Green tea trip of discovery

Some 200km south-west of Tokyo, Shizuoka Prefecture stretches out along the Pacific coast, a varied landscape of towering volcanic mountains and fertile farmland.

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The region’s temperate climate, high rainfall and excellent water quality make it ideal for growing green tea, and the local tea, Shizuoka-cha, is prized throughout Japan for its exceptional flavour.

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Around 40% of Japan’s tea is produced here. Plantations are dotted around the Prefecture, giving rise to a rich range of flavours. Take your pick from the light, aromatic softness of Shimizu-cha, the rich notes of Kawane-cha, or the famous long-steamed fukamushi-cha of Makinohara City.

Located in the west of the region on the shores of Lake Hamana, Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu is at the heart of Japan’s tea country. If you want to experience green tea in all its facets, this is the place to stay.

How about learning the art of infusing the perfect cup of green tea? Relaxing your body in tea-infused hot spring baths?

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Or sampling the crème de la crème of green tea, the first-harvest of the season known as shincha?

Tea-themed stay

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu, you can expect authentic ryokan hospitality combined with modern convenience. All rooms come with shoji sliding doors, low beds and lakeside views. Many feature tatami mats and some offer the luxury of a private open-air hot spring bath.

And, of course, you’ll be provided with your own complimentary Japanese tea set.

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Tea is a central part of the experience at Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu. The resort has its own tea plantation overlooking the lake, where guests are free to wander. And, every evening, you can take part in organized tea tastings, learning about the local varieties of green tea from local experts.

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During the workshop, your host is likely to teach you the perfect way to make green tea by transferring boiling water from cup to cup until it reaches 70°C. You may learn how to combine different teas to make your own original blend.

And you’ll probably get to try your hand at whisking matcha. Keep an open mind if you’re invited to eat used sencha tea leaves with sweet soy sauce: it’s actually a surprisingly tasty treat!

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Other activities vary with the seasons. In autumn, you’ll learn to cook genmai tea leaves and blend them with autumn jukusei, a type of sencha. In summer, you’ll discover the art of making Matcha Ice. And in spring, you’ll sample different spring-like sencha teas.

Best of all, from late May until the end of June, you can enjoy a special experience revolving around the prestigious first-harvest tea known as shincha.

First-to-cup richness

Every year, the first harvest from local plantations is eagerly anticipated by sencha connoisseurs. These first sprouts of the year are packed with rich nutrients such as amino acids, stored up by the tea bush over the winter and concentrated in the youngest buds. The resulting tea is sweeter, smoother – and highly sought-after.

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Subsequent harvests each have their own personality, from the sweet first-picked icihbancha to the summertime nibancha (second-picked) and the milder end-of-season sanbancha (third-picked). But none are as revered as shincha.

Sincha stay

During the shincha period, Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu hosts a number of special events. Every morning, you can sample 3 different types of shincha from Shizuoka Prefecture. Drip-brewed, each shincha is served in a wine glass so you can appreciate the fragrant aroma, vibrant colour and refreshing flavour that is so characteristic of the first-to-cup experience.

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For dinner, treat yourself to a Shincha Tasting Set. Different dishes from your multi-course kaiseki menu are paired with different types of shincha using hot and cold water extraction to perfectly complement the food.

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And what better way to round off your evening than with a shincha cocktail? The hotel’s bar serves up an original creation combining shincha with a herbal gin, offering a deliciously bitter nightcap.

Relax in tea

For the complete experience, head to the resort’s hot spring baths. There, you’ll find one of the indoor tubs features wicker baskets of green tea leaves floating on the surface. Why? Because the vitamins and antioxidants from the leaves are released in the water, helping to rejuvenate and soften your skin.

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At Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu, you’ll get to know green tea like never before – with new pleasures you may never have expected.

24 hours at HOSHINOYA Fuji




2.30pm

From the town of Kawaguchiko, it’s a short bus or taxi ride to HOSHINOYA Fuji’s lakeside reception area. Here, you’ll be given everything you need for the resort’s signature glamping experience: a headlamp, binoculars and a flask.

