- Visit the highlands of Kochi, learn about cultivating sencha and try Japan's rarest green tea - goishi-cha
- Your host is a locally-based English-native, able to explain the detail of tea production
- All visit logistics pre-arranged, giving you access to places not normally open to public, rental car and a selection of comfortable/traditional places to stay included
Kochi Prefecture is one of those remote areas of Japan that even many Japanese haven't visited. It's best known for having a humid, subtropical climate, and producing some really great local foods. In particular, the prefecture produces some unique local green teas, including the most rare of such teas, the double-fermented goishi-cha. This overnight 2-day tour takes you to two tea farms that define the types of unique, traditional teas grown and prepared here. You will be gaining access to deep local knowledge, an understanding of climate and ecosystem in the tea sector, and, of course, a chance to taste the products. After our Kochi Japanese tea farm sampler tour, we are sure you will want to come back for a more in depth experience.
Kochi Prefecture has the longest coastline in Japan exposed to the central Pacific Ocean and the powerful Kuroshio current welling from the equator and swirling up past the shores of the northwestern rim nations. As a result, Kochi's climate is both wet, humid, and subtropical. Snow only falls in the high ranges, and the ocean temperature seldom dips below 16 degrees year round. This plus the fertile alluvial soils make for a perfect growing environment for fruit, veges, and ocean fish. This tour takes you to the northeastern highlands of Kochi, sampling the unique green teas grown there. The tour is intended for professional and serious green tea aficianados, gourmands looking for unique-in-the-world tastes (goishi-cha is a zesty, sour taste, quite unlike other green teas) and food fans interested in exploring Japan's traditional agriculture.
Arriving at Kochi Airport, you have two choices to get to your destination of Otoyo Town. Either take the bus (or a cab) into Kochi then switch to a train out to the hill country, or simply rent a car from the airport and drive up. If you decide to rent we will prepare all the logistics for you, so language will not be a significant hurdle. Once you have the car, you'll quickly find that Google Maps works perfectly well for Kochi roads, in English, so make sure that you have a working cell phone. If you need a local SIM, we can supply this to you. After signing the rental documents and stowing your luggage, get on the Kochi Expressway at Kochi Interchange and follow the route north to National Route 439, then leave 439 at the Otoyo interchange (Exit 9) and follow National Route 32 to Iwahara. It's a short trip and shouldn't take you more than 45 minutes.
Arriving at Otoyo, you can park near the station (we will supply details), and your host will meet you in his vehicle. At this stage you will be next to the scenic Yoshino River, which carves its way through a deep ravine between the forested hills. Definitely a photo-worthy location. With your host, you will then start the ascension to the hill tops where the locals have their homes and farms. This area is famous for homes that are perched on steep slopes, hidden by mist in the mornings, and in perfect harmony with the nature surrounding them. Ascending the hillsides, you will drive up some incredibly thrilling narrow roads until eventually you reach the plateaux and slopes where the tea farms are located. Much like other famous tea-producing areas in the world (Kandy in Sri Lanka and Darjeeling in India come to mind), the local climate here provides a continuous transfer of air moisture across the tea slopes and this gives the tea tips extra nutrients and tenderness.
You will spend the afternoon with your host, strolling the tea fields, learning abound the cultivation and time-honored processing methods used in this very traditional area of Japan. Thanks to years of assiduously developing relationships with local farmers, many of whom are now in their 80's and 90's, he has received local wisdom and techniques that have allowed him to replicate the subtle tastes and purity of his product. Everything is 100% organic, and handmade.
In the evening you will transfer to a local share house, indeed, one of the homes perched on a dramatic hillside, for a relaxing evening and a chance to discuss and review (and taste) the things learned that day. Dinner can be catered in, or a barbecue set up, or you can eat out at a nearby Indian restaurant run by another immigrant who married a Japanese lady. The meals at the Indian restaurant are authentic and can cater for vegetarians.
Get up early and take a walk along the hillside lanes before breakfast. The serenity and beauty of the area will hit you and providing the sun is out, you will get some amazing photographs. After breakfast, your host will pick you up, and it's time to wend your way through the hillsides to the second highlight of the trip - a visit to a real goishi-cha farm. Goishi-cha literally means "stone" tea, because once cut and ready to use, it reminds you of the black stones in the game of Go.
Goishi-cha is being registered as an Intangible Cultural Property of Japan because it is so unusual. Although technically a bancha style of green tea, it's post-fermented tea, that undergoes two successive fermentations (similar to the sake process). These ferments are what differentiate it from oxidised black tea, and leave goishi-cha looking something like seaweed laver, while smelling of hints of cheese! The taste is quite sour, thanks to the lacto fermentation, and is an acquired taste.
