FROM GOLD TO SILK TO WINE

The word 'Koshu' is much more than a valley, a grape or a wine. Historically, Koshu was an abbreviation of 'Kai Province', the former name for what is now Yamanashi Prefecture. It is this area that gave the indigenous Koshu Budo (Koshu grape) its name, and its historical significance is far-reaching.

Carriages called  daimyo kago  used to carry Edo Period feudal lords on the  Koshu Kaido , seen here hanging in the Hokoji Temple in the north of the valley.

Carriages called daimyo kago used to carry Edo Period feudal lords on the Koshu Kaido, seen here hanging in the Hokoji Temple in the north of the valley.

In the Edo Period (1603-1868), it was the Koshu Kaido route that connected central Japan with Tokyo, allowing feudal lords to travel to and from the capital. There is a ‘Koshu-Kaido Gate’ at Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo, for example, and the route is still signposted.

Further back still, in the Sengoku Period (late 15th - late 16th Century), it was Koshu Kin that was circulated as the first gold coins ever minted in Japan, for the valley hills were once home to several gold mines.

One of the most striking features still visible today are the Koshu Minka, traditional dwellings with a grand and imposing roof reminiscent of a seated samurai. Under the roofs of Koshu Minka, families traditionally cultivated silk worms, the silk from which was spun at small water-powered mills which once lined the streets of Katsunuma. This meant that some of what are now vineyards were once fields of mulberry bushes, the food of choice for silkworms.

Persimmons hanging to dry under the eaves of the  Kanzo Yashiki , a grand  Koshu Minka  building.

Persimmons hanging to dry under the eaves of the Kanzo Yashiki, a grand Koshu Minka building.

At one time the fertility of the Koshu Valley also blessed it with the country’s only licorice producer, again drawing the attention of the elite to the area, for the sweet root was hard to come by and highly valued for its medicinal qualities. The house, called Kanzo Yashiki, and its grounds are now open to the public, allowing you to explore one of the grandest Koshu Minka still standing.