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Choose your style of backpack, and you’re good to go! A jeep will lead you up a steep road into the forest.

3pm

HOSHINOYA Fuji is set on a tree-lined hillside, spread over terraced levels linked by stairs. At the main desk, you’ll be served a welcome drink before being guided down to your “cabin”: a simple yet luxurious room with bed, bathroom and a few extras that put the glam into glamping (Bluetooth radio, mini-bar, etc.).

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The “wow” factor begins the moment you step into your room. Mt. Fuji is right there, towering above Lake Kawaguchi in all its grandiose glory, a picture-postcard image dominating your cabin through the huge south-facing window. The entire cabin is centred on this view, including the bath.

Your large balcony is fitted with a sofa long enough to lie down on: perfect for watching the sun rise or set over Japan’s highest mountain.

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3.30pm

Time to get into the swing of things – quite literally, as you’ll be swinging an axe to chop wood! HOSHINOYA Fuji offers a number of fun activities that are all about the great outdoors. Even kids can have a go at log-chopping by hammering wood through a protected blade.

4pm

Gather up your chopped wood and throw it on the bonfire on the Cloud Terrace platform, just a flight of stairs away. The bonfire crackles away here all day from 7am to 10pm.

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You’re free to roast marshmallows or help yourself to coffee from the adjoining Library Café. There’s even a selection of coffee table books in English.

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Why not help yourself to some seasonal sweet treats from the afternoon snack table, such as cherry blossom jam in the spring or chestnuts in autumn.

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And then relax in one of the hammocks strung up between the trees or lie back on a chaise-longue sofa. At night, these are prime spots for some outstanding star-gazing.

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If you’re in the mood for pre-meal nibbles, you can smoke your own nuts, sausage or fish.

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Choose from a range of woods chips to flavour your smoked food and then wash it all down with a Japanese whisky.

6.30pm

You’re in for an exquisite outdoor dining experience at the Forest Kitchen. No need to worry about the cold: if the mercury’s dipping, you’ll cosy up under a kotatsu heated table. Using a gas stove, a “Glamping Master” (member of staff) will help you cook your own gourmet dinner.

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Expect several courses, all with hearty mountain ingredients, such as venison, wild boar and seasonal vegetables served up in fusion style (smoked salmon and gyojya garlic, venison with sansho pepper).

You’re in Japanese wine country here, so why not opt for a trio of local Yamanashi wines, each perfectly paired with a dish?

9pm

Back up to the Cloud Terrace for a concert: half an hour of live music from a different performer every night.

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Tempted by a nightcap around the bonfire? Then choose from a wide range of Japanese whiskies at the popup TAKIBI bar.




6.50am

Yes, it’s an early rise, but the morning is the best time to catch Fuji cloud-free. You’ll be driven down to Lake Kawaguchi to take to the water in a canoe.

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And with a little luck, you’ll get to contemplate the mythical image of Fuji reflected in the water!

9am

Back in your room, breakfast is served on your balcony. Under the gaze of Fuji, you’ll fuel up on freshly-baked bread, seasonal jams, yoghurt, omelette and sausage.

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10am

Time to discover your surroundings!

How about a stroll in Oishi Park, a flower-lined promenade at the foot of HOSHINOYA Fuji. The lakeside promenade here is amass with cherry trees, making it a must in spring.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can trek through the foothills of Fuji on horseback. From the Aokigahara Jukai forest, you’ll ride up to 1165m (3822 ft), where the plateau of Koyodai offers commanding views of Fuji-san.

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If hiking is your thing, you’re spoiled for choice. From just near the resort, a forest path leads up endless switchbacks to the Shindou Pass, where you’ll be rewarded by stunning vistas of Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi.

Alternatively, simply relax at the resort. Make your own pizza lunch at the Cloud Kitchen, an outdoor space among the trees complete with a wood-burning stove.

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Then lie back and linger over the picture-perfect views of Japan’s most iconic mountain.

