JTB guide Kimono Tsikushi with TRAVELinc journalist Kathy Ombler… ‘drink sake’ JTB guide Kimono Tsikushi with TRAVELinc journalist Kathy Ombler… ‘drink sake’

Soaking and sake

There’s something in the water in Japan. The most popular holiday for all Japanese people is visiting hot water springs.

 

Kiwi rugby fans are urged to join them, in between the games at the Rugby World Cup 2019 – and drink sake (and more recently craft beer) made from the pure water from the mountains, says Katsue Takashima, deputy manager of JNTO’s RWC2019/Tokyo Olympics 2020 Global Projects Department. ‘Japan is famous for Mt Fuji, in fact 70% of Japan is made up of mountains. From the mountains comes the fresh water that we use to make our sake. We also have 10% of the world’s volcanoes, and that means lots of hot springs.’ Visiting a Japanese onsen, or hot spring, is more than a soak in the water; it’s a cultural experience encompassing a stay in a traditional Japanese-style hotel at a hot springs resort. Beds are futons and kimonos, supplied in your guest room, are de rigour; hotel guests simply wear them throughout their stay, to the restaurant and to the bath house.

 

There is serious, but simple to follow, etiquette – men and women bathe separately, everyone showers and washes in a communal area before slipping quietly into the hot pool, no swimming attire allowed. Shujenzii, a small town set among bamboo and plum tree groves on the Izu Peninsula, is a resort that’s easy to reach from Tokyo or Yokohama, two All Black pool venues. By train it’s just under two hours south with, weather permitting, views of Mt Fuji along the way. Sake is made all over Japan, and even if the drink is not to your personal taste a sake brewery tour is enlightening. At Sekiya Brewery, in the mountains just an hour’s drive from Toyota City (where the All Blacks play Italy on 12 October), brewer Yoshinori Natsume will take visitors through the centuries-old process of rice washing, steaming and fermenting. With tastings, of course. ‘Finished sake is actually 80% water and the flavour depends on the water quality,’ he says. Because each region’s water is different, local sake goes well with the local food – and craft beer is the next new thing coming from these breweries.

 - By Kathy Ombler in Japan 

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