Words: Yuko Frost

When it comes to drinking, Japan is not just about sake, beer, or premium single malt whisky that you might have seen in the movie Lost in Translation. Japan also produces wine and, although production is small in scale, the quality can be excellent.



The Katsunuma region in Yamanashi prefecture is historically the most important winemaking region in Japan, and it is still the hub of Japanese wine production. This beautiful high country, located north of the magnificent Mount Fuji, can be done as a long day trip from Tokyo and would also make a pleasant overnight getaway.

Of course, you don’t have to go all the way to Yamanashi to get a taste of what Japanese wine is about. Track down a bottle of wine made from the Koshu grape and you will be instantly transported to the very essence of Japanese wine.



Koshu is a wine grape unique to Japan, and it is delicious. It has a beautiful pink-tinged thick skin and was originally grown as a table grape. It was only more recently discovered that Koshu has the same DNA as Vitis Vinifera wine grape varieties of European origin like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Koshu produces pale in colour, beautifully crisp and delicate white wine. It displays clean and gentle aromas of yuzu, a tart Japanese citrus, with a slight bitterness similar to grapefruit. You will also find flavours of white peach, a soft minerality on the palate and relatively modest alcohol level. It is usually a still, dry white wine, while some producers make sweet styles and even sparkling. In its dry style it is reminiscent of Hunter Semillon or French Muscadet. Sometimes its soft texture even reminds me of premium quality sake, Junmai Daiginjo, which I personally find quite interesting.



If you have never tried Koshu, I highly recommend you start with Grace Wine. Grace is a multi-award winning winery, most recently picking up Best White Asia from the recent Decanter World Wine Awards 2016.

Grace Koshu has a clean and attractive blossom aroma and is refreshingly crisp on the palate with slightly bitter citrus flavours such as sudachi, lime and grapefruit, making it a wonderful accompaniment to white fish sashimi, prawn tempura or even with very good quality pickles.

Just like many quality wines, Grace Koshu also has a story behind its label. It is a drop born from the strong commitment of a young passionate winemaker. Ayana Misawa, the chief winemaker of Grace Wine has taken Koshu to a whole new level. Born as the 5th generation of a winemaking family, Ayana strongly believed in Koshu’s potential as a fine wine grape from early on. After studying viticulture and winemaking in Bordeaux then in Stellenbosch in South Africa, Ayana worked extensively all over the world and brought back many international winemaking techniques which she pioneered in her home region.

I highly recommend putting Japanese wine on your to do list for Japan. Chances are you will find yourself a new favourite drink to enjoy whether at home or in Japan.



Renowned hot spring towns can be found all over Japan. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to 3 of them. The beautiful winter wonderland – Ginzan, the easily accessible from Tokyo – Hakone and, one of the Big Three famous Japanese onsens – Kusatsu.



Located in the snow and watermelon abundant town of Obanazawa in Yamagata prefecture lies Ginzan Onsen. The onsen inns here are concentrated on either side Ginzan River, 10km east of the main Obanazawa township. As the sun sets, the gas lanterns of the retro-styled inns lining the river are lit up, creating a romantic atmosphere reminiscent of the early 1900s.

Although Ginzan Onsen is particularly famous for its beautiful night view, it has equally stunning sights for every season. Its brilliant greenery in early summer and colourful autumn leaves, for example, make it a popular tourist spot all year round.

Following the discovery of silver in the 16th century, this town thrived in the early Edo period through its abundance, hence the name – Ginzan (Silver Mountain). Once the silver rush had subsided, it is said that the town turned its attention to customers seeking the hot springs for their health. Remnants of the silver mines can still be found today above the large waterfall deep within the onsen district.

The milky thermal waters of Ginzan Onsen are said to be beneficial for nerve pain, rheumatism, skin conditions, injuries and female illnesses. Dip your feet into the hot springs as you listen to the gentle sounds of the flowing river with a delicious meal and enjoy your stay.



