only in Japanese, this tour allows you to see a grape field in person and visit nearly 100 year-old winery basement, and learn about the process of wine-making. However, it is important to make a reservatuib at least a week in advance via telephone (Japanese).
How to Get There
Get on the Koshu Municipal Katsunuma bus, for the Wine Course, from Katsunuma Budokyo Station. Get off at Todoroki Yotsukado-Minami bus stop after around a ten minute ride. From the bus stop it will take you around 3 minutes by foot.
17:00 - Return to Tokyo after Experiencing the Best of Koshu
It is time to bring our enjoyable Koshu trip to an end. JR Chuo Main Line rapid train Kaiji, bound for Shinjuku, will take you back to Tokyo. Catch this train at Enzan Station on the JR Main Line, and you’ll arrive at Shinjuku Station after approximately 90 minutes.
Head to Koshu City for Tradition and History!
Today, we introduced to you the city of Koshu in Yamanashi Prefecture, a perfect place for a day trip from Tokyo. You'll be amazed by the variety of traditional dishes and historical sites, as well as specialties of the area. Definitely pay a visit to this city for a refreshing view of history and nature.