A Tour of Sake Breweries in Yokkaichi City Famous waters flow in the Spirits of Mie
Crystal clear waters, a cold winter wind, and deep knowledge are crucial for truly great sake. Yokkaichi City has it all, blessed with pure waters gushing from countless wells fed by the Suzuka Mountains from where, in colder months, the winter wind “Suzuka Oroshi” blows down from the peaks. Combined with generations of expertise, it’s the perfect place for brewing sake, the iconic spirit of Japan known locally as nihonshu. This trip I visited two of the city’s six sake breweries.
At Kintetsu Sakura Station, I was greeted by the peaceful sight of the countryside sprawling in front of the distant mountain range. In front of the station, an open space showcased the region’s waters, known as “Chishaku yosui,” designated by the Ministry of the Environment as one of Japan’s top 100 waterway.
©Yokkaichi Tourism Association
Carp swim freely through the canals. A reminder of the importance of H2O in this water-rich land.
ITO Shuzou Co., Ltd.
After a roughly 6-minute walk from the station, I arrived at ITO Shuzou, today’s first brewery.
Rika Ito, a first-class licensed food analyst, guided me through the brewing process.
The moment the brewery door opened I was enveloped in the aroma of sake. Though hot outside, inside was cool and comfortable.
Visitors can experience making nihonshu during the brewing season from late October to mid-December. You can choose whether you would like to take part in whole brewing process, or just one part. The finished sake is labeled with the names of all people who helped make it. I wonder what mine would taste like!
Afterwards, head to the shop.
Time to sample some sake! Ito’s main brand is “UZUME,” named after a Japanese mythological goddess. First was “Junmai Daiginjo Fukuro Shibori Shizuku Namazake.” The enchanting fragrance and refined sweetness was refreshing and smooth.
The next one, “Yamahai Junmai,” was like none I’d ever tried before! Surprisingly different from the first.
However, particularly the “Relaxation” version from the new series, “Party Goddess UZUME,” stole my heart. The tartness startled me with a flavor that defied all expectations of sake. Though quite sweet, this is no dessert wine, possessing the unmistakable elegance of nihonshu, opening my eyes and tastebuds to a new sensation. The sweet and sour seasonings of Chinese cuisine would be a natural pairing, though it would also complement cream, cheese, and tomato sauce as well.
I realized the brewery is developing sake with an eye on pairings with international cuisine. The possibilities of this ancient elixir suddenly seemed endless!
Other than sake, they develop some goods made with sake kasu (sake lees), a byproduct of brewing, recently gathering acclaim as a super food, such as the rare treat of Yokkaichi-grown green papaya pickled in sake lees. I tasted some the rare treat of Yokkaichi-grown green papaya pickled in sake lees, and it was a pleasure, and the mild, understated sweetness was irresistible!
These fascinating new innovations next to traditional goods opened my eyes to the versatility of this old-world spirit.
Ishikawa Sake Brewery
Just a 3-minute walk from ITO Shuzou, a dramatic black wall suddenly appeared.
Ishikawa Sake Brewery, my second stop today, was founded in 1830. Fifteen of the onsite buildings are registered as National Tangible Cultural Properties.
Mr. Ishikawa, the company president, gave us the tour. Nothing can be seen from the outside, so I was eager to enter as the heavy gate opened.
Inside, the grounds were more spacious than I imagined.
In the center stands the well after which the main brand “Fukii” is named.
From its spout, the exceptionally soft water poured out, powered by the natural pressure of the aquifer, a refreshing sight! It was easy to imagine that nihonshu made with such high-quality water would be divine. Though sake made with soft water requires more advanced technology, fermentation is gentler, producing a smooth, mellow flavor.
Inside, the brewery was like a different world. The air was suddenly comfortably cool and engulfed in a beguiling fragrance. Above me, the high ceilings were crossed with heavy timber beams. All around, the two-story wood building emanated a stately sense of history.
Beyond Yokkaichi, Mie overflows with famous sake brands and producers. At the 2016 Ise-Shima Summit, the talk of the town was not only of politics, but also the nihonshu from breweries in Iga and Suzuka served to world leaders as a drink for a toast.
Come take a tour and some tastings at one of the many local breweries, and discover what everyone is talking about, the world of nihonshu.