HOME Tokyo and Surroundings Tokyo's Surrounding Areas Have a Premium Experience at Sake Brewery Tour in Tokyo
Have a Premium Experience at Sake Brewery Tour in Tokyo

Have a Premium Experience at Sake Brewery Tour in Tokyo

Date published: 12 January 2018

No visit to Japan is complete without trying sake, and to really enjoy sake there is nothing better than to try it at a sake brewery like Ozawa Sake Brewery in Sawai, Okutama! Sake is made from rice and Japanese people have been happily sipping away at this strong alcoholic drink for the best part of the last 1300 years. While it has achieved worldwide fame, to a certain degree sake served at restaurants outside of Japan is just served as sake regardless of what the bottle may say, but in fact there are different kinds of sake with a range of different tastes – there are even different names for the different temperatures that sake can be enjoyed at! In order for a visitor to Tokyo to enjoy a trip to a brewery it is necessary to go bit of a distance from the city center, such as Sawanoi. However, it is totally worth it.

▲A bridge crossing the beautiful valley floor in the village of Sawanoi

The gorgeous area of Okutama near Ome City is full of mountains and valleys, and as a rural area it is popular with hikers for its natural beauty. It takes about 80 minutes to get here from Shinjuku. The air smells fresh, and the water is clean, which is important as sake brewing wouldn’t be the same without pristine natural water. Just outside of Ome City in the small valley village of Sawai you can find the Ozawa Sake Brewery which has stood at this spot for over three hundred years, and in fact right next to the brewery is a three hundred year old house that belongs to the brewery’s owners!

▲Just a few of the many different sakes made at Ozawa Sake Brewery
▲An exciting moment! Arriving at the entrance to Ozawa Sake Brewery.

Ozawa Sake Brewery – A Free Sake Tour

Ozawa Shuzo is a sake brewery which is proud of its heritage, and quite rightly so. The fine people, so-called Kurobito, who have worked here and still work here, have over hundreds of years perfected their techniques in sake-making in order to make the best possible sake. They are also happy to give a guided tour of their brewery for free! The tour has to be booked in advance by a web form on their website or on the day from the sake shop. It runs four times a day, but as there are limited spaces it is really best to book in advance. At the entrance to the brewery, in the back of the impressive old family home is where the tour starts – we are about to dive into the deep cultural history of sake!

▲Start of the tour – with a sakabayashi in the background
▲Barrels of sake outside the brewery building – unfortunately they were empty!

Starting the tour! Discovering the secret to when new sake is available

Sake is brewed from September to the middle of May, and every autumn to announce that the first sake of year is ready a sakabayashi (also known as a sugidama) is hung from just under the eaves of the brewery building. This is made from cedar leaves and the fresh green color means to passersby that they can now buy freshly made sake, over time the leaves turn brown which means that sake enthusiasts, eager for newly made sake, have to bide their time until a new green sakabayashi appears. Just outside the big doors to the brewery there are some traditional sake barrels, at New Year’s parties and weddings, etc., it is a custom to break open a barrel of sake in a Kagamibiraki ceremony – the top is smashed open and everyone gets a cup of delicious sake.

▲The sake tanks – swimming not allowed

Inside the brewery there is an awe-inspiring sight, or two awe-inspiring sights in fact – one is the massive tanks full of sake and the other is the interior of the building itself which dates back to three hundred years ago. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to actually see inside the tanks, or dive in, but for example if someone took a cup of sake every day from one particular tank that was pointed out to us, it would take them one hundred years to drink it dry. Above the tanks you can see the massive beams which have stood in place here for hundreds of years, these along with thick mud walls, control the temperature inside the building. It is truly remarkable that this kind of traditional building technique dates back to so long ago in the past, and that it keeps the inside of the structure so cool even in summer.

▲More sake bottles then one could imagine – aged sake
▲An absolute rarity – special sake brewed for the year 2000

Although sake is normally drunk in the same year it is brewed, it doesn’t age in the same way that wine does, the brewery does have vintage years for special occasions. In the same area as the massive tanks it is also possible to check out rows of bottles of sake from, for example, the year 2000, which was made to commemorate the start of the millennium – later on it is possible to try a sample of this millennium sake!

