The Sake Breweries of Takayama
December 21, 2016
Takayama, with its picturesque mountain location, cold weather, top quality rice and pure mountain water, produces some of the best-tasting sake in Japan. This area has been famous for its sake production for over 400 years, with around 56 breweries at one time during the Edo Period (1603-1868). There are now six local traditional sake breweries still in operation scattered around the historic old town that offer you the chance to tour their facilities in winter and even indulge in some sake tasting.
Sanmachi Suji (The Historic Old Town of Takayama)
The old part of town is called Sanmachi Suji and is a collection of three narrow lanes lined with Edo Period merchant houses. Here you will find the six traditional local sake breweries Hirata (平田), Harada (原田), Kawashiri (川尻), Niki (二木), Hirase (平瀬) and Tanabe (田邊). They are easily recognisable with their sugidama (special balls made of cedar branches), hanging over the entrance and traditional sakadaru (sake barrels) out the front. The sugidama cedar balls are an indication to how the sake is maturing. A green cedar ball indicates that the sake has just been freshly made, while a brown cedar ball indicates that the sake has matured and is now ready to be consumed.
Winter is the main sake-making season, which runs from November until the end of March. The six local sake breweries open their sake-making facilities to the public between mid-January and the end of February. Each brewery takes it in turn to provide a free tour of their facilities. It is a rare chance to see the ancient time-honoured tradition of making sake in action. Many of the sake breweries located in the old part of town have been producing sake for hundreds of years, each with its own unique variety.
Sugidama Cedar Ball
Sake Barrels at Funasaka
The sake breweries are always open to visitors, so you are welcome to enter and sample some of their great tasting products. Most offer free sake tasting and are typically open from around 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Hirase is the oldest sake brewery in Takayama, and is famous for its “kusudama” sake which is popular for its clear taste. Funasaka Sake Brewery proactively develops new tastes of sake while keeping its tradition. My favourite is Harada Sake Brewery, where for only 100 yen you can buy an ochoko (sake cup) and sample around 12-14 of their sake from a fridge. The ochoko makes a nice souvenir to take home of your visit to Takayama.
Funasaka Sake Brewery
Sake Bottles at Funasaka Sake Brewery
To reach Takayama from Tokyo, take a Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and then transfer to the Hida Wide View Express for the run to Takayama.
John Asano is a blogger, traveler and freelance writer living in Gifu, Japan. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he has lived in Japan now for over 12 years. John loves nothing better than picking up his camera and exploring all the amazing attractions that Japan has to offer.