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

May 9, 2012

Sake from Tokyo (sake by Region)

As sake goes, Tokyo is in the first place a city of consumers rather than producers. That is already true for the later Edo-period, when the brewers from Nada (Kobe) shipped their popular sake 500 kilometers over sea to drinkers in the city of the Shogun. When you wonder whether there are any breweries in Tokyo, it is good to realize that Tokyo not only consists of the jam-packed metropolis, but also includes several towns to the West, such as Ome, in natural surroundings on the upper reaches of the Tama River, or the outlying Ogasawara Islands.

In fact, there are nine active sake breweries in Tokyo (2015) - but only one of them located in the central 23 wards area; the others can be find in the towns to the west. Besides congestion, there is another reason for this: good, natural water is most amply present in the natural areas to the west of the metropolis.

Tokyo is not a rice-growing area either, and certainly not of sake rice. But that is no problem, as good sake rice can easily be bought from other regions. Brewmasters in the Tokyo area are traditionally Echigo toji from Niigata.

Tokyo's breweries are using their proximity to the customers by opening their breweries for tours (if reserved in advance), setting up restaurants and galleries, and selling their products in brewery shops.

Sake from Tokyo is mostly light.

Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order):
  • Kinkon (Toshimaya Corporation, Tokyo). "Golden Wedding Anniversary." Founded in 1596 as a shop along the Kanda river bank making and selling a sweet white sake (shirozake) that was very popular in Edo, especially for the Girl's Festival held annually in March. At the same time, Toshimaya was one of the importers of sake from Nada. Switched to producing seishu itself in the Meiji-period, with a brewery now in Higashi-Murayama (western part of Tokyo). Its sake is used in rituals at the Meiji, Kanda and Hie Shrines. Makes elegant, dry sakes and has a large line-up which also includes Kijoshu - and the original Shirozake. Brewery tours possible, reservations only for groups. 20 min walk or short taxi ride from Higashi-Murayama Station on the Seibu-Shinjuku line.
  • Tamajiman (Ishikawa Brewery Co., Ltd., Fussa) "Triumph of Tama." Est. 1863. The Ishikawa family were originally village headmen and traders in the present area. The brewery premises contain several historical buildings and include a Japanese restaurant, historical museum and beer restaurant (the co already makes beer since the Meiji-period). Takes its water from the underground water of the Tama River. English website. Reservation required for free tour of the old warehouses and tasting. JR Chuo line to Haijima and then a 15 min walk or short taxi ride. 
  • Sawanoi (Ozawa Shuzo Co., Ltd., Ome) "Well of the Marsh." Est. 1702 on the Ome Kaido, at the base of Mt Mitake. Brewery stands next to the Tama River, which is here a tranquil stream, and operates several restaurants with nice gardens. The water comes from a tunnel-like well, bored horizontally into the mountain behind the brewery. Many seasonal products. Brewery tour possible after advance reservation. 3 min walk from Sawai St on the JR Ome line. The brewery also runs the beautiful Kushi Kanzashi Museum, with a display of finely crafted traditional hair ornaments. 
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.