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. These include 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. You will understand the 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 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, veggies, and river and ocean fish. This tour takes you around the hills/mountains in the north east of Kochi through to the rugged, wind-swept shorelines of Muroto Peninsular, one of the birthplaces of Buddhism in Japan. Enjoy gorgeous forested scenery, untamed rivers, quaint mountain hamlets, and ancient Buddhist meditation caves.
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 aficionados, 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 plateau 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.
Kochi Ryoma Airport
58 Hisaeda-Otsu, Nankoku-City, Kochi 783-0096