Every November, a small winery in the foothills of Ashikaga opens up its gates and its vineyards to thousands of visitors who come to celebrate the harvest by drinking, eating, and being merry on a beautiful hillside during the last days of autumn. It is a grand day out for the young and old alike.
The 32nd Annual Coco Farm & Winery Harvest Festival in the beautiful foothills of Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, will be held on Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15 from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm.
Entrance to the festival is 3,000 yen. Besides admission, ticket holders will receive a "Harvest Kit". This kit includes a commemorative wine glass (the date and Coco Farms logo are engraved) and glass holder, a cutlery set, and a bottle exchange ticket, which can be traded for a bottle or carafe of this year's new wine or a bottle of grape juice.
Children are welcome; all children under 16 are admitted free. However, please be aware and respectful of Japan's alcohol consumption laws. To wit, minors under the age of 20 are not permitted to drink alcohol of any sort. Having said that, there are many fun things for children to do at the festival.
Things to Do:
While picnicking under the grape vines on a beautiful hillside in the throws of its autumn foliage is more than enough reason to enjoy a day in Ashikaga, the festival provides several other entertainments as well. Live bands (mainly jazz, some classical) perform throughout both days of the festival at the outdoor stage; there are two food courts which provide a wide variety of local and foreign dishes including paella, fried chicken, grilled lamb, thick slab bacon, and lots and lots of cheese.
What to Wear:
Visitors sit, for the most part, under the grape vines on the hillside. On the ground. Which has most likely been rained on somewhat recently. Also, the weather in Ashikaga in November tends to be both cold and changeable. You may wish to bring a tarp or blanket to sit on (personally, we usually take one of the ubiquitous blue tarps plus roll-up fleece blankets). Camp chairs are permitted, but the vines are fairly low. Even sitting on the ground, some taller visitors might find that their heads are running into the occasional leaf.
For clothing, mountain casual is probably best. Water proof windbreakers, sturdy boots, thermal or fleece outerwear, all over clothes that can take a bit of water or mud.
How to Get There:
Getting to the winery and the festival can be somewhat challenging. For those traveling from Tokyo, the easiest (by far) way to attend is to travel via a temporary bus that runs from Shinjuku to the farm. The bus leaves from Shinjuku Station West Exit between 8 and 9 am. A round-trip ticket costs 10,000 yen, and includes the 3,000 yen entrance fee. A reservation is required and can be had by calling JTB Ryomo-Brance at 0284-70-0118 between September 1st and November 5th.
The next easiest way to get to the farm is to take the train to Ashikaga Station. From Tokyo, take the Toubu Isesaki Line or the JR Ryomo Line from Oyama Station (on the Shonan-Shinjuku and Utsunomiya lines). From the station, there are several shuttle buses available. (Tickets for the shuttle buses are 500 yen one way.)
Lastly, for those who will be driving, take the Tohoku Expressway to the Kita-Kanto Express to Rt. 293 and follow the signs. However, please be aware that there is no public parking at the festival grounds. Instead, there are a few city owned and operated parking areas available, but most of these are expensive and will require a twenty to thirty minute walk.
Also, if you will be driving, please remember that Japan has a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving.
A Bit of History:
Lastly, for those curious about Coco Farm & Winery itself, don't be afraid to ask the festival staff and organizers. The farm started as an outreach program for troubled youth in the 1950s and continues to support children with mental or social challenges. They have a fascinating and long history, as well as support networks around the world, and are only too happy to share their stories with visitors.
Cheers to a happy harvest, 2015!