Ushiku City in Ibaraki has agreed to lease a historic winery for 4,620,000 Yen (approx. 42,000 USD) per month. Ushiku Chateau (formerly Chateau Kamiya) was opened in 1903 by Denbe Kamiya (1856-1922) and was Japan’s first winery. In more recent years the winery was receiving as many as 400,000 visitors a year when it was open to the public. It closed last year, prompting locals to lobby the city to find a public use for the property.
Kamiya learned about wine while working for a French company in Yokohama in the 1870s. In 1880 he opened a sake shop in Asakusa, Tokyo. This would be the predecessor to the famed Kamiya Bar – Japan’s first bar. In 1881 he began selling imported wine sweetened with honey. It was a hit, with his sweetened wine being trademarked in 1886. Eager to start his own wine production, Kamiya sent his adopted son to Bordeaux in 1894 to study winemaking. He returned three years later with books, brewing equipment, and soil samples. The first vineyard was located in Higashi-Okubo Village (now Shinjuku Ward) in Tokyo, with 6,000 grapevines from Bordeaux. The trees were later replanted in his recently acquired property in Ushiku City.
A little over 30,000 Yen (approx. 114 million Yen in today’s terms) was spent building the winery buildings, with Tokitaro Okada, the architect of the Mikasa Hotel in Karuizawa, entrusted with the design. By 1920 the winery had expanded to 130,000 trees. Much of the estate was redistributed under the agrarian reform that took place immediately following WWII and converted into housing lots. From the late 1960s, the winery was converted into a restaurant, shop, and museum.
In 2008 the former office, fermentation room and storehouse buildings were designated as Nationally Important Cultural Properties. The buildings were damaged in the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, with repairs to the brickwork carried out over the following five years at a total cost of 1.5 billion Yen.
Source: The Sankei Shimbun, November 27, 2019.
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