2017.07.13

A Sake Sojourn – Part 2

 BAMRestaurant
The next stop on my sake sojourn after Nada was Fushimi, conveniently just south of Kyoto. Since this area was a convenient 10-minutes walk from north exit of the Chushojima Station and only a few stops away from the famed red gate paths of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, we didn't see the need to hire a guide. Alongside Kobe's Nada District, Fushimi has been one of Japan's leading sake brewing districts. Its claim to fame is its Shiragikusi medium-hard water with just the right balance of potassium and calcium. In fact, "Fushimi" originally meant “underground water." If you’re interested in Japanese history, the Teradaya Inn is also worth a quick stop as the location of a famed assassination attempt on Samurai Sakamoto Ryoma.

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While the district is home to nearly 40 sake breweries, only a couple are generally open to the public. Many of Fushimi’s sake breweries are located along the Go-kawa River, a branch river of the Uji-gawa River. During the Edo Period when there were more than twice the number of breweries, this waterway served as the transportation link with Osaka, with sanjukkokubune and jukkokubune boats transporting rice and sake.

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A good place to start your Fushimi sake tour is the Fushimi Yume Hyakushu café which acts as somewhat of a local visitor center with information about the district's sake breweries, shops and restaurants. Housed in a former ancillary building of the nearby Geikkeikan Brewery dating from 1919, the cafe offers a number of local sake tasting samples so you can get a sense of what you like before you even walk into an actual brewery. Bottles of local sake are also for sale if you can't wait for the short walk down the street to the district's most famous brewery, Gekkeikan Okura.

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Established in Fushimi by Jiemon Okura in 1637, Gekkeikan Okura is one of the oldest family-owned companies in the world. Their extensive sake museum is one of the best in Japan, especially for English speakers, making it a must-stop when in Fushimi. Similar to the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland, Gekkeikan rewards tourists with a tasting at the end of the tour, which costs 300 yen.

With your entry ticket, you also receive a small plastic bottle of sake with a cup to take away with you – something that came in handy the rest of our sake sojourn! With recorded sake-making folk songs playing in the background, you can see the original measuring ladle source for today’s square wooden sake cups and a recreation of a sake barrel breaking celebration. Another exhibit that caught my eye recounted the Daijoe Festival Shinto sake purification ceremony after the coronation of the Showa Emperor in 1928.

If you plan in advance, you can also make a reservation to visit the Sakekobo mini-brewery next door to the museum where visitors can witness actual sake production in action.

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Kizakura Kappa Country is another large brewery in the area that includes a small Kizakura marketing and sake production museum, a restaurant-bar (don’t miss the sake-flavoured cheesecake!) and shop. Considering the importance of water in the area, Kizakura’s mascot is the kappa, a mystical water creature that somewhat resembles a cross between a mermaid and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. For those looking to try something besides sake, Kizakura produces a range of craft beers available for tasting along with their sakes.

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You’ll also find in the area the popular Yamamoto Honke brewery, famous for their award-winning Tokusen Tessai and Tokusen Matsunomidori Junmai Daiginjo sake and most recently their Shinsei Daiginjyo which won a gold medal at the London Sake Challenge. The premium Shinsei Daiginjyo uses 35% milled Yamada Nishiki rice and just a bit of distilled alcohol to bring out the maximum flavor and crispness. You can make an advance reservation for a private tour of the brewery itself, although they only brew in the winter, followed by a lunch of chicken skewers in their "Torisei" restaurant.

A perfect way to finish up your time in Fushimi is with a stop at Ginjo-shubo Aburacho located in the middle of the Otesuji shopping arcade. Stocking more than 80 types of sake, Aburacho offers tasting of sake from many local breweries that aren’t open to the public. The store also stocks barley, sweet potato and buckwheat shochu.

For those short on time and already visiting Kyoto, Fushimi’s sake district provides great exposure to some of Japan’s leading sake brands and their traditional production using the famed Shiragikusi spring water.

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