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May 8, 2012

Sake from Chiba Prefecture (Sake by Region)

The northwestern part of Chiba Prefecture is a densely-populated continuation of the urban agglomeration of Tokyo and Saitama. One finds many industries here along the coast, but also Disneyland. Most of the prefecture lies on the hilly Boso Peninsula, where rice and vegetables are farmed. In fact, Chiba has the highest agricultural output in Japan after Hokkaido. Due to the Kuroshio Current, the weather is relatively warm in winter.

Before WWII, manufacturing in the prefecture was concentrated on the brewing industry: besides sake, also soy sauce (Kikkoman in Noda and Yamasa in Choshi) and mirin (in Nagareyama).

There are 40 sake breweries in Chiba (2015), several of them quite individualistic and specializing in, for example, Koshu or Yamahai sake. Sake from Chiba knows a great variety. The prefecture's original yeast is called "Tekona no Yume."

Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order):
  • Gonin-musume (Terada Honke Co., Ltd., Kozaki). "Five Daughters." Established 1673. Uses organic rice and makes only handcrafted sake. Terada Honke makes all its sake according to the natural Kimoto method, ensuring a deep taste. The company also makes a sake, "Katori 90," of which the rice is only polished for 90%, resulting in a strong ricy taste. Another sake, "Daigo no Shizuku," is made with the medieval production method of single step fermentation (as opposed to the three steps of the now prevalent Sandanjikomi), resulting in strong sweetness and acidity. In addition it is one of the very few breweries that does not use cultivated yeast, but only the natural yeast living in the brewery. No brewery tours. English webpage.
  • Kidoizumi (Kidoizumi Shuzo, Izumi City). "Spring of Kido." Founded 1897. Uses the hot Yamahai method of fermentation (large quantities of lactobacilli are added to a starter at 55 degrees Celsius), resulting in a full-bodied, complex taste with strong but soft acidity. In addition, the company is also a pioneer in producing aged sake (Koshu) - they started already 45 years ago and possess a rich inventory. Koshu brands are "AFS" and "Kokin." All sake from this brewery is intense in taste. Article by Philip Harper.
  • Koshigoi (Yoshino Shuzo, Katsuura). "Old well of Koshi." Since late Edo-period active in southern part of the Boso Peninsula. Has seven natural springs on its land, one inside a cave. All soft water. Nanbu toji. Varied line-up, from a richly fragrant prize-winning Daiginjo to various genshu (undiluted sakes) and an amber-colored Daiginjo Koshu. Brewery tours possible (reservation needed). 15 min by taxi from Kazusa Okitsu Station on the JR Sotobo Line.
  • Tokun (Tokun Shuzo, Sawara). "Fragrance of the East." Est. 1825 in historical town Sawara. Well-balanced and elegant sake. Uses rice from local farmers, such as "Fusa-otome." Makes a light and fragrant Daiginjo. Their unfiltered Junmai is called "Mudo." The brewery also sells an interesting "doboroku" sake, only roughly pressed as the homemade sake of farmers in the past. Brewery tours possible, also without reservation.
When planning a brewery visit, check in advance whether the brewery accepts visitors and whether it is open on the day and time you plan to go, especially if a long trip is necessary to get there (see the brewery's website for tel. no or mail address). Note that brewery tours, if available, always have to be booked in advance. Many breweries, however, do not allow visitors in their production area, or only in certain seasons / for certain sizes of groups. In contrast, if a sake museum or brewery shop is present, this is usually open without reservation.
Sake by Region:
Hokkaido/Tohoku: Hokkaido - Aomori - Akita - Iwate - Miyagi - Yamagata - Fukushima
Kanto area: Ibaraki - Tochigi - Gunma - Saitama - Chiba - Tokyo - Kanagawa
Hokushinetsu: Yamanashi - Nagano - Niigata - Toyama - Ichikawa - Fukui
Tokai area: Shizuoka - Aichi - Gifu - Mie
Kansai area: Shiga - Kyoto - Osaka - Hyogo - Nara - Wakayama
Chugoku area: Tottori - Shimane - Okayama - Hiroshima - Yamaguchi
Shikoku: Tokushima - Kagawa - Ehime - Kochi
Kyushu/Okinawa: Fukuoka - Saga - Nagasaki - Kumamoto - Oita - Miyazaki / Kagoshima / Okinawa
Reference materials: Kikisakeshi Koshukai Tekisuto by Sake Service Institute (Tokyo, 2009); Nihonshu no kyokasho by Kimura Katsumi (Shinsei Shuppansha: Tokyo, 2010); Nihonshu no Tekisuto (2): Sanchi no Tokucho to Tsukuritetachi by Matsuzaki Haruo (Doyukan, 2005); The Book of Sake by Philip Harper (Kodansha International: Tokyo, New York, London, 2006); The Sake Companion by John Gauntner (Running Press: Philadelphia & London, 2000); The Sake Selection by Akiko Tomoda (Gap Japan: Tokyo, 2009).
The blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery and is an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. He also hosts independent sake seminars to propagate knowledge about his favorite drink. The above text reflects his personal opinion.