Sake Brewery Tourism: discovering Sake producers from all over Japan

Experiencing Japan’s traditional way of producing Sake and Shochu at the very spot of Sake production.

In addition to Sake, a kind of alcohol unique to Japan made from rice, Japan has also been producing distilled liquor made from grains and potatoes called Shochu in many provinces since c.a. 16th century. Beer and wine breweries began to appear during 19th century. Producing a wide variety of alcoholic drinks is a characteristic of Japan’s liquor making industry. These days, an increasing number of Sake breweries are offering guided tours in English or providing multi-lingual pamphlets to guests.

Entrance to a Sake Brewery
The Sake Brewery entrance. When a “Sugi-tama,” a ball made of Japanese cedar leaves, can be seen hanging from the brewery entrance, it means they have started making a new batch Sake for the year.

About an hour away by rapid train on the Tobu Tojo Line from Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Station will take you to Ogawamachi, Saitama Prefecture, where you can find the Matsuoka Brewery. Established in 1851, and using mineral-rich water from the Chichibu mountain ranges and select rice, this brewery is known for sticking to time-consuming, low temperature fermentation. This method produces Sake that has a fruity aroma and a mild taste that is both pleasing and unique.

Their most famous Sake brand is the “Mikado-matsu,” and they also produce a Shochu that is blended with Sake called “Pikkari-chu.”

Sake brewery where they steam polished rice
Sake brewing starts from collecting “Saka-mai,” the rice which is most suitable for making Sake. Streaming the polished rice is also a very important process.

An English-speaking guide is always available at the Matsuoka Brewery. Factory tours are offered every day and are completely free-of-charge (advanced booking is necessary). You can see live, on-the-spot Sake production and can try tasting a sample of Mikado-matsu. Factory visits can be enjoyed throughout the year, but are especially great in November and also from January to February. During this time, you can see the craftsman Sake brewers, “Touji,” actively making Sake before your eyes.

The Matsuoka Shuzo Sake Brewery's direct sales store.

A direct sales store next to the Sake brewery sells Sake ice cream as well as organic cosmetics made from Sake by-products. Sake ice cream can be eaten by children, as it does not contain alcohol.
Due to the recent amendment of applicable laws in Japan, starting on October 1st 2017, those who purchase liquor at Sake breweries are exempted from paying not only consumption tax but alcohol tax as well. Sake makes for a great souvenir, and buying the one you like after trying it at a brewery is a good idea.

Matsuoka Brewery Co. Ltd.

Booking:
By phone or using the online form found in their website at least one day prior to visit

TEL: 0493-72-1234

Journeying around Japan to visit many different types of Sake breweries.

【Sake】Imayotsukasa Brewery (Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture)

Sake
“Nishiki-goi’s” popular bottle design that is inspired by the patterns commonly found on Japanese carp (left), a Souvenir photo while wearing a Happi coat (right)

Niigata Prefecture, which faces the Sea of Japan, is a national leader inrice productionand is home to a total of 90 distinct Sake breweries.
Established in 1736, the Imayotsukasa Brewery is located in Niigata City, within the walking distance of JR Niigata Station. There, you will be welcomed by brewery staff members who speak English, Chinese or Korean.

After touring the facilities, you can sample more than 10 different kinds of Sake including “Nishikigoi,” the recipient of many awards in Europe or America for its impressive bottle design. You can even take a photo while wearing “Happi,” a traditional coat worn by Japanese craftsman. It’s sure to make for a great post on social media.

【Sake and Shochu】Sawanotsuru(Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture)

Underground workshop facility
A very rare underground workshop

The area of Nada Ward in Kobe City and its adjacent Nishinomiya City is noted as one of the most famous Sake production areas in all of Japan. Both high quality rice for Sake and high quality mineral water from Rokko mountain ranges are readily available here.
Sake Brewery Maker “Sawanotsuru,” founded 300 years ago, has an eponymous museum where you can have the rare opportunity to see the sake making process as it was back in the 17th and 18th centuries. For brewery enthusiasts, this is not an experience to be missed!
Among the exhibits, you can find the remains of an underground structure called a “Funaba,” where unrefined “Moromi” is squeezed and processed into proper sake. Even throughout all of Japan, exhibits like this are quite rare.

In the museum shop, you can also try “Muchuu,”which is a kind of aged Shochu which uses sake that is made only from unprocessed rice and wheat.

【Sake】Gekkeikan Okura Memorial Museum(Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture)

Gekkeikan Okura Memorial Museum
You can also enjoy a river cruise on an old type “Jikkoku-bune” boat, floating on the river behind the storehouse.

Gekkeikan is a very big Sake Manufacturer in Japan that was founded in 1637. “Gekkeikan Okura Memorial Museum” is located along Horikawa River and is approximately 30 min. away from from Kintetsu Kyoto Station. The museum is highly rated on travel sites such as Tripadvisor, and its beautiful, white-walled warehouse is a well-preserved example traditional Japanese architecture.

For individual visitors, reservations are not necessary. You can learn about the history of sake brewing and try some different types for yourself without any kind of prior booking.
The shop in this museum sells a limited edition bottle of sake called the “Gekkeikan Retro Bottle Ginjo-shu,” a rare vintage that can only be purchased there.

【Beer】Coedo Brewery(Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture)

A restaurant where you can dine in view of the Coedo Brewery's experimental beer tank
You can enjoy eating a meal white in view of the tanks used for experimental beer making.

There are many craft beer breweries in Japan. One of them, Coedo Brewery, has opened the “COEDO Craft Beer 1000 Labo” located in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture. At this brewing laboratory, visitors can see 1000 different types experimental beer brewed in small 1000 liter tanks. That’s only 1759 pints each!

There is a restaurant attached to the laboratory where you can grab a pint of internationally acclaimed Coedo beer and enjoy it over freshly served dim sum. You can even try the experimental “Beniaka,” a first of its kind beer made from sweet potato.

【Wine】Lumiere Winery(Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture)

The
Lumiere’s “Sparkling Koshu” took Silver in the international wine contest “Decanter World Wine Award 2014.”

Boasting a similar climate to that of the famous wine-producing Bourgogne District in France, Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture is widely considered to be the birth place of Japanese wine.
Lumiere is one of the country’s oldest wineries and was established in 1885.
Their “Sparkling Koshu” took Silver in the international wine contest “Decanter World Wine Award 2014.”

English-speaking guided tours of the brewery and vineyard, which has been uncompromising in quality since its establishment, are very popular among foreign tourists.

Telephone or e-mail before 15:00 of 3 days prior to visit.
(Reservations are for a minimum of 2 people)

0553-47-0207(Weekdays 9:00-17:30)

Japan’s Sake Brewery Tourism immerses you in the history and process of Sake making and reveals some of the secrets behind this delicacy, which will lead you to better appreciate the subtleties and overall deliciousness of sake. . It really provides you with an unforgettable experience filled to the brim with happiness.
Your happy memories will be all the more merry should you choose to sample some of the Sake you are introduced to during the visit to the brewery, at the local restaurants where fresh local food is served.
Why not consider adding Sake Brewery Tourism to your Japan sightseeing itinerary?