2 alternative spring destinations

Imagine walking through fresh green pastures on volcanic hillsides, a magnificent carpet of pale pink azalea at your feet and views of wispy smoke rising from conical peaks in the distance. Or sailing down a river lined on both sides with pink sakura from the comfort of a traditional hand-paddled houseboat.

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Easily accessible from Tokyo by plane or train, the regions of Aso and Kaga offer an alternative take on spring rejuvenation, closer to nature and far from the seasonal crowds.

Rampant reawakening in Aso

Spring is one of the most fascinating times to visit the region of Aso in Kyushu, Japan’s southern island. The area’s volcanic landscapes transform from golden grasslands to black wastelands following the grass-burning tradition of noyaki, and then quickly take on fresh green hues dotted with swathes of ebullient Alpine flowers.

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Nestled in the heart of the Aso-Kuju National Park, Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso offers a prime location to experience this seasonal transformation.

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This luxury ryokan is composed of stylish private villas, each with its own outdoor hot spring bath, and stands just 3 miles from a major trailhead – the starting point for exploring the stunning scenery of this beautifully-preserved wilderness.

Shrouded in pink blooms

One of the most iconic images of Kyushu in the spring is the tapestry of fresh pink and purple flowers weaved into green hillsides. These are Kyushu azaleas, a unique variety of the shrub known as miyamakirishima in Japanese, meaning “azalea that blooms high in the mountains.”

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The peak time to admire these vibrant flowers is mid-May to early June, with Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso organizing special outings during this period to guide guests to the best spots. And if hiking is not your thing, staff can organize a horseback trip, even for novice riders.

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Nature on a grand scale

From the dining room of Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso, you can admire the craggy peaks of mighty Mt. Aso. If you’re a hiker, you’ll want to clamber on its rocky slopes. But the must-visit site for all is the Daikanbo observation point, which offers a dramatic vantage point on Aso’s enormous caldera, a 15-mile crater dug out by a volcanic eruption some 90,000 years ago.

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Further south, the Takachiho Gorge is a spectacularly deep chasm that can be navigated in a rental row boat or hiked from above.

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Minainotaki

Either way, you’ll see the 17-meter high Minainotaki waterfall surrounded by the young foliage of spring.

Kaga: a brief history of Japan

Looking for another idea for your spring trip?

Nestled between the Sea of Japan and the towering peaks of the Hakusan National Park, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga is just 3 hours by train from Tokyo.

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This hot spring ryokan features architectural elements from the 4th century – combined with contemporary comforts like large terraces and private onsens in many rooms.

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One of the most famed spring attractions in the Kaga area is the view along the Daishoji River, where Yoshino cherry trees flaunt their photogenic pink blossoms, huddled up in lines at the edge of the water. During peak sakura season, Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga offers guests a private chartered houseboat along the river, steered by a local boatman.

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As you cruise gently along the water, you’ll be offered the local roasted green tea, Boucha, with wagashi sweet cake. Away from the crowds, there are few better ways to appreciate the ephemeral beauty of spring.

Spring specialities

Some of Japan’s most celebrated sights are close to Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga. The Kenrokuen Garden, a free shuttle bus away, is known as one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful landscape gardens – and spring is one of the best periods to admire its flowering expanses.

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Kenrokuen-garden

At night, the sakura are lit up to magical effect.

A little further out, the remote mountain regions of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are famed for their thatched, sloping-roofed farmhouses, a style known as gassho-zukuri. Surrounded by rice fields and dominated by forested hills, the villages come to life in spring after the snowy winter, embellished by budding horsetails, lilies and cherry blossoms.

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And don’t forget to visit the nearby city of Kanazawa, where you can discover historical districts once known for their geisha and samurai, not to mention Myoryu-ji, an Edo Period complex built in ninja style with hidden floors and secret staircases.

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And, of course, you’ll be able to admire cherry blossoms aplenty as you wander the city’s streets.

Like to enjoy this kind of experience yourself?

Book yourself into Hoshino Resorts KAI Kaga, a hot springs ryokan where immersive relaxation and gourmet Japanese dining make for a memorable experience.