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2022.01 Exploring the Soul of Japanese Sake Breweries Across the Tohoku Region Tohoku and sake, a perfect pairing throughout history

Japanese people have been brewing sake since the 3rd century BCE, and the Tohoku region in Northern Japan is particularly revered for its artisanship. The alcoholic beverage is brewed in a fascinating process at different sake breweries, where grains are polished down to specific percentages of their total mass to create sake with different taste profiles, including clear, sweet, fruity, acidic, pungent, effervescent and more.

 

 

With a perfect range of climatic conditions for growing rice crops, combined with abundant crystal-clear mountain spring water, Tohoku is the Japanese mecca for sake. Today, we’ll explore the drink across Tohoku’s six prefectures—Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima—and hopefully provide visitors to Japan with a new appreciation for this divine rice wine.

 

Aomori: Experience the revered Hachinohe Shuzo

 

Our journey begins at the tip of northern Honshu at Hachinohe Shuzo in Aomori Prefecture . This sake brewery began in 1740 and is now in its eight generation. They brew delicious, eco-conscious sake using locally sourced rice, high-quality yeast and pristine spring water from the Kanisawa area in Hachinohe, a city on the eastern coast of the prefecture.

 

Photo credit: Hachinohe Shuzo

 

Hachinohe Shuzo offers visitors a chance to join the Ganja Natural Sake Club for an annual fee. Members can participate in the process of filling sake bottles and applying the labels, allowing them to take home a special memory from Aomori. This experience gives visitors a chance to taste the fruits of their labor and toast to the local community, while helping revitalize the Kanisawa area and preserve the local environment. The brewery also offers a guided tour on a daily basis.

 

Photo credit: Hachinohe Shuzo

 

Visitors to Hachinohe Shuzo in pristine Aomori Prefecture will gain a deeper appreciation for the art of sake brewing and its close connections to the local terroir and community.

 

Iwate: The world’s first vegan-certified sake and more at Nanbu Bijin

 

Nanbu Bijin in Iwate Prefecture  has been brewing sake since the Meiji era (1868–1912) for five generations. The establishment has origins in a soy sauce brewery family from 1902, and today it’s renowned for award-winning sake and “umeshu,” or plum liqueur.

 

The bitter Japanese citrus yuzu has also been incorporated into an all-natural sugar fruit liqueur created by Nanbu Bijin. The yuzu used is grown in Iwate’s Rikuzentakata City, which suffered damage during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, in efforts to boost reconstruction of the Tohoku region through promotion of local specialty products.

 

Photo credit: Nanbu Bijin

 

Creating the world’s first vegan-certified sake in 2019 is another outstanding accomplishment by Nanbu Bijin. The brewery understands the importance of growing their brand internationally to help give back to the Tohoku region, and the vegan certification has allowed them to showcase their sake to even more people worldwide. 

 

In Tohoku, community is life, and visitors to Iwate Prefecture will be also inspired by local efforts to give back to the region through incredible products and devotion to quality.

 

Akita: Preserving culture and tradition at Sake Brewery Hideyoshi

 

Sake’s ancient origins give Japan’s trademark alcoholic beverage a wealth of historical and cultural context. This is quite prevalent at Sake Brewery Hideyoshi in Akita Prefecture, founded by a young journeyman in 1689. A few hundred years later, in 1848, a local feudal samurai lord declared his brew the best in the land, and the modern-day Hideyoshi sake was born.

 

Photo credit: Sake Brewery Hideyoshi

 

After over 330 years of history, Hideyoshi remains focused on quality and innovation, including the creation of a refreshing and effervescent sparkling sake called La Chamte. Preserving local customs and traditions is also an important theme here, and the gorgeous traditional brewery building is located close to ancient samurai houses.

 

Photo credit: Sake Brewery Hideyoshi

 

Sake Brewery Hideyoshi also offers a free English tour that showcases the brewery, alongside a collection of art, samurai armor and jewelry that dates back to the 1600s. Come to Hideyoshi for the sake and stay for a deep dive into Japanese history and tradition in Akita Prefecture. 

