Sake (日本酒), or Japanese rice wine, is a light coloured, sweet taste alcohol made of multiple parallel fermentation of rice. The earliest record of sake drinking in Japan dated back to the 3rd century. Nowadays, it has become a popular alcoholic beverage around the world along with the growing popularity of sushi and ramen. Outside of Japan, sake is just an option of alcoholic beverage. However, within Japan, sake is a living tradition, a national heritage that connects to the local landscape and climate, and a representation of purity and simplicity in the Japanese culture. In the old days, sake was drunk at Shinto festivals, ceremonies and offerings to the gods, and production was made mainly by temples and the imperial court. Then in the 12th century, the general public began to make sake and led to the flourishing scene of sake makers in certain regions in Japan. Not much has changed in the making process since the 16th century.
With its cold climate, pristine water from the Japanese Alps and local rice “Hida-Homare”, Takayama is known as one of the best places for sake production in Japan. In its heyday during the Edo Period, Takayama had 56 sake breweries. Today, there are a handful of the traditional breweries (some say six) remain in the splendid old town of the city. Most of them would offer sake tasting and even a facility visit. Just look for the sugitama (杉玉) hanging outside of the liquor shop entrance. If the sugitama is still green, that means the making of the new sake is underway. If it is brown, then the new sake has reached maturity. Visiting the traditional breweries and doing rounds of sake tasting is one of the most interesting ways to explore Takayama.
With its signature brand Sansha (山車) famed for its muscular umami (うま味) or savory taste, Harada Sake Brewery (原田酒造場) is a highly popular sake brewery in the old town. The brown sugitama (杉玉) indicates that the new sake has reached maturity.
Apart from its shop, visitors may also find the aging tanks in Harada Sake Brewery.
Across the street from Harada stands another popular brewery, the Funasaka Sake Brewery (舩坂酒造店).
With over 300 years of history, Funasaka Sake Brewery has combined generations of experience, innovative technical developments and a new business model.
The complex of Funasaka Sake Brewery includes a shop, bar, restaurant, and a pleasant courtyard.
In the courtyard, large sake barrels are on display at the Funasaka Sake Brewery.
Also with 300 years of history, the Oita Sake Brewery (老田酒造店) has transformed its original brewery at the busy tourist street Kami-Sannomachi (上三之町) into a large shop and bar, while the main brewery has moved outside of the city to Kiyomi, where new technologies and computers are introduced in the sake making.
Oita Sake Brewery specializes in very dry sake and shochu (焼酎) or distilled liquor. Dry sake was considered unfavorable as compared to sweet sake in the old days. However, the trend has gradually changed and dry sake has become popular with soba and steak restaurants.
Just like most other breweries, the store of Oita Sake Brewery designated an area of the store for a causal bar.
Sake and shochu are used at the bar to make cocktails with fruity favours.
Shōki (鍾馗) or Zhong Kui in Chinese is known in Chinese mythology as the king of ghosts and evil beings. It is commonly seen as a guardian spirit to ward off demons. The icon is also popular in traditional Japan. Due to its unpopularity in the old days, dry sake was called “Oni Koroshi” or demon killer, meaning that even demons would die after drinking the dry sake. Oita Sake Brewery (老田酒造店) considers itself the original brand of the “Oni Koroshi” dated over 300 years ago.
Established since 1695, Niki Sake Brewery (二木酒造) is another old sake maker in Takayama that has been in business for 15 generations.
Niki Sake Brewery is famous for its ginjo sake, a premium category of sake that uses rice grains polished to less than 60% of its original size, and fermented in lower temperature in longer period. Ginjo sake is considered to be lighter in taste and more aromatic.
Kawashiri Sake Brewery (川尻酒造場) has been in the industry of sake brewery since 1839. It specializes in jukusei koshu or “aging sake” that uses locally grown rice “hidahomare” and takes two to four years to age.
Kawashiri Sake Brewery (川尻酒造場)
The traditional look of Kawashiri Sake Brewery gives visitors a glimpse of the old Takayama in the Edo Period. Large timber post and beam construction is a Takayama tradition.
Being the smallest brewery in town, Kawashiri rejects new technologies and computers, and relies on the hands of its four brewery employees to produce high quality sake at an affordable price.
Each year, six of Takayama’s sake breweries will open their doors to offer brewery tours. Kawashiri Sake Brewery is one of the participating sake makers.
For 500 yen visitors can get a taste for three of Kawashiri’s sake.
Of course, we couldn’t resist to sit down for a sip of the sake in an interior full of heritage of the magnificent Takayama, the centuries old city in the Japanese Alps.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)