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Highlighted Features Sake, Craft Beers, and Gastronomy Tourism: Five Extraordinary Explorations into Japan’s Culinary Culture



Japan has become a destination of choice for travelers interested in exceptional drinking and dining experiences. The country has a long history of developing fascinating menus using a variety of ingredients taken from the surrounding seas and the varied landscapes. Recent years have also seen growing interest in the country’s production of alcoholic beverages, from traditional sake to world-renowned whiskys and excellent lineups of craft beers. Here are five destinations and adventures from around Japan that can be included in any itinerary to add a bit of spice to your travel plans—and taste buds.


Tour an Underground Sake Storehouse



The Shimazaki Shuzo Brewery has been operating since 1849, and is known for its fine sake, made with local rice and water from underground springs in the nearby mountains. The brewery has opened its unusual storehouse to visitors, a unique chance for those interested in sake production, as well as one-of-a-kind experiences and the opportunity to purchase some of the limited-edition offerings on sale.

The brewery’s subterranean sake storehouse is part of a 600-meter-long series of tunnels originally dug to construct combat vehicles during the latter days of World War II. The war ended before production started, and in 2007, the abandoned tunnel was restored by the brewery to be used as a storehouse for some 100,000 bottles. As the inside of the cave naturally receives no sunlight, temperatures stay at an average of 10ºC, the perfect environment for storing and aging sake.

Advance reservations are required.


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Enjoy Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine at a Tokyo Hideaway



Looking for an escape from all the bustling excitement of central Tokyo? Slow down and enjoy an exceptional meal that will calm your soul and let you meditate on the deep taste of natural ingredients. Daigo is an exquisite dining space constructed in the traditional teahouse style, with private rooms surrounding a beautiful Japanese garden. It sits at the foot of Mt. Atago, a wooded retreat tucked amongst the skyscrapers.

The specialty at Daigo is “shojin ryori,” a vegetarian Buddhist cuisine traditionally served to monks and other temple visitors. It is known for using the best—and freshest—seasonal ingredients served in simple, yet eye-catching dishes, while following Buddhist practices such as avoiding animal cruelty. The meals are served in a “kaiseki” style, a full course meal that is meant to be experienced through all five senses. The courses are available for lunch or dinner.


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Dine on Classic Nagasaki Cuisine and a 400-Year-Old Slice of History



Kagetsu is a classic type of restaurant called a “ryotei,” an establishment traditionally used by politicians, businessmen, and literary figures for discrete meetings. In fact, its history goes back to 1642, to the days of courtesans and the red-light district of Maruyama, and it has hosted some of Japan’s most well-known historical figures.

Located not far from Nagasaki’s renowned Chinatown, Kagetsu’s specialty is Shippoku cuisine, which has its roots in the early Edo period (1600–1868). While served at a round Chinese-style table, it features many servings of Western, Chinese, and Japanese dishes. 

Once guests have had their fill, they can retreat to the Shoku-san, a museum room exhibiting artifacts that Kagetsu has collected over the years, including painted scrolls, photos and songbooks of famous geisha. Even today, diners can book geisha to perform for them, to complete their experience of traditional Japanese entertainment.


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Visit the Distillery Founded by the Father of Japanese Whisky



The town of Yoichi, on the northern island of Hokkaido, was chosen by Matatake Taketsuru to be the location of his first distillery, which opened in 1934. Taketsuru was the founder of Nikka Whisky, and is known as the “father of Japanese whisky.” He cited the environment—the cool climate, crisp air, fresh water, and ideal humidity—as the reason for his choice.

Today, the Nikka Whisky’s Yoichi Distillery still uses the traditional coal-fired distillation method he set up back then, a process that is rarely seen today because of the difficulty in controlling it. Another feature of the whisky produced here is the briny hint that comes from its proximity to the sea.

Visitors can tour the distillery to see firsthand how the renowned whisky is produced, from milling to vatting. They can also visit Taketsuru’s former residence, take in the Nikka Museum to learn of the history of Japanese whisky, and—for participants of drinking age—sample the smooth results at the tasting hall. A visit to the distillery shop at the end of the tour offers the chance to purchase products.


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Delicious Craft Beer at a Shikoku Mountain Brewery and Taproom




Located in Niyodogawa-cho, a small village in the pristine mountains of Shikoku Island, the Blue Brew Taproom offers a menu of craft beers locally produced by Mukai Craft Brewing. Opened in November, 2020, the brewery/tap room is the brainchild of Japanese-American brewer Ken Mukai and his wife, Masako.

Visitors are welcome to drop in to the Blue Brew Tap Room to sample the beer and dine on a selection of dishes from the dining menu. The beers offered here cover a wide range, from IPAs to White Ales and Stouts. They often feature local ingredients, such as sansho Japanese pepper, ginger, yams, and green tea. They are brewed using water filtered through the surrounding mountains.

Niyodogawa-cho is blessed with the best that countryside Japan has to offer—seclusion, unspoiled scenery, and a welcoming community—and now has a craft beer retreat where you can enjoy it all.


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