Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 7, 2012

Sake from Saitama Prefecture (Sake by Region)

Saitama prefecture has always been strongly linked to the nearby capital (Edo / Tokyo), either as "vegetable garden," or as "commuting town." It was also the vicinity to Tokyo (Edo) and its numerous consumers that helped the sake industry in Saitama develop a larger volume than in nearby Tochigi or Gunma. Transport arteries were the large rivers, the Arakawa and Tone Rivers - and they also provided plenty of water for the brewers.

Saitama is dotted with historical towns and in the past, important highways passed through Saitama: the Nakasendo and the highway north, the Riku-U Kaido. Many breweries are spread out along these two traditional highways and not a few of these were Oshudana, breweries operated by Japan's best pre-modern businessmen, the shrewd Omi Shonin, merchants of Shiga Prefecture.

In contrast to the densely-populated eastern plains, the northwestern part of the prefecture, with the Chichibu basin, is an area with beautiful mountains and rich nature as well as old shrines and temples. Here, too, there is good water - not for nothing is Ogawamachi an old paper-making town - and therefore plenty of brewing opportunities.

There are 35 breweries in Saitama Prefecture (2015). The prefecture is active in developing new yeasts ("Kaori Kobo") and common brands (the ginjo "Saiko"). Sake from Saitama is usually light and fresh.

Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order):
  • Buko Masamune (Buko Shuzo, Chichibu). Est 1753. "True Heart of Buko" (Buko is the name of the most important mountain in Chichibu). Located in historical premises in the city of Chichibu, just a 15-minutes walk from Seibu-Chichibu Station. Visitors are welcome to tour the 200-year old brewery (reservations required). In the inner courtyard is a famous groundwater well. 
  • Chichibu Nishiki (Yao Honten Co., Ltd., Chichibu). "Brocade of Chichibu." Founded by an Omi merchant in 1749. Operates Sakezukuri no Mori ("Forest of Breweries") where besides sake, also shochu and wine are made. Brewery tours are possible and there is a brewery museum. 10 min by taxi from Seibu Chichibu St.
  • Kikuizumi (Takizawa Shuzo, Fukaya). The name means "Chrysanthemum Spring" - chrysanthemums were thought to bring long life. Founded 1863. Stands along the Nakasendo highway, in "brick producing town" Fukaya. All processes are traditional and by hand. Won many prizes in the last 20 years. English website.  
  • Shinkame. (Shinkame Shuzo, Hasuda) Founded in 1848, Shinkame only brews junmai sake. Instead of making flashy young and fragrant sakes, it insists on a deep and complex flavor. Another token of its solidness is that its uses a generous aging period. The name of the brewery 'Divine Turtle" goes back to a turtle who lived in the pond Tenjin-ike that used to lie at the back of the brewery - that turtle was considered as a messenger of the gods. "Hikomago" is another brandname used by this brewery. English website.
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.