While there is plenty to see in Tokyo, the largest city in the world can be overwhelming at times. An escape is essential. Luckily for visitors, thanks to Japan’s extensive rail network, day trips from Tokyo are easy and most are affordable. When my husband and I visited Tokyo this summer, I knew I wanted to spend at least one day outside of the bustling city in order to get a more authentic feel for Japan. I considered going to Kamakura, a seaside town so full of temples that some call it a mini-Kyoto, or Hakone for a close-up view of Mt. Fuji and day in the mountains and onsens. But, ultimately, my love for visiting wine regions all over the world won out and I chose to visit Katsunuma.
The Katsunuma wine region is only a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo but feels worlds away. About halfway into the train ride the buildings suddenly disappear as you enter the gorgeous countryside full of lush green hills and mountains. When you arrive at the train station, you’ll immediately see vineyards ahead and will be in awe of the landscape.
BUDO NO OKA Wine Cave
The most popular destination for wine there is Budo No Oka, a wine tasting facility where you can taste wines from practically every producer in the region. When you exit the train station, if you walk to the right you’ll find a trail winding through the vineyards. After a short 15-minute walk with a brief climb uphill at the end, you’ll arrive to Buda No Oka and be rewarded with sweeping views over the vineyards. A wine tasting only costs about $10.
When my husband and I climbed down into the wine tasting cave we were immediately struck by two things: 1) there were over 100 (!!!) open bottles of wine sitting on wine barrels waiting to be tried (the tasting room is self-serve), and 2) the tasting cave looked very much like the Patriarche wine cave in the Burgundy wine region of France. They even have you taste wine out of the same silver tastevin cups used in Burgundy. It turns out, Katsunama has a sister-city partnership with the city of Beaune in Burgundy, so it’s no wonder they modeled their tasting cave after Patriarche.
While we only really liked a few of the wines at Budo No Oka, we loved the experience and would still recommend going – just don't expect Burgundy quality wines. We had a whole day ahead of us and only spent an hour or so there, but you could easily spend much longer.
OTHER KATSUNUMA WINERIES TO VISIT
As for other wineries, many are hard to contact because English is not widely spoken there. However, there are a few. My husband and I also tasted wine at Katsunuma Winery. While they spoke some English, for the most part, our tasting was self-served. We enjoyed most of their wines and the winery was in a beautiful location along the river. Had it not been raining, we would have spent more time relaxing on their porch. The owners there are very friendly and I recommend visiting there too, especially if it’s a beautiful day!
There were a few wineries that we planned on visiting if time allowed, but alas, the day ran away from us. If you visit and have more time, I suggest visiting Mercian, Lumiere, and Kurambon. Be sure to contact any of the wineries I mentioned before going!
HELPFUL FACTS ABOUT THE KATSUNUMA WINE REGION
- The region is fairly rural, so there aren’t too many places to eat. We chose to have lunch at a local restaurant called Hotodokoro Kei Sen An. Though the menu was small (and entirely in Japanese), we enjoyed the food and loved the atmosphere. You can either sit beside low tables on the floor or sit in chairs with tables overlooking the garden – both give an authentic Japanese experience! If you’d like to go to a restaurant more catered towards tourists, you can also eat at Budo no Oka, where they have restaurants overlooking the vines.
- As I mentioned above, English is not widely spoken. Make sure you know the addresses of where you are going (have your hotel write them out in Japanese).
- Don’t expect extensive tours here unless you speak Japanese.
- Many of the wineries are in walking distance from one another, but cabs are also available. It's helpful to plan out your schedule and route in advance if you choose to walk.
- HyperDia is the best website for planning train trips.
HOW TO GET To the Katsunama Wine Region from Tokyo:
On the weekend, take the Limited Express Azusa 7 train from the Shinjuku Station to Katsunumabudokyo Station. It costs about $50 per person roundtrip. Alternatively, take the Holyday Rapid View Yamanashi for Kobuchizawa (it takes about 15 minutes longer). From the Katsunumabudokyo Station you can either walk to wineries or take a cab (cabs are usually lined up outside the station).