Posted by: ジャパンホッパーズ編集部(Japan Hoppers Editors) 23 Jan 2016

Drinking Places of Japan ~Saijo~

Drinking Places of Japan ~Saijo~ © N. Nomura

It’s said that there are around 1,200 sake breweries in Japan and no matter where you go in Japan you will certainly find sake breweries. Each region’s sake has its own distinct flavors, ingredients, and drinking styles. By learning more about sake you can gain a greater appreciation for Japan’s rich culture. The place we’d like to introduce this time is the town of Saijo located in Higashihiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture.

One of the top 3 drinking destinations in Japan, Hiroshima’s “Saijo”

Saijo is located about 40 minutes from Hiroshima Station on the old railway line. If you walk just 2 minutes from Saijo Station you will be greeted with the sight of white-walled sake breweries and brick chimneys. Within this small 1km-radius area there are 7 different sake breweries. It’s a very unusual place, even for Japan.

The birthplace of Ginjo-shu sake

High-quality water is absolutely vital for sake brewing; the nearest source of water for Saijo is the underground water of Mt. Ryuozan to the north, which is soft water that was originally considered unfit for sake production. However, during the Meiji Period a man named Miura Senzaburo from the southern area of Saijo devised a new method for brewing sake using soft water. This method gave birth to a brand new kind of sake, one with an unprecedented smooth flavor for that era. This new sake production method formed the base for what is known today as Ginjo-shu sake. Fortunately, the climate and farmland in northern Hiroshima is perfect for cultivating sake rice and large quantities of sake rice are produced there.

Various coincidences spur development in Saijo

Nature’s blessings weren’t the only factor in the development of Saijo’s sake breweries. One of the major factors was the opening of the national railroad that completely changed the way physical goods were distributed in the Meiji Period. Another factor was the development of a mechanical sake rice polishing machine by the Saijo-based Satake Factory (now the Satake Corporation). These factors working together allowed the city of Saijo to utilize cutting-edge technology of the time to brew sake.

A festival crowded with over 20,000 people, “Sake Matsuri”

The city of Higashihiroshima that Saijo is a part of is a very lively place for sake. Every year in the middle of October the “Sake Matsuri” festival is held, a huge event that attracts over 200,000 visitors. The festival features a “Sake Plaza” where visitors can taste sake varieties from all over Japan, with an amazing 1,000 different brands to try and compare! During the festival period the sake breweries are opened up to the public and visitors are allowed to taste-test sake while they tour the breweries. You can also partake in local cuisine made with sake, such as bishonabe (a dish where a variety of ingredients are cooked in a pot using only salt, pepper, and sake.)

Preserving the culture of the town

In Saijo the local government and the sake breweries work together to preserve the culture of sake brewing. In order to preserve the high-quality water that the breweries require, the various breweries of Saijo donate part of their profits and devote efforts to preserving the water quality. It has also become a custom for the elementary and middle school students of Saijo to sing songs based on the sake brewery workers at the aforementioned “Sake Matsuri.” You can see how sake is deeply rooted in Saijo’s culture.

A well-established brand that represents Saijo, “Kamotsuru”

Established in 1918, Kamotsuru is a sake brand that is representative of Saijo. Kamotsuru is highly particular about the quality of their sake, as they grow all their own rice and brew all their sake in-house. Despite being fussy about their sake they were the first company in Japan to use a powered rice polisher and also the first among the Saijo sake breweries to produce Daiginjo-shu sake. Kamotsuru is known as an innovative sake brewery that is always tackling new challenges.

The way to enjoy Saijo’s sake

“When I drink, I drink kanzake. The warmth brings out the sweetness and deliciousness of the sake.”  Mr. Mukuda, Chief Brewer of the Kamotsuru Sake Brewing Company

Mr. Mukuda, the chief brewer of the Kamotsuru Brewing Company, recommends “kanzake” which is warmed sake. Similar to how soft drinks taste sweet at normal temperature, when sake is warmed up it is said to become even sweeter and more delicious. Kanzake goes extraordinarily well with Hiroshima’s specialty oysters. Of course, you can also enjoy kanzake alongside Saijo’s specialty dish of bishonabe.

Enjoy a meal of “Bishonabe”

“Bishonabe” originated as a meal made by the factory workers at the Kamotsuru Brewing Company and because of this Kamotsuru runs a restaurant named “Furansu-ya” where you can enjoy bishonabe. They also serve French cuisine that pairs excellently with sake.

Kamotsuru’s representative brand “Daiginjo Tokusei Gold Kamotsuru”

In 1958, Kamotsuru began producing the first brand of Daiginjo sake, which has come to represent Kamotsuru as a brand. In 2014 when the American President visited Japan, he enjoyed Kamotsuru Daiginjo sake during a meal.

Content Collaborators

Kamotsuru Sake Brewing Company
4-31, Saijo Hommachi, Higashihiroshima-shi, Hiroshima, 739-0011

ジャパンホッパーズ編集部 / Japan Hoppers Editors

ジャパンホッパーズ編集部 / Japan Hoppers Editors

Japan Hoppers editorial department introduces all the latest news from Japan.