Nada Premier Sake District 0
Sake produced in Kobe’s Nada district is known in Japan and internationally as some of the best in the world. A mix of high-quality rice, a perfect brewing climate, easy access to natural mountain water and centuries of practice have made Nada’s name in the production of rice wine. With so many premier breweries a stone’s throw away from one another, the best way to experience Nada sake is by walking tour.
The Kobe Shushinkan Brewery is the most prestigious of the lot and, perhaps, the best place to begin your tour. The compound brews Fukuju brand sake, which was established in 1751. Fukuju labels have won multiple gold awards at the International Sake Challenge and are well-respected among connoisseurs. The Fukuju blue label was even served at the Nobel Prize dinner reception in Stockholm.
Admission to the brewery is free of charge, but only offered in the winter—peak brewing season. No worries if you’re visiting in the warmer months. The Kobe Shusuinkan store adjacent to the factory has a display on the sake brewing process and a free tasting of Fukuju brand sake. The staff are knowledgeable about their products and free to walk you through the rows of sake to find the right bottle at your price point.
For those starting their day elsewhere—like Mt. Rokko, Sannomiya or even Osaka—make a stop at Sakayabashi for lunch. This highly regarded gourmet Japanese restaurant is on the Kobe Shushinkan grounds and looks out on a small garden. Lunch sets run under 2,000 yen and include traditional fare like zarusoba (cold buckwheat noodles) and tempura (lightly-fried seafood and vegetables). They serve Fukuju sake and even offer a luxurious zarusoba dish that is eaten with sake, rather than traditional soy sauce.
Nada Then and Now
For your next stop, walk to the nearby Hakutsuru Sake Museum. Nada’s Hakutsuru brewery has been in operation since the mid-1700s and carriers with it a deep knowledge of brewing techniques. Today sake is produced using advanced brewing technology in factories. But to preserve the knowledge and long-held traditions of hand-brewed sake, Hakutsuru opened a museum dedicated to the art form. A walk through the exhibit will take you stage by stage through the brewing process—from rice washing, through mold culturing and fermentation, to filtering and barreling.
The museum features beautiful life-size models and replicas of the tools used to brew sake hundreds of years ago, while videos at each stage explain how those same methods have been translated to modern factories.
Once again, a taste test is included in the experience, with a selection of Hakutsuru sake as well as samples of their umeshu (plum wine) and yuzu (Japanese citrus) liqueur.
A quick ride on the Hanshin Line from Mikage Station to Imazu Station will bring you from the museum to your next stop, the Nihonsakari brewery. Imazu station is also easily accessible from Kobe’s Sannomiya and Osaka’s Namba and Umeda Stations on the Hanshin Line.
One you arrive at Imazu, a short walk will bring you face to face with the façade of the Nihonsakari factory. Inside is a small exhibit on the history of Nada sake and a great shopping zone for those looking to bring a piece of Nada home with them.
A tasting is available so you can find out what type of sake you enjoy and locate the perfect purchase. If you’re looking for a gift or are willing to splurge, I recommend the elegant Daiginjo sake. Available at most the breweries in Nada, including Nihonsakari, this type of sake uses highly-polished rice (meaning the rice husk is milled down by at least 50%) and offers a light, fruity flavor.
By the end of your walking tour through the Nada district you’ll have be one step closer to become a sake sommelier. At the very least you’ll be able to leave with an appreciation for the diversity and skilled craftsmanship of sake brewing, and maybe even a bottle or two.
Mikage Station is within walking distance from both the Kobe Shushinkan Brewery and the Hakutsuru Sake Museum, while Imazu Station is the most convenient option for the Nihonsakari Brewery.
Both Mikage and Imazu Stations are easily accessible on the Hanshin Line from Kobe Sannomiya and Osaka’s Namba and Umeda Stations. If you’re coming from the Mt. Rokko cable car, take Kobe City Bus #16 to the Tokui bus stop.
I’m an American journalist and editor based in Tokyo. After nearly 20 years living in Japan, I’m still discovering new and exciting places in Japan outside of Tokyo and off the beaten path, such as the ancient “Kumano Kodo" pilgrimage trails and the charming seaside fishing village, Kada.