▲Where the magic happens – rice is turned into sake
▲Learning about rice – be warned it isn’t edible!

Rice Polishing?? This is why you can’t just make sake in your backyard

The next stop in the tour is where rice is ‘polished.’ To begin with, it is important to keep in mind that there are different varieties of rice, and there are varieties of rice which are for sake brewing and you really wouldn’t enjoy eating. ‘Polishing’ rice is about removing the outer layers of the rice grain, to get a high quality sake you would need to really polish the grain to its core. In the case of Ozawa Shuzo’s best sake the rice grains are polished to the point that the grain loses 65% of its weight.

▲The secret to delicious sake can be found at the back of this cave…
▲… in a spring of clean water

Something few people know – the importance of water for sake

As explained above, water is really important for sake and that is why sake breweries are normally found outside of cities, and part of the reason Ozawa Shuzo was founded in this spot was because of the quality of the local water. Taking us outside the brewery building, we were led to a small tunnel which was perhaps a hundred feet in length, and at the end of the tunnel we could see what could be called Ozawa Shuzo’s treasure: a well of clear spring water. This particular well, which has been in use for close to two hundred years, has water which is rich in minerals and is perfect for brewing the best sake.

▲The moment we were waiting for – sake tasting!

Sake Tasting!

The final part of the tour is no doubt everyone’s favorite: sake tasting! As we sample some delicious seasonal sake the complexities of sake is explained. Sake has different flavors depending on how it was made, for example how much the rice was polished, or the quality of the water, etc. These can be divided into four main types, mature which has a strong aroma and mellow, full-bodied, light and smooth which has a mild fragrance and light taste, and finally fruity which tends to have a floral or fruity aroma with a sweet taste.

▲Sake isn’t just sake, it is really important to choose your sake carefully

These different types also lend themselves to different kinds of food, so choosing sake is very important according to what you are eating or are going to eat. In addition, sake can be enjoyed at different temperatures, from 5 degrees to a very hot 55 degrees. It goes without saying that the sake offered at this tasting session is truly delicious.

In addition to the sake tour let’s try a sake bar!

It also goes without saying that after the sake tasting, and the tour, that one feels compelled to try more sake. Don’t worry – there is a sake bar! From the entrance to the brewery there is a flight of stairs which lead to a small tunnel that will take you to a lovely garden area by the river. By the tunnel exit there is a spring water source where you can actually try the local water, it is really refreshing. The first building on the right houses the sake bar, here you can try from ten different sake tastes at a very reasonable price – and in addition you can keep your sake cup as a souvenir!

▲The sake bar for even more sake tasting
▲There is a full range of sake with different colors and tastes which you can wet your palate with
▲Shops by the river where you can buy food, sake and more

Outside there are tables and several shops. From one you can buy local delicacies, such as tofu and even sake cake, the remaining solids leftover from pressing rice to get sake, from the brewery.

▲The end of the tour – by the river is the perfect place to be
▲Left: Cold tofu (soybean ourd) 400 yen, Right: Innards stew 450 yen

Another shop sells bottles of Ozawa Shuzo sake, a must-buy as a souvenir or as a gift for friends and family, and finally a third one sells food which can be enjoyed at a table on the terrace. After having tasted several sake flavors, including the sake from the year 2000, there was nothing quite like sitting down at a table, eating tofu and enjoying the beautiful valley scenery of Sawai village.

Sawanoi Garden Sake Tasting: 10.30a.m to 4.30p.m
Sawanoi Garden Snack Shop: 11:00a.m to 4:00p.m

  • Ozawa Sake Brewery
    澤乃井-小澤酒造株式会社
    • Address 2-770, Sawai, Oume-shi, Tokyo
    • Phone Number 0428-78-8215

    Open Hour: 8:00a.m - 5: 00p.m
    Closed: Monday (except for National Holidays on Monday, in which case open on Tuesday instead)

    Sake Tour: 11:00a.m, 1:00p.m, 2:00p.m and 3:00 pm
    The tour is in Japanese, but there is plenty of information given in English in pamphlets and other information sheets.

Writer: Michael Sullivan
Cameraman: Iori Iwata

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

Share this article.

Search