 

Miyagi: Appreciating sake on the Pacific Coast at Otokoyama Honten

 

Otokoyama Honten was founded in 1912 in the prominent Pacific Ocean port city of Kesennuma  in Miyagi Prefecture. The area was gravely affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, yet remarkably, Otokoyama Honten was able to re-commence brewing sake the day after the tragedy, showing resilience in efforts to rebuild the economy and boost the spirits of the local people. Today, the brewery remains a popular local attraction along the seaside offering top-quality sake.

 

Photo credit: Otokoyama Honten

 

The brewery is relatively new by Japanese standards, and they offer visitors high-quality information in English through their website and brewery tours (1,000 yen, including a souvenir), including details on the brewing process, scientific factors that contribute to sake’s different taste profiles, different drinking vessels that it can be enjoyed from and the six possible serving temperatures.

 

Photo credit: Otokoyama Honten

 

Visitors to Otokoyama Honten will come away with a deep understanding of the art of sake appreciation and newfound hope after experiencing the resiliency of the Tohoku region’s reconstruction efforts.

 

Yamagata: Explore the history of sake at Toko Brewery

 

Dating back to 1597, the sake brewed at Toko Brewery in Yonezawa , Yamagata Prefecture, was originally created for the local samurai lord. Now in its 24th generation, it has grown into one of Japan’s most successful and renowned sake brands, and the property includes a museum displaying historical brewing implements and ancient vessels. The location is a popular tourist attraction and offers an unparalleled look into Japanese sake brewing history.

 

 

Toko Brewery has set the bar for quality sake by embracing minute considerations in the brewing process, including growing yeast by bringing it up to temperature gradually, a process described by some sake brewing professionals as “slowly introducing a precious child to the world.”

 

Photo credit: Kojima Sohonten Co., Ltd.

 

Aside from massive capacity to brew flagship brands, the brewery also experiments in smaller batches, creates aged sake vintages and umeshu plum liqueur, and offers a range of sake-culture based skin products and non-alcoholic beverages.

 

 

The level of production and heritage at Toko Brewery is truly breathtaking, and amateurs and aficionados alike will come away from a visit here with a newfound appreciation for Japanese sake artisanship and culture. 

 

Photo credit: Kojima Sohonten Co., Ltd.

 

Fukushima: Sip a brew with a stunning view at Daishichi Brewery

 

The unparalleled flavor, modern presentation methods (large wine-style glasses and sake bottles reminiscent of champagne) and active social media presence of Daishichi Brewery in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture  set it apart as a Japanese sake brewery on the global stage. The brewery, founded in 1752 and now in its 10th generation, also offers a wealth of information regarding sake pairings with culinary selections, a new chapter in the world of sake that is enticing even more international interest.

 

Photo credit: Daishichi Brewery
 

Visitors to Daishichi Brewery have the opportunity to sip a fine glass of sake with a stunning view of the surrounding Abukuma Mountains. The source of the brewery’s natural spring water, Mt. Adatara, is also nearby, alongside archaeological sites that reveal communities existed here over 4,500 years ago.

 

Photo credit: Daishichi Brewery

 

Daishichi Brewery is dedicated to a world-class aesthetic presentation of their product that draws eyes around the globe, underpinned by an uncompromising quality that showcases the latent potential of their raw ingredients. Visitors to this beautiful slice of Fukushima countryside will leave with a life-changing experience in the world of Japanese sake brewing surrounded by nature.

 

Visit Tohoku House for a taste of the region in other locations 

 

Tohoku sake is famous throughout Japan, so even if you can’t make the journey north, the Tohoku House  website includes information on a vast number of distinguished Tohoku sake breweries. The site also includes information on Tohoku promotion and sightseeing, so please check it out when planning your next sake-centric journey to Japan. Kanpai!

 

Information

 

Hachinohe Shuzo Co., Ltd.

WEB:https://mutsu8000.com/en/

Nanbu Bijin

WEB:https://www.nanbubijin.co.jp/en/

Sake Brewery Hideyoshi

WEB:https://www.hideyoshi.co.jp/en/

Otokoyama Honten

WEB:https://en.kesennuma.co.jp/

Toko Sake Brewery

WEB:https://www.sake-toko.co.jp/en/

Daishichi Sake Brewery

WEB:https://www.daishichi.com/en/

Tohoku House

WEB:https://www.tohokuhouse.jp/eng/sake01.html

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