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Travel & Holiday

Ripe for the picking

It is a bountiful harvest in Yamanashi, Japan's kingdom of fruits, where visitors can pick fruits to make jam or go on a grape escape and make wine
The Straits Times - September 27, 2011
By: Nadarajan Rajendran
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Ripe for the picking Lavender daze: Take a walk in Oishi Park (above) by Lake Kawaguchi while taking in the scent of lavender from the beds of the herb that line the shore. Mount Fuji can be seen in the background.

Visit Japan... and make your own blueberry jam and bottle of wine. A visit to Yamanashi Prefecture just west of Tokyo offers a different side to the usual holiday revolving around shopping, sightseeing and spa-going.

Yamanashi, considered to be Japan's 'kingdom of fruits' - yes, including yummy blueberries - is popular with residents of Tokyo who seek a short trip out of the city to escape the hustle and bustle.

It takes only 11/2 hours by train to escape the urban sprawl and enter a relaxed and laid-back environment.

And here is where your probably hitherto untapped wine-making skills get a chance to show themselves - the region is Japan's largest producer of grapes and peaches.

Many farms and orchards are open to the public and visitors can pick their own fruit - in the case of Misaka Noen (Misaka Orchard), picking grapes and making your own wine. The fruit that you can pick at Yamanashi's farms and orchards range from blueberries, cherries, plums and strawberries to persimmons. Picking seasons are from April to November, with the most variety available in the summer months of July and August.

For blueberries, one place offering a fresh-pick experience is Blueberry Village at Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center (tel: +81-555-76-8230, e-mail: seikatukan@ kawaguchiko.ne.jp), which is within walking distance of Oishi Park, a public park.

Blueberry picking costs 1,000 yen (S$17) for adults and 800 yen for children, and you can eat as many berries as you like for 40 minutes from July to August. However, even more enjoyable for me was a jam-making class where you make jam from seasonal fruit such as apricots, rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries. A 40-minute lesson costs 800 yen and you get to take home a jar of your handiwork to enjoy.

There were more taste pleasures in store afterwards, too. Feeling all hot and flustered after slaving over a hot stove, on leaving the kitchen with a hot jar of blueberry jam in hand, I chanced on a stall that served blueberry soft-serve ice cream. It was the perfect way to cool down.

Oishi Park by Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center is said to be best in the summer months where on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji while taking in the heady scent of lavender that lines the shore of the lake.

As for Misaka Noen (tel: +81-55-263-3111, e-mail: info@misakanoen.co.jp), it is open for peach-picking from June to August and grape-picking from July to November.

A peach-picking session costs 1,050 yen and gets you two peaches to take home, together with an all-you-can-eat peach pig-out under a ceiling of grapevines that filters the intense summer sun.

The orchard's peaches were so juicy that biting into one left my elbows dripping with sweet juice - the cool liquid ran down my arms with every bite.

And then, there is the unusual 'grape escape' for tourists. It offers a back-tobasics wine-making course where participants get to pick the fruit and then put on rubber boots and stomp on the harvest to extract the juice.

After that, you get to make your personalised label for a bottle of your very own, stomped-on, grape juice.

The juice will be bottled and kept in a temperature-controlled environment before being shipped to you two months later, ready for consumption.

Wine-making sessions are conducted from July to November and cost 2,300 yen, including your 720ml bottle of wine.

Wine enthusiasts who would prefer to leave wine-making to the professionals will be glad to know that Yamanashi is also the main centre for Japanese wine, with more than 80 wineries around the prefecture. It is also the largest and oldest centre for wine production in Japan.

Grapes are said to have first taken root in Yamanashi hundreds of years ago. Compared to other parts of the country, its cool and relatively dry climate is ideal for grape cultivation and wine production.

White wine is usually made from pink-tinged koshu grapes, a variety that has been cultivated in Yamanashi since at least the 8th century after its arrival from China via the Silk Route. White wine made from this grape has a fresh flavour that goes well with Japanese cuisine, while red wine is made from Muscat Bailey A, which is a cross of European and American varieties that produce a sweet and dry wine.

Mercian Katsunuma Winery in Kofu (tel: +81-553-44-1011, www.chateaumercian.com), the capital city of Yamanashi, conducts wine tours starting from 1,000 yen and daily tastings.

The tours take you around the winery, which started in 1877, and also to its wine museum, housed in a 107-year-old structure which has wine-making equipment and paraphernalia dating back 130 years.

If you prefer to just kick back and enjoy a tipple while taking in views of the expansive vineyard set against the mountainous backdrop, a cafe across the museum serves 20 kinds of wine produced at the winery. Prices start at 1,000 yen for a 500ml bottle.

GETTING THERE

The JR Chuo Line Limited Express goes to Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture from Shinjuku Station and takes 11/2 hours.

Getting around: Various Japan Rail lines from Kofu station in the capital of Yamanashi connect the prefecture. A sightseeing Retro Bus plies popular tourist spots from Kawaguchiko station and costs 1,300 yen for a two-day pass that lets you hop on and off at any point.

Where to stay: Kasugai View Hotel, Shizume 178, Kasugai-cho, Fuefuki-City, Yamanashi Prefecture (tel: 0553-26-3811). Room rates for Western- and Japanese-style rooms start at 10,650 yen a person with breakfast and dinner (www.k-view.jp/language/english/index.html)

 

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