Now, it's important to know that Japanese traditional food craftspeople typically are very secretive about their methods and facilities. There are probably less than ten farmers in all of Japan producing Goishi-cha, and most of them are right here in Otoyo. Unfortunately, they are extremely protective of their cultured product, and just one farmer and his son are willing to show outsiders how it is done. Maybe after more visitors start arriving in the area, this will change, but for now, you are on the inside track. Why? Because your host is also a carpenter, and has developed a close bond with the goishi-cha maestro.
You will spend the rest of the morning strolling the fields, visiting the drying and processing facility, and of course most importantly viewing, smelling, and tasting the fermented product. Once you see the laborious process that goes into making this unique product, you will understand why Goishi-cha is not only one of Japan's rarest teas but also one of its most expensive.
The tour will end around midday or a little later. If you have time, we suggest taking the afternoon rafting tour that starts nearby on the Yoshino River, and which takes you down stream past the many tea farms high up on the hillsides. If time is short, then we suggest lunch or a coffee stop at the rafting company's home base, as they have a great view of the river and excellent home-made bagels.
Heading back to the airport, please take note of your flight time, and leave enough time to drop off the rental car and do a local flight check-in. Our suggestion is that with a 1 hour prior check-in, you will need at least another 1 hour to take care of the rental returns. We do offer a service for additional cost to take care of your rental returns for you. Let us know if you need this.
Included in price
- Pre-visit consulting with one of our travel experts
- Host, tour, access to farms, sampling of product
- Rental vehicle (2-3 persons: compact; 4-8 persons: van) (train is user paid)
- Hill-side accommodation, either shared or complete-home stays, per your budget (list price is for shared)
- Dinner at the share house or local restaurant on Day One (per your preference), breakfast on Day Two at share house
- Chat and voice support in English
- Tolls, gas, parking, fines/penalties for vehicle
- Bus and train fares, if you decide to use public transport
- Insurance for vehicle or yourself and passengers
- Admission to any additional attractions that have gate/entry fees
- Vehicle accessories such as child seat, freezer box, etc.
- WiFi Router or phone SIM unless purchased separately, as recommended
- Guides or other persons in attendance
- Equipment for any other activities you may plan to do independently (unless booked separately with us)
Other Important Information:
- Farm-grown food and fermented products are seasonal. We may change the visit itinerary depending on the departure date of your tour.
- Share house availability will vary depending on your travel dates, and we may substitute a nearby home or hotel of similar grade if not available.
- Most meals in Japan are either meat or fish-flavored. If you have dietary restrictions, we can organize other cuisine, but be sure to let us know well in advance. Also, let us know if dashi stock is OK or not.
- You will need a working cell phone for navigation. If you need a WiFi Router, we have high-performance, reasonably priced units in stock. We also have SIMs should you need one.
- Some parts of the route may be modified depending on weather and seasonal conditions.
- Japanese traffic laws are quite strict about parking, so please use car parks provided, or seek permission of land owners before leaving your vehicle for any period of time.
- Traffic in Kochi is generally pretty good, but can get heavy from 17:00-19:00 each day, so if you are taking a late flight, factor in the extra time to get to the airport.
Know before you book
- 4 weeks prior to the day of your trip - 10%
- 2 days prior to the day of your trip - 40 %
- 1 day prior - 50 %, On the day - 100 %
- No-show - 100 %
Japan is a safe country and this tour is low-risk, however, we advise you to consider personal and third-party travel insurance out of abundant caution.
If you are renting a car, we recommend you buy the car rental company's insurance policy
What you need to bring:
- Windbreaker during the spring and autumn months. Although Kochi is semi-tropical, the wind chill can be significant.
- Working cell phone (usable in Japan) or apply for our WiFi Router or SIM rental.
- Battery extender/charger.
- Any pre-purchase passes, route maps, and other information.
- Sunglasses, water bottle, and other personal accessories.
- If you are going rafting, you will also need water sports clothing
How to get there:
- By Train: Take the JR Dosan Line from Kochi Station and alight at Tosa-Iwahara station (D28 stop). The pick up location will be in front of the station. Trip time from Kochi: around 90 minutes. Trains are very irregular, so be careful about departure times and both ends of your trip. Tickets are available at the ticket office of Kochi Station for a return trip, or each way, with a machine-dispensed ticket at Tosa-Iwahara station or you can pay the conductor. Another option is to take limited express train to Oboke Station. These trains run every hour. You must contact the host to arrange a pick up from Oboke Station.
- By Car: After renting your vehicle, set your navigation system to 221-1 Ikadagi, Otoyo, Nagaoka District, Kochi 789-0157. Get on the Kochi Expressway at Kochi Interchange and follow the route north to National Route 439, then leave 439 at the Otoyo interchange (Exit 9) and follow National Route 32 to Iwahara.
Organised by Japan Travel KK
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