A highlight for anyone interested in Japanese sake is certainly a brewery visit. Whether it is a new sake brewery or a building steeped in history, it is always a great experience.
The only problem is how to find a brewery that allows visitors, especially during brewing season. The good news is that there are a few sake breweries in north of Tokyo that do just that, one of them is Shimazaki Brewery located in Nasukarasuyama.
A traditional sake brewery located in the heart of Nasukarasuyama
Shimazaki Sake Brewery was founded in 1849 and its main building is located in the heart of Nasukarasuyama, a small town just about 2h north of Tokyo. It is loved by locals, but also well known in the region for its aged sake and unique storage facility – the cave.
It all started in 1970 when Shimazaki Brewery decided to store some of their sake and use the nearby caves to do so. The caves, which were dug by hand during WWII soon proved themselves to be the perfect storage facility, due to the consistent low temperature. So after a successful first batch and confidence about the product, they moved the majority of their Daiginjo production to be aged in the caves and have done so ever since. This has earned them the nickname “Cave Brewery”, although technically the sake is not brewed inside the caves.
The magical sake caves at Shimazaki sake brewery
Because of the unique way the sake is stored, a visit to Shimazaki Brewery is broken up into two parts, the caves and the actual brewery. It is good to know when planning your visit that the caves can be visited independently, while the tasting has to be reserved and includes a visit to the caves (reservations can be done on their English website here).
But now, let’s have a look at what a visit looks like!
A look into the beautiful shop
Located one train stop from the brewery, the sake caves are located in the nearby forest, here you can borrow a tablet featuring multilingual explanations for a self-guided tour through the caves (unless otherwise reserved). This is a great way to explore the facilities in your own time. If you decide on a quick walk-through it will take about 30min, but my recommendation is to spend a bit more time inside, as there is a lot to see.
Smart technology will help you navigate through the caves
Certainly one of my highlights was the area where the so-called “Owners Bottles” are kept, these are bottles pre-purchased to mark special occasions. As an example, you could come here and buy a bottle of sake when you are expecting a child, and then store it in the cave for any length of time to then give it to your child when he or she graduates or comes of age. I thought this was a beautiful way to mark a special day.
Of course, you can also purchase any of their sake to be consumed sooner rather than later, as the cave also features a small shop, however, there is no tasting at this location. Their sake tasting room is back at the brewery and if you do consider joining the tasting, this has to be booked in advance and can be done via Shimazaki Sake Brewery’s English website.
A glimpse into Shimazaki sake brewery’s famous caves
Heading back to the brewery, I was guided to the sake tasting room, which is above the brewery shop in a beautiful bright space and it is here that you will get to sample three of Shimazaki’s famous aged sake “Uroko”. This is a great opportunity to understand more about the complexity of aged sake and to get some answers from the people who make it.
The tasting set included three aged sake and a yamahai sake, which is a type of sake in which lactic acid is allowed to grow on its own. It was a great chance to try their matured sake at different ages (1, 3, and 5 years) and compare it with the yamahai. I thought this was a really wonderful experience that will highlight the change sake undergoes through the process. It was great to see how the color gradually changes from clear liquid to amber and of course taste what happens to the flavor and aromas of the sake over the years.
Of course, once finished with the tasting, there is also another opportunity to pick up some sake here, along with other products made at the brewery. However, the aged sake is certainly the highlight and makes the perfect souvenir or gift to take home.
Sake tasting including Shimazaki’s famous “aged sake”
-Opening times Caves: Mid-March to December on weekends and public holidays, including Golden Week and Obon.
-Brewery Tour times: 10 am, 12 am, 2 pm (has to be reserved in advance). Please check their visitor website for booking and up-to-date info.
-Sake Tasting and Tour Fee: 3,550 yen (includes 3 aged sake)
-To book the tour: Shimazaki Sake Brewery English website
-Access: 2 hours north of Tokyo
By train (JR): First take the Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen and change for the Karasuyama line in Utsunomiya. If you are heading straight for the caves, get off at Taki station or stay on the train until Karasuyama station to head straight to the brewery. JR Pass holders can use the pass for the full trip, otherwise, the tickets will cost about 5,300 yen one way. If you are a foreign resident in Japan, you can also buy a Tokyo Wide JR Pass, which allows you to travel for 3 consecutive days on trains and the Shinkansen. The price is 10,180 yen and is extremely good value.
-Address: 1 Chome-11-18 Central, Nasukarasuyama, Tochigi 321-0621 (Google Map)
Sake Brewery in Mashiko
Sake Brewery in Nasu-Karasuyama
Sake Breweries in Nikko
Traveling through Utsunomiya tonight? Looking for a fun experience? Look no further and use our Utsunomiya Night Guide to explore Utsunomiya.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem just north of Tokyo, if you would like to know more about fun things to do and travel ideas, please continue to have a look at our must-see / must do things nearby Tokyo page.
To book unique activities in English, please see the Nearby Tokyo experience page.
Contributor: Cindy Bissig
Cindy is a writer and photographer living and documenting her Japan experience. As a Digital Nomad, she travels all around Japan to discover its beauty and share what she finds on her YouTube channel, as well as through her articles and photographs. She is particularly passionate about local culture, food and sake. Tune into her Podcast “Sake Unplugged” to learn more about it. Her goal is to show you an authentic Japan to make sure you have the best possible experience when you visit!
youtube: Let’s Travel and Eat