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Allison Jeffers

Foreigner-Friendly Sake Breweries to Visit Nearby Tokyo

Where to Enjoy Japan's National Beverage

A trip to Japan would be incomplete without sampling some sake. But to many foreigners interested in Japan, sake can seem mysterious and impossible to understand. With labels written in kanji and an array of classifications dependent on things like rice polishing, pasteurization, and the addition of distilled alcohol to the final product – it can be difficult to know where to start. 

But, did you know that the base of all sake is just four simple ingredients? Rice, water, koji mold, and brewer’s yeast are all it takes to create Japan’s national beverage. For hundreds of years, master sake brewers have been using time, temperature, and their deep understanding of the ingredients to create delicious and unique sake varieties.
In fact, some of the earliest evidence of intentional alcohol production in Japan dates back 2,500 years to the Jomon Period. Over the course of history, Japanese culture, rice cultivation, and sake production evolved hand in hand. As a result, sake plays an important role in festivals, holidays, and daily life. You’ll find sake not just in bars and restaurants, but also at shrine ceremonies and festivals like weddings and New Year’s.

The best way to improve your understanding of sake is to visit one of the many breweries operating in Japan today. Here’s a guide to four sake breweries nearby Tokyo that offer tours and other services in English.

Tonoike Sake Brewery (Tonoike Shuzouten)

Visitors at Tonoike sake Brewery nearby Tokyo

The Tonoike family has been brewing sake in Tochigi Prefecture since 1829, and Tonoike Sake Brewery’s current brewery location was founded in 1937. Using soft water from Nikko mountain snowmelt and carefully selected rice varieties, this brewery specializes in using traditional techniques to create their award-winning, smooth-tasting sake varieties. In addition to the brewery, visitors can also tour the sake museum on site and visit the tasting room for sake samples.

About 2.5 hours north of Tokyo, the town of Mashiko is well-known for producing beautiful, distinctive pottery. After touring the brewery, why not visit the ceramics museum or spend some time hunting for treasures at one of the many pottery shops in the area?

Link to official brewery tours: Tonoike Sake Brewery Tours

Where: Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture

Access: 17 min walk from Mashiko Station  (Google Map)

Best time to visit: All year round (Open 365 days)

Shimazaki Sake Brewery (Shimazaki Shuzo)

Shimazaki Sake brewery in nasukarasuyama 2.5 hours from Tokyo
Shimazaki Sake Brewery has been producing sake since 1849. Here they use soft water from the Nakagawa River that flows from Mt Nasu and local rice varieties to produce sweet sake. Typically, sake is best consumed within 1-2 years of brewing. However, this brewery has gained a reputation in Japan as the “Cave Brewery” because they age their sake in a nearby cave, originally dug for use during WWII. Since 1970, the brewery has set aside some of their premium-grade sake for aging inside “The Cave.” Visitors are welcome to tour “The Cave” and sample some of the sakes produced here.

About 2.5 hours north of Tokyo, I recommend stopping in nearby Utsunomiya for gyoza, cocktails, and jazz music to make a day trip of visiting this brewery.

Link to official brewery tours: Shimazaki Sake Brewery Tours

Where: Nasu-Karasuyama, Tochigi Prefecture

Access: 10 min walk from Karasuyama Station  (Google Map)

Best time to visit: All year round (Open every day except New Years day)

Watanabesahei Sake Brewery (Watanabesahei Shouten)

Brewer making sake at Watanabesahei Sake Brewery nearby Tokyo
Founded in 1842, this brewery uses locally-grown rice almost exclusively and water from snowmelt in the Nikko mountains to produce soft, smooth-tasting sake. Unusual in Japan, about 90% of the sake that his brewery produces is “Junmaishu,” or pure rice sake. Junmaishu is made from the four basic sake ingredients – rice, water, koji, and yeast – and nothing else. This tends to give Junmaishu an earthier, more robust flavor profile. Visitors to this brewery will appreciate the English signage and information, as well as the friendly and helpful staff!

Link to official brewery tours: Watanabesahei Sake Brewery Tours

Where: Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Access: 7min walk from Tobu Shimoimaichi Station & JR Imaichi Station   (Google Map)

Best time to visit: All year round

Katayama Sake Brewery (Katayama Shuzou)

Visitors looking into the steaming vat at Katayama sake brewery nearby Tokyo
In 1879, the founder of this brewery came from Niigata, another famous sake-producing area in Japan, in search of better-quality water. Because the ingredients used to make sake are so simple, the cleanliness of the water’s source and mineral content of the water are meticulously analyzed by sake brewers as they can have a huge impact on the taste and quality of the final product. For seven generations, the family has been brewing sake in this location at the base of the Nikko mountains, known for the pristine condition of the soft water that comes from Nikko mountain snowmelt. This small-scale brewery focuses on producing delicate sake using traditional methods, without the help of machines.

Link to official brewery tours: Katayama Sake Brewery Tours

Where: Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

Access: 10 min walk from Tobu Shimoimaichi Station & JR Imaichi Station   (Google Map)

Best time to visit: Between April to November

Explore More

Did this article pique your interest in sake tourism? 

Sake Voyage, a collaboration by these four family-run sake breweries nearby Tokyo, have put together a selection of premium sake experiences aimed at foreign travelers including tours, tastings, dinners, and traditional craft experiences. Visit the website to learn more and book today.

Check out Sake Voyage

  • Great Sake Brewery Itinerary Ideas  

Mashiko /  Nasu-Karasuyama /  Nikko 1 / Nikko2

  • Great Sake Dinners

Otowa Restaurant (French cuisine) /  Ryokan (Japanese kaiseki)

 

Sake Brewery in Mashiko 

Sake Brewery in Nasu-Karasuyama

Sake Breweries in Nikko

Oyama Travel Guide

We’ve created a special online guide about … to help overseas visitors explore Mashiko. Please click the image to discover more.

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If you found this article useful, please check out more of the must see / must do things nearby Tokyo.

To discover other culture and historical activities nearby Tokyo, make sure to check out our History & Culture page as well.

Contributor:  Allison Jeffers

Allison moved from the US to Utsunomiya with her husband in 2019. As an avid reader and enthusiastic home cook, her idea of “be prepared” is to never leave home without a book & snack. She is always up for an adventure and likes to explore Japan’s “off the beaten path” destinations and sample local foods.

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