You have probably heard of Nikko, famous for its Shinkyo Bridge, Nikko National Park, and of course its lavishly decorated Toshogu shrine. However, it is also known by locals for its outstanding sake, with one brewery being only a short train ride away – Watanabesahei Sake Brewery.
Located just one stop before Nikko station, it makes for the perfect addition to any Nikko trip, even more so if you are planning on staying overnight!
A traditional Sake Brewery only a stones throw away from Nikko
Located in such a historical neighbourhood it comes as no surprise that Watanabesahei Sake Brewery has held onto its traditional roots. In fact, this small family-run brewery, now in its 7th generation, has been making Japanese sake along with rice shochu since 1842. This means the family has been making sake for over 180 years!
It is reflected in the look and the feel of the brewery and as soon as I entered the wooden building I felt transported back in time to the Edo period.
A look into the beautiful shop
Walking through the entrance, I found a charming shop with a small fireplace in its center and a huge glass window letting me get a glimpse into the office area of the brewery. It looked like the perfect setting for a movie or an anime and I learned that this is also where the tasting part of the tour will take place.
Smart technology will help you navigate through the brewery
But first things first, the brewery tour or better the brewery tours, as Watanabesahei offers two different tours. Visitors can choose between the “regular” and the “special” tour.
The regular tour will set you back 1000yen and is a self-guided tour that takes roughly 45min. But don’t worry there is plenty of information. With the use of smart technology in the form of scannable QR codes, the different steps of sake-making are explained in detail and very easily understandable. I thought this was a great way to discover the brewery in your own time and once done, there is of course a sake tasting included at the end.
A glimpse of the guided special tour
After enjoying either of the tours, it is then time to make yourself comfortable and try some of Watanabesahei’s delicious sake. An interesting fact, almost all of the sake (about 90% of their production) is Junmai sake, which means no brewer’s alcohol has been added.
This is also where you can have a conversation with the makers, which is a unique chance to ask some of these burning sake questions you may still have, all while sampling some of the delicious sake. However, the best part really was to meet Watanabe-san and learn more about him, having spent some time in Australia it was so easy to talk to him, definitely one of the highlights of my visit.
Sake tasting including seasonal “Hiyaroshi” sake
Of course, as you finish your tasting, you can also pick up your favorite bottle to take home. What better souvenir to share with your friends and family?
-Brewery Tour times: 13.30 & 14.30 for the regular tour and 13.30 for the special tour, but please check their visitor website for up to date info.
-Sake Tasting and Tour Fee: At the time of writing, the ‘Regular tour’ is 1,000Yen (self-guided with English audio and 3 sakes to taste) and the “Special tour’ is 5,000Yen (A guided tour in English, with special access brewing areas and 3 premium sakes to taste)
-To book the tour: Watanabesahei Sake Brewery English website
–Access: Located just short of 2 hours north of Tokyo.
By Train (JR): Get on the Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen and get off in Utsunomiya to change for the Nikko line. Get off at Imaichi station. This will cost you about 5,150Yen, unless you have a JR Pass, in that case, you wouldn’t need to pay for the train. (10 min walk from the station)
By Train (Tobu): Take the express trains (SPACIA or REVATY) from Tokyo, the direct train is leaving from Asakusa station and get off at Shimo-Imaichi station. (10 min walk from the station)
If you wanted to check out the shrines of Nikko, it is only a 7 min train ride, so it is extremely close. You can also check out the Tobu Nikko Free pass, a pass including the train (Tobu line), bus and discounts on other attractions, more info to it here.
-Address: 450 Imaichi, Nikko, Tochigi 321-1261 (Google Map)
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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