Let’s enjoy fermentation experience in Chichibu! -Be healthy and beautiful from the inside of your body with a unique fermentation culture-
The Chichibu area, which can be reached in about 80 minutes by express train from Tokyo, is located in the western part of Saitama Prefecture. This area consists of Chichibu City, Yokoze Town, Minano Town, Nagatoro Town, and Ogano Town and it is the place where traditional culture is still alive.
The nature and unique geography such as Mt. Buko and Mt. Ryokami, Chichibu Basin, and the Arakawa River, have nurtured unique food cultures. One of them is “Fermentation culture.”
Fermentation is an important food culture in Japan. Japanese fermented foods such as sake and miso contain “koji,” which is prepared by propogating “Aspergillus oryzae, also known as Koji mold” in steamed grains (rice , etc.). It is said that there are more than hundreds of millions of living Koji mold per gram, and these Koji mold draw out the umami and aroma of ingredients, also support health and beauty.
Koji has known not only for whitening and beauty effects, but also health effects such as helping digestion and improving gastrointestinal function, including detoxification effects that remove toxins from the body.
Chichibu is a production area of fermented foods such as wine, miso, and cheese, and many local specialties are produced here.
High-quality grapes are actively cultivated in Chichibu, and these grapes are essential for making wine, a drink made by alcoholic fermentation of the sugar contained in grape juice. Chichibu has a huge temperature difference between day and night and little rainfall, so it is a region where grapes such as European and Koshu grapes, which are the raw materials for wine, grow well. Some wineries are scattered around the area of Chichibu.
And around Mt. Buko, which rises above the sky as a symbol of Chichibu, high-quality soybeans and barley have been grown from a long time ago. The fermented food made mainly from those soybeans is Miso which is an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Many of you may have had miso soup at a Japanese restaurant. It is said that every farmer used to make homemade barley miso in the past.
This time, we will introduce some spots where you can enjoy Chichibu’s fermentation culture.
Let’s take a trip a little bit further from Tokyo to experience fermentation in Chichibu, which is good for health and beauty while surrounded by nature!
The rich aromatic wine aged in whiskey barrels
＜Chichibu Farmers Factory, Usagida Winery＞
The first place we visited was “Usagida Winery”.
This winery is located in the Yoshida area of Chichibu City, which is lined with many orchards. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes by car from Seibu Chichibu Station.
A beautiful vineyard that blends in with the mountains of Chichibu spreads out for about 2.0 hectares. If you make a reservation in advance, you can tour the farm and factory, and you can see how the wine is made right in front of you. There is also a tasting corner where you can taste and compare various wines made at this place. You can purchase your favorite wine here as well.
At Usagida Winery, grapes are cultivated with the hedge-row training style same as in European fields such as France. One of their major characteristics is that not only the world’s most common grape varieties such as Chardonnay, but they are also focusing on cultivating a unique hybrid grape “Kai Blanc” that makes use of the climate of Chichibu.
The wine made with rare methods even in Japan, such as ageing in whiskey barrels and adding the scent of Mizunara oak chips, brings out such a deep flavour.
In addition, there are orchards scattered around the Fruit Road near the winery, so they also make fruit wine using strawberries and blueberries harvested there. Pomace from wine processing is used as compost, and it is also used in fruit farms. The way they incorporating recycling farming methods also makes them different from the rest.
Even though the annual wine production is 50,000 bottles, which is not a lot, it is a remarkable winery that boasts a track record of winning various awards at Japanese wine competitions. If you have the chance, please visit this winery.
Address: 3720 Shimoyoshida, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 40 minutes by bus from Seibu Railway “Seibu Chichibu Station”
Business hours: 10:00-17:00
Regular holiday: Monday
*For farm/factory tours, please contact the Winery.
*Admission, tasting, and factory tour are free of charge.
Italian lunch that goes well with wine
＜Tourist Table Kamanoue, Chichibu Usagida Shokudo＞
Near Usagida Winery, there is a restaurant called “Tourist Table Kamanoue, Chichibu Usigida Shokudo.”
In a spacious space with high ceilings, you can enjoy a various menus using plenty of ingredients from Chichibu that go well with wine. You can also enjoy the chef’s original Italian course menu, as well as wine from Usagida Winery.
Let’s get healthy and be beautiful from the inside while enjoying delicious fermented food recipes from Chichibu such as cheeses platter made at the nearby “Chichibu Yamanami Cheese Factory,” roast beef salad made with wagyu beef in Saitama, homemade gelato made with carefully selected Chichibu ingredients, etc.
At the adjoining store of Usagida Winery, not only selling a variety of wines but also offering a corner where you can taste them for free. Don’t miss out on the limited edition special brewed wine!
＜Tourist Table Kamanoue Chichibu Usagida Shokudo＞
Address: 3942 Shimoyoshida, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 40 minutes by bus from Seibu Railway “Seibu Chichibu Station”
Business hours: 11:00-16:00 (L.O 15:00) *Shop 10:00-17:00
Regular holiday: Monday
*The dishes in the photo are a special Italian menu. Advance reservations are required. Please check the website for the regular menu.