Hakone Onsen is located right next to Tokyo in Kanagawa Prefecture and is easily accessible via car, train and bus – making it a popular onsen spot. The fastest way to get there is via the ‘Romance Car’, a train which leaves from Shinjuku station and can take a mere 85 minutes to arrive at Hakone Onsen.

Surrounded by mountains and nature, Hakone has far too many sights to see in one day – from hot springs to art and gourmet food. Of course, the hot springs are the town’s main drawcard. There are over twenty onsen districts in the areas around Mount Hakone.

At the entrance of Hakone is the Hakone-Yumoto area which boasts over forty onsen inns and stores. It is the largest and oldest onsen area in Hakone Onsen. The thermal waters are simple alkaline based and are said to benefit those with nerve and joint pain, as well as improve blood circulation.

The onsen district lies alongside two rivers – Hayakawa and Sukumogawa. Various different styles of ryokan sit on the riverside, such as old, nationally treasured inns, traditional Japanese inns and even large scale spa resorts. With over twenty establishments that offer day trip options, one can see why it’s popular spot for a casual dip in an onsen.




If you’re departing from Tokyo, Kusatsu Onsen is another highly recommended spot. One of the Big Three Onsens (Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma, Gero Onsen in Gifu and Arima Onsen in Hyogo), Kusatsu is a renowned hot spring which has soothed the bodies and souls of countless Japanese folk throughout history. It has the highest natural thermal water yield of any hot spring in Japan, boasting over 32,300 litres a day.

Kusatsu Onsen is also one of the few acidic hot springs in Japan with a pH of 2.2. Its unique sulfuric, highly acidic waters can dissolve an aluminium 1 yen coin within a week of submersion. Thanks to its antibacterial qualities, the thermal waters are said to benefit those with chronic skin and digestive ailments.

The hot spring field in the heart of the onsen district is what keeps Kusatsu Onsen alive. 4000 litres of thermal waters flow out every minute and the area is constantly draped in rising steam. Inns and souvenir shops surround the area in order to draw from the hot spring field.

Kusatsu Onsen is the biggest resort town in Japan with over 130 inns and hotels and over 120 souvenir shops. Nearby lies Mount Kusatsu-Shirane with its crater lakes, Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort, as well as Mount Asama and Karuizawa to the south, so a combined trip to the surrounding areas would make for a fulfilling trip.



Gunma, the heart of Japan. Situated amongst towering mountains in the nature abundant, onsen (hot spring) filled town of Kusatsu, dwells a history rich, long-standing ryokan – NARAYA. Take a dip in an onsen and soothe your soul as you soak up the ultimate experience.

If you are looking to experience a long established ryokan steeped in tradition, then look no further than NARAYA. It has the privilege of being located right next to a hot spring field in the centre of Kusatsu. Established in 1877, NARAYA has created the perfect balance of old charm with a clean and modern touch. NARAYA’s main attraction is, of course, the onsens. Of the six main veins of natural springs in Kusatsu, the oldest one is said to be the Shirohata (White Flag) spring which bubbles up next to the hot spring field.

NARAYA draws from this slightly cloudy, high temperature spring. Before the thermal waters are piped to each individual bath, it goes through a process known as yumomi – the act of cooling the waters with 1.5 metre-long paddles by heaving it through the air. This inn is one of a select few which still continues this traditional practice today.

Along with public baths segregated by gender, NARAYA also has private baths, made with Japanese cedar, available for reservation if you wish to be alone with your thoughts. The superb thermal waters combined with the refreshing scent of cedar gently caress the soul for a truly blissful experience. Also included with the private bath is a tatami mat room for you to relax in after a good soak.

After a relaxing dip in the onsen, you can look forward to a traditional Japanese dinner made with the finest seasonal ingredients. Eating a delicious meal in a yukata is sure to blow all the stresses of travelling away.

