Tasting Sake in the Japanese Countryside

October 25th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Information

A ball of pine hung outside means, “There’s sake here!”

When visiting a foreign culture, you would be amiss not to taste the local cuisine and drink while you’re here. In Japan, that includes lots of delicious dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, and, of course, sake.

Sake, called Nihonshu in Japanese, is considered by many to be a mysterious beverage. It is often referred to as rice wine in English, but that name doesn’t seem to fit quite right. It doesn’t look like wine, and it doesn’t really taste like wine either. It’s something completely of its own. How do you learn more about it? By drinking it, of course!

Whether you have experience tasting sake or not, you can expand your sake knowledge by tasting it right from the source. Japan’s many sake breweries that have been producing this complex libation for centuries, and can enlighten you on sake’s many styles and flavors, from floral, elegant Daiginjo to the straight-forward and dry Karakuchi.

Nagano has over 80 sake breweries around the prefecture—the second highest number of all prefectures in Japan—where you can taste local flavors slowly perfected over the centuries. Below are breweries and specialty shops where you can try a range of the prefecture’s most delicious sake.
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Planting Rice and Tasting Sake in Hakuba

May 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Report

Rice is Japan’s main staple. It shows up nearly every meal, morning, day and night, and is used in the production of many of Japan’s flavorings, desserts, and drinks. Among Japan’s most famous rice products is, of course, sake, and over the centuries, agriculturalists have bred and refined rice varieties especially for its production.
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Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

May 27th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.

In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.

Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.

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Little Secrets of Kiso Fukushima

February 12th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Latticed wood buildings form a long alleyway to the gate of a buddhist temple.

A picturesque alleyway that leads to Daitsu-ji in Kiso Fukushima.

The Kiso Valley is a very popular destination in Nagano prefecture, especially for backpackers and history buffs who enjoy its beautiful forests and undisturbed post towns. Most visitors head straight for Narai, Tsumago or Magome-juku, but there are eight other historical towns in this forest valley with their own secrets waiting to be uncovered by adventurous travelers.

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The Sake Breweries of the Higashi Nakasendo

January 22nd, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Sightseeing
A white farmhouse stands alone in the midground surrounded by yellowed farmlands. Low-lying clouds crown Mt. Asama and the sky above is blue.

Blue skies and Mt. Asama are constant companions on the Higashi Nakasendo.

After cutting through the forest valley of Kiso, circling lake Suwa and passing through the towns of Nagawa and Wada, the Nakasendo continues into Eastern Nagano. The land here is open and the skies are always clear. In the distance beyond miles of farmland and rice paddies, travelers can look upon snow-capped Mt. Asama, one of Nagano’s two active volcanoes.

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Spring Nomiaruki Drink & Walk Festival, Sat. March 17

March 11th, 2012 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Information

Kami Suwa’s five sake makers organize the Spring 2012 version of the bi-annual  Nomiaruki Drink & Walk festival.

Date & time: Saturday, March 17,
 15:00 – 19:00

Tickets & commemorative sake cup: 2,000 yen
(available at JR Kami Suwa Station and at each Sakagura). A portion of the ticket sales will be donated to a relief fund for Sakae Mura, heavily damaged in the last March earthquake.

This event, held every fall and spring, is a chance to taste the sakes of Suwa’s five brewers: Maehime, Reijin, Honkin, Yokobue, and Masumi. These makers are clustered in Suwa’s Shimizu-machi, an easy 10-15 minute walk from the JR Kami Suwa Station.

In addition to great regional sake, there will be outdoor food stands offering local delicacies.


A 10,000-person ‘Kanpai’ with Nagano Sake

September 3rd, 2011 by
Category: Cuisine, Events

Nagano Prefecture’s sake brewers and sake shop owners have created ‘Jyowakai’ to promote the great sake made here in Nagano. They are planning a huge event called:

‘Kanpai’ Fes 2011
On 15-Sept (Thurs) at exactly 6:30pm, an estimated 10,000 people from throughout the prefecture will make a toast with Nagano sake.

We at Kamesei Ryokan are also registered to participate. We proudly serve our town’s local sake, Obasute Masamune, and will be joining our guests in the ‘kanpai’ to honor Nagano sake.  Even if you’re not in Nagano, pick up a glass of Nagano sake and join in the ‘Cheers!’

I recently had an opportunity to meet some of the Jyowakai members and was impressed with their enthusiasm. Visit their website to find out more about the group.

Hidden Treasure: Motai Post Town

February 3rd, 2011 by
Category: Sightseeing

During a recent exploration with my son, I recently went to Motai, a way-station along the old Nakasendo road. Located in Saku City, it is technically an “in-between” station that caught the overflow from Mochizuki post town on one side, and Ashida post town on the other. I was happily amazed to see such an unmarred Edo-era townscape, with beautifully maintained earthen walled storehouses and not one but two operating historical sake breweries.

Frozen in time?

Frozen in time?

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Obasute Masamune Sake Brewery “Open Brewery” 13-March, 2010

February 20th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Events

Togura Kamiyamada Onsen’s local sake brewery is Obasute Masamune.  Using rice grown in the legendary moon reflecting rice fields of Obasute Mountain, and clear water from a local spring, Obasute Masamune’s sake is recognized nation-wide and has won numerous awards.  The historical brewery buildings, located on the Edo-era Zenkoji Kaido (the old path between Matsumoto and Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City), are full of character with impressive earthen walls and traditional construction.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to tour the brewery before, but normally it is not open to the public.  However, on Saturday March 13th 2010, Obasute Masamune will hold a special “Open Brewery” day so the public can tour the facilities.  Tours will start at 10 and 11am and 1, 2 and 3pm. 

Obasute Masamune's Sake Warehouse Entrance

Obasute Masamune's Sake Warehouse Entrance

Come and join me for a tour of this historical sake brewery — it’s a unique opportunity to see the traditional buildings and the inner workings.

Obasute Masamune's centuries-old pine tree

Obasute Masamune's centuries-old pine tree

Obasute Masamune Sake Brewery Access:
From Togura Kamiyamada Onsen by car, take Prefectural Road #77 north to Route 403 and turn left.  Climb for approx. 3.5km and the brewery will be on the left.  Or take bus #6 from Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway line, approx. 25 min.

One of Obasute Masamune's storehouses

One of Obasute Masamune's storehouses

Website:  http://www.obasute.co.jp