Japan's wine country is something that not many people know exists, at least not those who live outside of the region. Sake is the main adult beverage that Japan is known for producing (along with popular craft beers such as Sapporo) but the country's grape wine production is lesser-known by wine lovers. The region, known as Yamanashi Prefecture, is home to many wineries that, surprisingly, are similar to that of the French Alps and Italy's Tuscan countryside grapevines.

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While there are agricultural differences that always vary from wine region to wine region, Japan's wine country is nothing short of a method steeped in tradition. It might be the country's best-kept secret, but it's one that has grown into a tremendous display of culture, demonstrating that the art of wine is unique to each vineyard. And here in Yamanashi Prefecture, that tradition has been kept alive for centuries, with many reasons why those visiting Japan should add it to their bucket-list of places.

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History Of Yamanashi Prefecture And Its Wineries

According to Afar, Japan's Koshu Valley is understated and little-known by those who visit Japan. While the bright lights of Tokyo are captivating in their own way, visitors often forget that just inland lies a region that's bursting with flavor and centuries of tradition. Yamanashi Prefecture is two hours away by train and only an hour and a half by car, but tourists still seem to miss it during their travels since it is off the beaten path.

Not immediately knowing of Japan's wine country also likely comes from the fact that wine is not consumed there like it is in other parts of the world, with much of the population opting for sake. Wines from other countries are also available throughout Japan, so it's not always common for locals to purchase locally-made wine over one with a reputation from Italy or France. However, if nothing else, the history surrounding the Koshu Valley is more than enough to pique the interest of a newcomer - and its local wines are the icing on top.

Koshu Valley is home to 70 vineyards in total as of 2019, each of which has honed the art of growing western grapes and winemaking for centuries.

Of these, there are two grapes that are native to the region:

  • Koshu. Light and fruity up front, with underlying notes of citrus and peach.
  • Muscat Bailey. Used to make light red wine with a fruity undertone, but can also be mixed with Western grapes to create deeper, darker red wines.

Visiting Wineries In Koshu Valley

Knowing where to start with a total of 70 vineyards to choose from is daunting, that much is certain. Visitors interested in getting up close and personal with Japan's wine country and its wines will be happy to know there are plenty of tours available. Those interested in visiting the most vineyards during their time in the Koshu Valley should head to Katsunuma, where many of the region's vineyards are concentrated.

Some are even within walking distance of one another, which means visitors can make extra stops if they wish. The complete list of vineyards can be found on the Koshu Valley's list here.

Eco Tours Japan also offers three tours of the region's most well-known vineyards:

  • Kohu Valley Japan Winery & Wine Tasting Day Tour in Katsunuma, starting at 25,000 Yen
  • Japan Winery & Wine Tasting 2 Day 1 Night Special Tour in Katsunuma, starting at 45,000 Yen
  • Japan Wine, Whiskey, Sake Tasting 3 Day 2 Night Deluxe Tour in Yamanashi, starting at 65,000 Yen

On each of these tours, a wine tasting is included in the tour price. Participants should be aware that tours may stop at additional wineries, which offer tastings that are not included in the initial tour price. On each tour, participants can look forward to an in-depth look at how the wine in the Koshu Valley is made, hear the history of how the process started, and will be able to take in the stunning views from each vineyard. Tour-takers must be at least 20 years old since tastings are included.

Where To Stay In Yamanashi Prefecture

The best option for those who wish to book a stay in the very heart of Japan's wine country is Risonare Yatsugatake. This posh hotel was designed by architect Mario Bellini and resembles an Italian mountain village, which only adds to the magic of staying in this vineyard-filled valley.

It's only two kilometers from the train station, and sits at the base of the Yatsugatake mountains, offering unbeatable views of the surrounding area. The regio's vineyards are easily accessible from this resort, and it's a great place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights and flavors of the Koshu Valley.

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