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Drinking in Japan SAKE


UpdateMay 19, 2020
ReleaseMarch 10, 2018

Sake is a creation of nature and climate in Japan. Sake attracts many people because it has an abundant variety of tastes and can be enjoyed in various ways. There are said to be more than 1,500 sake breweries in Japan, offering various kinds of distinctive sake. Enjoy sake unique to different areas in your trip.

What is Sake?

Sake is a brewed beverage made from fermented rice. It is made in a complicated process, where starch in rice is saccharified by koji (mold) and then yeast is added for fermentation. Differences in brewer’s rice, water, koji, and yeast create unique sake.

Varieties of Sake

There are so many kinds of sake, making it difficult to choose.
But once you know various types, it will be easier to choose your favorite one.

Difference in aroma and flavor
When you are not sure which one to choose at a store,
you can specify your preference out of the following four types and you can get a recommended kind.

Kunshu (mainly ginjo-shu)
Characterized by fruity aroma. Goes well with French and Italian dishes.

Soshu (mainly honjozo-shu)
Characterized by refreshing aroma such as of herbs and citruses. Good for sake beginners.

Junshu (mainly junmai-shu)
Characterized by richness, offering umami of rice.

Aged sake with strong and sweet aroma and flavor.

Difference in rice-polishing ratio
Sake is classified according to the combination of rice-polishing ratio (the percentage of the rice that remains after the husk of the brown rice is polished off) and raw materials (with or without addition of distilled alcohol*).
A lower rice-polishing ratio shows that only the “good” part of the rice grain is used.
*Adding distilled alcohol helps to enhance the aroma of the resulting sake as well as to improve its storage stability.

For example,
Junmai-shu (ingredients: rice and koji)
Offers umami and richness of rice. Relatively affordable compared to ginjo-shu.

Honzojo-shu (rice-polishing ratio: 70% or less, ingredients: rice, koji, distilled alcohol)
Similar to junmai-shu, with milder flavor.

Ginjo-shu (rice polishing ratio: 60% or less, ingredients: rice, koji, distilled alcohol)
Characterized by fruity aroma. Among ginjo-shu, those with a rice-polishing ratio of 50% or less are called “daiginjo-shu.”

New Age of Sake

Sparkling sake, smoothly going down the throat like champagne

“Photogenic” lovely colorful sake

Sake in stylish bottles with stylish labels

Various Ways to Enjoy Sake

Different sake should be enjoyed in different ways.
Ask for recommended ways to enjoy your choice of sake at a store.

Clear and refreshing taste
Room temperature
Mild taste along with umami
Enhanced rich aroma

Enhances the color of sake
Gives a sense of warmth
Wine Glass
Aroma of sake is enjoyable
Masu (square wooden box)
Unique appearance with a nice woody aroma

Sake goes well with many more kinds of food other than just Japanese food

Kunshu with caprese salad
Goes well with plain dishes where you can enjoy flavors of ingredients.

Soshu with salad
Goes well with refreshing light dishes.

Junshu with pizza
Its strong richness goes well with meat and cheese.

Jukushu with chocolate
Goes well with dishes with strong flavor and taste. Surprisingly well matched with chocolate.

Don’t forget to drink yawaragi-mizu.

Yawaragi-mizu is water you drink while drinking sake. It is said to be effective for avoiding getting sick or hangovers.

Great Places to Enjoy Sake

You can try various sake from more than 90 sake breweries in Niigata Prefecture (5 glasses for 500 yen).
JR Niigata Sta., JR Echigo-Yuzawa Sta., JR Nagaoka Sta.

Offers all you can drink from 100 kinds of sake from all over Japan.
You can compare different kinds in different types of drinking vessels.
Ueno Store, Shimbashi Store, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about sake…
Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center
You can see, feel, and experience the culture of sake. (free admission)
You can sample sake for 100 yen and up per glass and purchase your favorite one.
Nearest stations: Tokyo Metro Toranomon Sta., Kasumigaseki Sta.

Sake in Japan

Yamagata Prefecture
As a snowy region, Yamagata has an abundant source of underground water. The harsh coldness in winter is also perfect for sake production.

As one of the greenest areas in Tokyo, the Tama region has several sake breweries. You can casually join sake brewer’s tours.

Niigata Prefecture
Being one of the biggest rice producers in Japan, Niigata can boast of having the largest number of sake breweries in Japan, offering the widest variety of sake.

Sightseeing train running through Niigata for enjoying sake
Koshino Shu*Kura is a sightseeing train under the theme of “sake,” running through Niigata Prefecture. This is unique to Niigata, one of the biggest sake producers in Japan. Listening to live performance of Jazz and classical music, you can enjoy local sake and original snacks made with local ingredients. The scenery from the train windows is also part of the treat. Events are occasionally offered where sake brewers accompany the passengers and offer sake while talking about sake.

Also check this out!
“Niigata Shupoppo” is made at four sake breweries in Niigata using the same kind of rice produced at Niigata Farm, which was established by JR Niigata. Although it is made with the same kind of rice using the same rice-polishing ratio, the resulting sake is completely different in flavor and aroma among the breweries. See how they differ.

Nagano Prefecture
Nagano has the second largest number of sake breweries after Niigata. Sake goes very well with miso and cheese made in Nagano.

Kyoto Prefecture
Fushimi-ku in Kyoto City is a sake town with many famous historic breweries. Along with delicious sake, the attractive area is a perfect place to stroll around.

Hyogo Prefecture
Hyogo is the biggest sake producer in Japan in quantity. Sake made in Nada, a producer of high-quality brewer’s rice and hard water perfect for sake production, is particularly well known.

Fukuoka Prefecture
Active in sake production since the Edo period. Snacks to go with sake must be the local specialties, karashi-mentaiko (spicy flavored pollock roe), and motsu-nabe (hotpot made with beef or pork tripe or other entrails)!


*The information herein is as of March 2018.