Have you ever had a chance to try sake before? It’s already a given that sake is from Japan since it’s so popular worldwide just like the other native alcoholic beverages in other countries. It’s a mainstay in bars and restaurants and especially in Asian ones around the globe. So where in Japan does sake originate from?
Sake in the Japanese language is collectively any alcoholic drink, however the sake we know is called nihonshu locally. If you’re asking where it exactly came from, the origins of this popular drink is unclear. Earliest reference of an alcoholic beverage in Japan is mentioned in the Book of Wei in the Records of the Three Kingdoms. It is then mentioned in other historical records over the years until it became the beverage made from rice, water and koji mold during the Nara period from 710 to 794 that is similar to the sake that we know today.
During the Heian period, it was served in festivals, ceremonies and games. The government monopolized its production for a very long time until temples and shrines started producing it and became the key producers in the next half-century. The production flourished and at times dwindled due to circumstances like the increase of tax levies made by the government. Still, sake production continues to survive and strengthen over the course of the history of the country and today, this ancient industry is still strong and still brewing this famous alcoholic drink to everyone’s delight.
There are a lot of places in Japan that boast of their own take on sake. The Nada district of Kobe or Nada-gogo is known for a number of sake breweries. Around one third of the sake produced in Japan is made here. There’s also a few more breweries in the city to check out for the love of this iconic drink. Here’s a list of the most famous breweries in Kobe and why you should take a tour to all of them.
They’ve been around since 1743 but since they’ve conquered Japan and different parts of the world, they opened their doors to the public in 1934 so that they can share the traditional process of sake brewing to the locals and tourists alike. They’ve set up mannequins depicting how sake is made and expect that you’ll be whisked back in time to when it all began. You can visit the museum, take a tour to their brewery and of course, everyone’s favorite, take a sip of sake in their tasting room. Nihonshu here is not just a drink as it also is served popularly as a jelly dessert.
This family run brewery has been around since 1659 and became one of the few famous producers outside the region of Kanto. It was said that the Emperor Go-Daigo became a fan of sake after the family presented him with sake after he gave them their surname, Kano. The distinct taste of their sake owes its flavor from the special rice called Yamada-nishiki. The museum boasts the implements and pictures depicting parts of the processes that they’ve started out using before modern technology helped increase production and made them reach a global following. There’s free tasting and some souvenirs all related to sake that you can purchase in the museum.
There’s a main brewing facility, a museum, a gift shop, a restaurant called Sakabayashi serving kaiseki-ryouri (a traditional Japanese full course meal that’s always really pretty, fresh and sumptuous that complements their very own sake), an event hall and a well-maintained relaxing courtyard you won’t miss. Well, you really won’t miss anything since you have to visit and try everything that they offer. Of course, you have to start with the main plant since that’s how you’ll learn who they really are and what they really brew. And then feast to your heart’s content with their colorful and breathtaking fine cuisine.
Somewhere in Nada-gogo, you can find another traditional sake brewery that lets you see how they made it thousands of years ago in addition to letting you take a peek at how they do it today. Like the other breweries, they showcase their tools and processes and what makes it truly unique. After a tour in their facility, you get to try their free samples as well a selection of paid samples in case you want to take home a bottle after the tour. It’s always wonderful to know what you’ll have to warm you on those cold nights.
With over 400 years of brewing their own brand of sake, this brewery has made a name because of their sake and the other facilities that you’ll be visiting in their establishment. Once you take a tour around the museum, you’ll be able to watch feature videos of their traditional techniques and processes and stroll around the different exhibits like displays of old labels and bottles and some advertising campaigns that introduce you to the history of their company. After exploring their museum, you can try out their restaurant that serves multiple course kaiseki lunches and dinners complete with their very own sake, the cafe that serves different types of Japanese treats, and afterwards visit the gift shop for more free sampling of their products.
The name of this company comes from Japanese mythology that means “crane of the swamp”. The crane who held the sheaf of rice to a princess who in turn asked a god to brew sake from the sheaf of rice as an offering to the sun goddess. The princess turned the crane into the God of Grains or Ōtoshinokami. The company also adds that the image of the crane in a swamp signifies a world that is wet, sun lit and abundant with life where the crane takes rest before it takes off again. The brewery’s museum and the tools used to produce sake were designated as “Important Tangible Folk Cultural Properties” in March 1980.
Known to be the first sake brewery to be branded in Japan. Before a major battle, the samurai ceremoniously opened and drank from a large Kenbishi barrel to strengthen their camaraderie and loyalty in their endeavor. It has been operating since 1505 and now has four breweries that still makes sake by hand with little automation involved. Their process of production and the techniques used scream old style but their sake still stands unfazed and self-sufficient after all these years.
Sake has been an icon for hundreds of years and has been developed and perfected just like other globally popular alcoholic beverages like wine, champagne and its Asian neighbors such as Soju from Korea and Baijiu from China. It is like a thread that is sewn through the fabric of Japan’s history and has kept things together for so many years that its origins can only be traced back from the most primitive written records. Buying a bottle of sake is like experiencing a piece of Japanese culture that makes it even more priceless.