Today, I take you to the Kansai area to visit Kobe! Famous for its delicious (and pricy) Kobe beef, this area of Japan is also popular for another delicacy: sake! Indeed, Nada district alone is responsible for 30% of the total of production of sake in Japan!
Often referred to as the “sake capital” of the country, Nada district boasts a long history of sake-making that spans over 700 years. It hosts some of Japan’s most famous breweries.
But why Nada you may ask? The unique characteristics of the local water and rice, combined with the traditional brewing techniques passed down through generations, have helped to establish Nada as a hub for sake lovers around the world.
In this article, we will explore the rich history and culture of sake-making in the Nada district and highlight some of the most notable breweries.
How to get to Kobe?
You will probably visit Osaka or Kyoto during your trip to Japan so the ideal way to visit Kobe is via a day-trip from one of these 2 popular cities. But feel free to stay overnight as there’s plenty of things to do in Kobe and its surroundings!
As usual in Japan, the train is most convenient mean of transportation. To go to Kobe from Osaka for example, you can take the Hanshin line. It will take you to Hanshin Kobe-Sannomiya station in 33 minutes from Hanshin Osaka-Umeda station.
Bonus Tip: I recommend you to buy the Hankyu-Hanshin One-Day Pass to visit Kobe. This ticket offers unlimited train rides on the Hankyu, Hanshin and Kobe Kosoku lines for one full day. The pass covers big train stations like Kyoto, Osaka, Sannomiya (Kobe) but also local stations located in between these big cities.
The Hankyu-Hanshin One-Day Pass costs 1,300 yen and you can find details on where to buy it here.
To start this tour, we will go to Nishinomiya train station!
Before to start the sake tour, let’s pay a visit to the beautiful Nishinomiya shrine. It is one of the most famous shrines in the Kansai region and is renowned for its annual festival, the Toka Ebisu festival (Ebessan), which attracts thousands of visitors from all over Japan.
The shrine is dedicated to Ebisu, who is believed to be the patron god of fishermen, merchants, and good fortune. Nishinomiya Shrine is actually the head shrine of all the Ebisu shrines in Japan!
The history of Nishinomiya Shrine dates back to Heian period according to several documents! Within the shrine, Omodaimon Gate and Ooneribei Wall have been designated as Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government.
The shrine’s unique architecture, beautiful gardens, and rich history make it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
During the Toka Ebisu festival, on the 10th of January, there’s a popular race that is held within the shrine. The participants run from the entrance of the shrine to its main building. The winner becomes the “Lucky Man” for a year and it’s believed that he or she will receive good fortune during the whole year!
Before to visit our first brewery, I want to answer to this question in more details: why Sake production developed specifically in this area of Japan? Let’s find more details below.
The History of Sake Culture in Nada
The production of sake in the Nada district of Kobe can be traced back over 700 years. There are several factors that contributed to the development of sake production in this region.
Firstly, the district’s location provided easy access to rice from nearby rice-growing regions. The local water source, which comes from the Rokko Mountains, is also known for its purity and softness, which is ideal for sake brewing.
Additionally, the region’s climate, which is characterised by cool temperatures and high humidity, is perfect for the fermentation process required for sake production.
The Nada district is also home to several sake breweries that have been passed down through generations, and each brewery has its own unique techniques and flavours that have contributed to the rich culture of sake-making in the region.
All of these factors combined have helped to establish the Nada district as one of the most renowned sake-producing regions in Japan.
Hakushika Memorial Museum of Sake
Few minutes away walking from Nishinomiya shrine, you can visit Hakushika Memorial Museum of Sake. The museum is named after Hakushika, one of the most renowned sake breweries in Nishinomiya city, and showcases the brewery’s long history and traditions of sake-making.
The museum features exhibits on the ingredients and brewing processes involved in sake-making, as well as displays of traditional tools and equipment used in the brewing process.
For instance, the cart below was used to transport Miyamizu (well water from Nishinomiya) to the port so they can be shipped to sake breweries in the Nada region and Osaka to produce sake.
Visitors can also participate in sake tastings and learn about the different types and flavours of sake produced by the brewery. You can also buy Sake and other sake-related products like amazake shakes in their shop called Hakushika Classics. There also have an onsite restaurant where you can obviously order Hakushika sake.
One of the unique features of the museum is that it also has an area dedicate to cherry blossom culture and history. It’s called Kinen-kan and you will be able to admire a wide range of sakura-themed artwork.
Please note that it’s forbidden to take pictures inside Kinen-kan and I got a special permission to do so.
Even if I’ve been living in Japan for a long time, I discovered a lot of interesting facts about Sakura in this museum! Did you know that some Sakura flowers can be green?
Sakagura Dori Rengakan
Sakagura Dori Rengakan is a commercial complex in Nada that is dedicated to promoting and showcasing the local sake culture. It’s run by Nihonsakari sake brewery. The complex features a variety of shops and restaurants, all of which specialize in sake and sake-related products.
Here, you can sample and purchase a wide range of sake varieties from Nihonsakari sake brewery and you can join a glass making workshop.
We decided to have lunch here and ordered a delicious meal with Unagi, Japanese eel. We used this opportunity to try the sake made by Nihonsakari sake brewery.
In addition to sake, Sakagura Dori Rengakan also offers a variety of local cuisine and souvenirs. The complex is a great place to experience the unique culture of the Nada district and to taste some of the best sake in Japan.
After visiting the surrounding of Nishinomiya station, it’s time to take the Hanshin train again and stop at Sumiyoshi station.
Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum
The Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the rich history and culture of sake-making in the Nada district of Kobe, Japan. This museum is located on the site of the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery, which was founded in 1743 and is one of the oldest breweries in the district.
It offers a glimpse into the brewing process of sake, from the careful selection of rice and water to the fermentation and aging of the sake itself. Through interactive exhibits and displays, you can learn about the history of the brewery and its role in the development of the Nada district as a hub of sake production.
It’s also important to note that a lot of information is provided in English (and other languages), including the videos displayed.
The museum also offers free sake tastings which is very convenient when you don’t know which bottle to purchase.
We finish this trip with the highlight of the day! Nadagogo Sakedokoro is a unique sake bar that I highly recommend you to visit when you explore Nada district. It’s located here.
But first, you may ask, what’s this funny name “Nadagogo”? “Go” means “5” but also “village” in Japanese. So literally, Nadagogo means the 5 villages of Nada. The villages are Nishigo, Mikagego, Uozakigo, Nishinomiyago, and Imazugo.
So the goal of Nadagogo Sakedokoro is to allow you to taste the sake of the 5 sake villages of Nada in one place! It features sake from 26 local breweries.
A very cool feature of Nadagogo Sakedokoro sake bar is that it’s actually located within an old Sake factory! You can still see the Sake tanks at the bar and they are apparently still full of sake.
The owner is friendly, very entertaining and he speaks great English. He will introduce you to the local sake culture of Nada in a fun and educative way.
To order at Nadagogo Sakedokoro, you will have to buy Gogo tickets. You would then pay the food and drinks with a specific number of tickets.
If you don’t know what sake to drink, go for the owner “Osusume” (recommendation). But they also have tasting sets paired with food so you can taste 5 different kinds of sake (one from each sake village).
I hope you enjoyed this sake tour in Kobe. If you love Sake and want to visit an underrated area in Japan, go to Nada district! You will be able to learn all you need to know about sake while visiting the local breweries and you will have the opportunity to buy some of the best bottles in Japan!