Have you ever joined a sake brewery tour?
More than a few people have tried “sake” (Japanese rice wine) on their first trip to Japan and enjoyed it. You’ve also became a fan? Well then, have you experienced a sake brewery tour yet?
Yamanashi is not just famous for producing Japanese wines, but also has more than 10 sake breweries.
One of them, “Ide-Jozoten” has been operating in Kawaguchiko for a long time, and now an English-guided tour is available!
The only Sake brewer in Fuji Five Lakes
Ide brewery is located only 10 minutes’ walk from Kawaguchiko train station and bus stops. If you find their bottle shop on the way, you can swing by and ask where their brewhouse(“sakagura” in Japanese) is.
When you see this banner flag, the gate is nearby. It says “甲斐の開運” (“kai-no-kaiun”), Ide’s most popular brand.
The Ide family has a long history. They had already started their business as a miso and soy sauce maker in the mid-Edo era (around 1700), later the 16th head of the family started sake brewing using the underflow water from Mt.fuji as mother water. The current head is the 21st, also the president of the company.
The sign is written in English as well for international visitors.
Let’s go inside!
All participants have to arrive 5 minutes prior to the start of the tour.
As we were waiting excitedly inside the gate, a friendly guide showed up and one hour of great fun started! First, she introduced Ide-Jozoten and explains about the process of making sake.
(Her English was so fluent!)
Before getting into the brewhouse, we saw this ball-shaped object proudly displayed near the gate. This is “Sugidama” (a ball made of cedar sprigs), the sign the brewery hangs out when that year’s fresh sake is ready.
1. Into the brewhouse
At the entrance of the building, everyone is asked to wash the soles of their shoes.
As we entered, we were greeted by this giant kettle (bigger than my bath tub). After washing and polishing, the rice is steamed in here. Seeing equipment or machines we don’t usually see excite us and makes us kids again!
Once the door to the next room was opened, I was hit with the “so gooood…” fragrance of sake in fermentation.
Even through my face mask, it was rich aromatherapy. The guide lady told me that that tank contained “Daiginjo”-to-be. Daiginjo is the highest-quality sake made from grains polished to 50% or less of their weight.
Here we watched a video about the brewing process (with English subtitles).
Generally, sake is brewed in winter (it’s called “kan-zukuri”). This is because the main ingredient of sake, rice, has its harvest season in autumn in Japan. In addition, keeping the whole brewhouse at a low temperature is key to the process of fermentation.
Kawaguchiko is a suitable spot for sake brewing, as it’s an area where the temperatures go below zero on cold day in winter.
Even better, lots of fresh water is available here, -the pure underflow water from Mt.Fuji.
When the tanks get too cold, they wrap a kind of skirt around the tanks. Extremely strict temperature control is required for sake making. Beeing followed by pressing, filtration then bottling, the sake brewing process is complete.
2. A short trip back in time
In the tour, we’re also allowed to peek the rooms of the Ide family’s old house from their garden as well. Our guide explained that while overall the house is considered to be 250 years old, it has some parts that are as much as 400 years old!
In the corner of the garden, there’s a “Ryurei-shiki” tea ceremony house which was relocated from Kyoto’s Kiyomizu Shrine (“Ryurei-shiki” means standing up and bowing style).
3. Tasting and gifts
At the end of the tour, we can taste a few glasses of sake, including plum wine made with sake. Yay!
The tour comes with the small glass used for tasting and these postcards of stunning view of Fuji.
I bought two bottles for myself this time : Daiginjo and plum wine.
Oh, and this Dorayaki pancake with sakekasu (the leftover solids made after the pressing process), too.
Even sakekasu gives off a rich and mild aroma…
At the souvenir shop, you will find a lot of Fuji-related items and of course their sake bottles. You can even purchase “sake soft serve”!!
The sake brewer’s new challenge
Ide-Jozoten launched whisky making in 2020. “As a sake brewer, our busiest time was from November to March each year. But now, we also have to take care of whisky tanks and barrels. Now we’re busy throughout the year!” the guide said with a big smile at the end of the tour. I hope the new challenge goes well for the now over 300-year brewery!
Tour at Ide-Jozoten is available as of March 2021.
Please check the Tour Calendar and make a reservation by phone by 4pm the day before.
Be sure to wear a mask throughout the tour.
(The schedule may vary in accordance with the situation. Large groups might not be unacceptable)
If you’re staying at K’s House Mt.Fuji/Fuji View, we’re happy to help you make a tour reservation, so talk to us when our reception is open 🙂
<Sake Tour at Ide-Jozoten>
*source: Ide-Jozoten official website
“Kura-biraki” means the opening of a storehouse for the first time in the year.
For most breweries, generally it means the biggest festival of the year held with their fans and lots of visitors, and it varies depending on the brewer and area.
Ide opens its doors annually in February, when their new sake is ready.
Unfortunately, the event was cancelled in 2021. I hope this happy event will be back soon, bustling with many people enjoying fresh, tasty sake.
*Some photos are from the March 2020 when I visited with our hostel guests.