The assistant manager of NARAYA, Tatsuya Saeki, spoke to us about the their views on hospitality. Here’s what he had to say, “All of Japan, including the onsen-filled town of Kusatsu, is gradually getting accustomed to welcoming foreign guests from around the world. Here at NARAYA, we have particularly large numbers of foreigners staying with us. They have made the trip deep into the mountains to our country town, so the least we can do is ensure they leave here with fun memories. This is why we do our very best to maintain this wonderful atmosphere and provide the best service.”


Address: 396 Kusatsu, Agatsuma-gun, Gunma
Tel: 81-279-88-2311

Japanese popular recipes

Recipes: Sumi Saikawa



Karaage is a mainstay on izakaya menus, and popular in both Japan and Australia. Its crunchy coating and juicy, garlic-infused flavour have earned it a place as one of Japan’s most well-known and wellloved menu items amongst young and old alike. Furthermore, you can easily recreate the flavours you enjoy dining out in the home as well. For the chicken, you can use thigh or breast meat. The secret to achieving the same crunchy texture you find in your local izakaya is the two-step deep frying process. Prepare your karaage the day before, and deep-fry and serve to guests on the day of a party or other event, so your guests won’t be left wanting.


400g Chicken thigh or breast
1 1/2 tsp Ginger 1
1/2 tsp Garlic
1tbsp Soy sauce
1tbsp Sake
Potato starch (as required)
Plain flour (as required)
Cooking oil (as required)
Lemon (to taste)

Cut the chicken meat into bite-sized pieces. If you don’t like the skin, you can remove it at this step.

Finely grate the ginger and garlic. You can reduce the amount of garlic as needed to suit your taste.

Combine Step 1 and Step 2 with the soy sauce and sake and mix well, then place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, or up to one hour, if time permits.

Heat a pot with the cooking oil on medium heat.

Remove any excess liquid from the chicken, and coat with a mixture containing equal parts potato starch and flour. Lightly squeeze the chicken into a round shape at this stage to form its final shape.

Deep fry Step 5 in the oil at a low heat, then after three minutes, remove and place on a paper towel.

With the oil at a high heat, deep fry the chicken for a further two minutes. This two-step process of deep-frying the chicken gives it its crunch. When complete, squeeze fresh lemon over the karaage to taste.



Yakisoba is a popular Japanese dish that is frequently served at Japanese restaurants in Australia. In Japan, yakisoba is known as a food that can be quickly and easily made at home in addition to being a staple of stalls at local festivals. The ‘yakisoba sauce’ and ‘noodles’ included in the ingredients can be sourced from stores that sell Japanese ingredients. Yakisoba sauce is often found in the condiments section alongside okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. For the noodles, you can use vacuum-packed dried noodles or those in the chilled section. You can also find the thinly sliced pork belly in Asian supermarkets.


2 Packets of noodles 150g Pork belly (thinly sliced) 150g Cabbage 5cm Carrot 1/2 Onion Salt and pepper (to taste) 1tbsp Sake 4tbsp Yakisoba sauce (or BBQ sauce and Worcestershire sauce) Red pickled ginger, nori, sunny-side up eggs, mayonnaise (to taste)

Cut the pork belly slices into two to three pieces each, and cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

Put some oil in a fry pan and bring it up to heat, then add the pork and cook until sealed, and add salt and pepper to season.

When the pork has been cooked through, add the onion and carrot and cook for two to three minutes, then add the cabbage and cook lightly. The vegetables do not need to be cooked through at this stage.

Heat the noodles for 30 seconds at 1000w in a microwave and loosen them out into the fry pan, then add the sake (or water) and cover the fry pan. Let it steam for around five minutes.

Remove the lid, and untangle the noodles with chopsticks. Add the yakisoba sauce across the entire fry pan mix the ingredients so that they combine with the sauce.

Plate the yakisoba, add the red pickled ginger and nori, and you’re done! Top with sunny-side up eggs or mayonnaise to taste.