Enjoy the taste of authentic Bordeaux in Chichibu
Mr. Gensaku Asami, the founder of Chichibu Wine, thought that “Japanese people would eat more meat in the future”, so he started making wine that goes well with meat dishes. Although he began to sell wines in 1940, it seems that he could not sell that much at first.
A French priest who visited this area in 1959 drank the wine made by Mr. Gensaku and spoke highly of it that “This is the taste of Bordeaux”. Because of that, the wine gained popularity and became a representative wine of Chichibu.
With the motto since its founding which is “fermenting grapes grown by the sunshine, letting them rest well to make healthy wines,” they are particular about things from laying limestone from Mt. Buko in the vineyard, improving water drainage to making soil.
The wine made with the concept of wine to enjoy with meals, is characterised by the wine that goes well with the food, and has won numerous awards, such as winning the gold medal at the Japan Wine Competition many times. There are also a wide variety of wines, not only the standard products, but also authentic wines that are carefully brewed, such as Kyoho wine and Sur lie wine, which has been aged on the lees to enhance its flavour.
At Chichibu Wine, you can hear about the different cultivation methods for each variety in a vineyard full of history, and about the ingenuity in the various processes before bottling in the factory. Moreover, you will learn about the characteristics of the taste of each wine, and you can choose your favourite wine while actually drinking and comparing them.
Address: 41 Ryokamisusuki, Ogano-town, Chichibu-gun, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 45 minutes by bus from Seibu Railway “Seibu Chichibu Station” or Chichibu Railway “Chichibu Station”, get off at “Ogano Shako” and walk 12 minutes.
Business hours: 8:30-17:00 (excluding Year-end and New Year holidays)
*Reservations are required for factory tours.
*Pamphlets (Japanese and English only) are available.
Would you like to try making miso?
The last place I would like to introduce is a miso shop called “Araibuhei Shoten”.
Here, you can tour around the miso factory and experience making miso.
In Japan, there are various proverbs related to miso soup, such as “Miso soup keeps the doctor away.” and “Miso soup kills poison in the morning.” They mean that “if you drink miso soup, you will be able to maintain your health and be less likely to get sick.”
The ingredients of miso are soybeans, rice, salt, and water which are really simple. Soybeans are rich in plant protein and contain essential amino acids that keep you in shape. The nutrients in soybeans are easy to digest and absorb, and are said to be good for your health by fermenting and eating them as miso rather than eating soybeans themselves. The salt content in miso is about 11-12%. When you make miso soup, the salt content is reduced to a few percent, so you don’t have to worry too much about consuming too much salt.
During the factory tour here, you can listen to the explanation of the process of making miso in the miso storehouse which is under strict temperature control and fully hygienic. Utilising the knowledge of miso making that has been cultivated over many years, you can see facilities that can only be seen here. A large wooden barrel (capacity 5,600 liters) that was used to make miso in the old days is also displayed on the premises.
In the handmade miso experience here, you can enjoy the scent of streaming hot soybeans, crushing the boiled soybeans, and mixing the Koji and salt by hand. These are fun things that you can not be experienced in everyday life. It is a very valuable experience that you can enjoy using your five senses. Since it is an experience while receiving an explanation, even first-timers can enjoy it with peace of mind. Since it is an experience while receiving an explanation, even beginners can enjoy it with no worries.
From the time it is packed in a container to the time it is eaten, miso making requires a maturation period of several months. It is said that fermentation of miso proceeds when the temperature exceeds 15 degrees. Koji mold is alive in miso, and the taste and aroma change depending on the ripening period. While waiting for the best time to eat, It’s also fun to think about things like what ingredients to use for the miso soup that you will make first, using the miso you’ve made yourself. How about trying to make your own original miso soup?
Araibuhei Shoten also sells traditional miso crackers, so please enjoy the flavour of miso easily.
Address: 573-2 Oaza Minano, Minano-town, Chichibu-gun, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 11-minute walk from “Minano Station” on the Chichibu Railway.
Business hours: 9:00-17:00
*Please inquire about the miso making experience.
What do you think about the fermentation experience in Chichibu that we introduced this time?
Thank to the rich natural environment, climate, and culture, you can enjoy various fermented foods in Chichibu such as wine, miso, and cheese that you can’t taste anywhere else. To get to know more about Chichibu, we recommend that you thoroughly taste and experience the fermented foods that have been passed down in this area since old times. Another way to enjoy it is by buying the souvenirs recommended by each shop and tasting them at home.
There are unique wineries, restaurants where you can enjoy delicious dishes using local ingredients that go well with wine, and shops where you can experience fermentation, etc. So please visit the Chichibu area the next time you visit Japan. Choose your favourite spot and experience fermentation culture that suit you. It will surely be your unforgettable trip.