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'Unique in Japan': A temple dedicated to grapes and wine

KOSHU, Oct 17 (newindianexpress.com) - At a Buddhist temple on a wooded hillside in Japan, grapes and wine bottles are given as offerings, and the head monk is also the honorary president of a vineyard cooperative.

Officially, it is known as Daizenji, but it has been nicknamed the "grape temple" because of its deep-rooted links to the history of grape production in the country.

Daizenji is in the Yamanashi region, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Tokyo, which is famous as the home of Mount Fuji, and more recently as Japan's top wine-making destination.

"At other temples, they offer sake, but here, we offer wine. That's unique in Japan," said Tesshu Inoue, 75, the head monk, recounting the mythic origins of his temple to AFP.

In 718 AD, a famous Japanese Buddhist monk and traveller called Gyoki is said to have met the Buddha of medicine, known in Japanese as Yakushi Nyorai, in a dream at the spot where the temple stands today.

In his hand, Nyorai held a bunch of grapes -- inspiring Gyoki to found Daizenji and establish the local vineyard culture, teaching Yamanashi residents how to make wine for medicinal purposes.

A different legend claims farmer Kageyu Amemiya was the first to begin the cultivation of grapes in Japan, in the same area but more than 450 years later, in 1186.

DNA analysis has found that koshu -- the oldest grape variety grown in the mountainous region -- is a hybrid of a vine species originally cultivated in Europe and a wild Chinese vine.

That suggests it may have followed the Silk Road on its way to Japan, the same way Buddhism established itself in Asia. ...continue reading

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