The drinking culture here in Tokyo is a wild experience after dark, when you can see countless suited salarymen getting rowdy after their nomikai (post-work drinking parties). And no trip to Japan is complete without trying the beloved Japanese sake and experiencing local nightlife. While you’re visiting Tokyo, why not stop at one of these sake bars to quench your thirst and get involved in the Japanese drinking culture!
The Japanese refer to the rice wine as “nihonshu,” which translates to "Japanese alcohol." You can find Japanese sake being served everywhere from 7-Eleven, to bars, to your local izakaya, ranging in price. It can be enjoyed all year round, with sake being served at a range of temperatures, from hot to cold.
Nihonshu is arguably the alcohol that is most associated with Japan. It is a type of rice wine that is smooth and easy to drink, and has been drunk throughout Japan for centuries, having been first thought to have come from China about 2,500 years ago. The methods that are used to produce sake today are thought to have been discovered in the Nara period in the 700s. If you want to learn more about it, check out our Guide to Japanese Sake.
There are so many sake bars across Tokyo that it can be hard to know which ones are worth venturing into. So, we are here to give you a list of the top eight places that we think are worth checking out while you’re visiting Tokyo.
Here are 8 Tokyo sake bars to visit if you're a nihonshu enthusiast.
Nihonshu Stand Bar is a casual tachinomi (standing bar) that offers a laidback setting in the bustling hub of Shinjuku. The bar can seat around 15 people and you can often find passionate sake enthusiasts gathered here gushing about their favorites. The sake line-up changes daily, so people come on the regular. It’s the perfect place to go and meet new people, or drink with friends or include while bar-hopping in Tokyo.
Akaoni 39 is the place to go for those harder to find, unique sakes from all across Japan. They have over 100 different types on offer with a delicious menu of dishes that changes daily and pair especially well with the sake. The bar is in the trendy neighborhood of Sangenjaya and it has a classic Japanese izakaya vibe with a modern flare. Akaoni actually means “red devil,” so beginners beware, as they take their sake game seriously here.
You can find over 150 varieties of sake here in the backstreets of Ginza. Its location is perfect for that little break or pick-me-up before carrying on with shopping. Ginza Kengyo Sake Cellar is part-standing-bar and part-bottle-shop and is a bright, airy space with tastings as well as whole bottles available for purchase. Sake by the glass can be bought from ¥500 and a treble seasonal tasting starts from ¥1,000. The snacks on offer are classic tachinomi-style foods such as braised fish, edamame, potato salad, and some smoked cheese.
Kuri is trendy and feels very in-the-know, another Tokyo sake bar that’s worth checking out. It’s a friendly standing bar that’s home to over 100 different types of sake ranging from pure-pressed to vintage. If you find it all a bit overwhelming, try not to worry as you can have an introductory tour to help you choose which sake you want to try, and the staff is friendly and happy to help. They also have a seasonal selection that changes weekly.
This Japanese izakaya on the residential streets of Nakano is known for two things: fish and sake. The fish is obtained from the famed Tsukiji Market, the largest fish market in the world, resulting in it being super fresh, super tasty and excellently presented. On the sake front, Shimomiya sells around 200 varieties of sake, ranging from organic to small family-run businesses. With such a large array of Japanese sake on offer, you can taste many different types, from smooth to pure.
This conveniently located sake stop is near Shibuya Station which is easily accessible to commuters. Due to this ideal location, and reasonably priced sake, it attracts quite a wide variety of customers. Namikibashi isn’t too formal, is contemporary in style, and can get crowded quickly with locals, which is always a good sign. There are premium sakes available for you to enjoy from the owner’s home prefecture of Fukushima and the food is really good, too.
Akita is hidden on the second floor of Tokyo Station (near the Yaesu North exit), and although challenging to find, it’s totally worth it. You can try sake that’s prepared without additives, hence the name, pure rice sake. They also offer the opportunity to try one sake at 6-8 different temperatures, so you can experience how the temperature affects the taste. They have their own in-house sake sommelier (from ¥1,000), and the snacks on offer include classics such as yakitori.
Last up on our Tokyo sake bar list is Sake Hall Hibiya Bar. They change up the standard routine of drinking pure sake on its own. Here, you can find the sake in cocktails made with fresh fruit and herbs. If you’re a purist, don’t worry as there’s still the option of drinking it straight and they a wide selection from seven sake breweries from across to Japan. There is a seating charge, but the drinks do come with small appetizers.
So, there you have some of our top Tokyo sake bars picks that are perfect for bar-hopping or catching up with friends. If you want a more personal experience, why not book one of our Japanese sake tastings or brewery tours in Tokyo to experience the culture for yourself!