While sake is gaining more recognition around the globe as a delicious alcoholic beverage that can pair with food easily, it is nowhere as accessible and affordable as it is in its home country, Japan.
Known as nihonshu, literally "Japanese alcohol" (日本酒), sake is definitely a world of its own that is worth discovering when in Japan. However, this clear beverage can be daunting for newcomers with its opaque bottles covered with calligraphic kanji labels. It might even be difficult to tell which bottle in your local Japanese supermarket contains nihonshu, let alone being able to choose between indistinguishable sake bottles.
Fortunately, for those who are completely uninitiated to the fascinating world of nihonshu, we have got you covered in our Beginner’s Guide to Sake and Nihonshu 101: Different Types of Sake. But now that we have covered the basics, there is still the matter of where to buy good sake in Japan.
Sake is produced in almost all prefectures of Japan with some unique regional styles. However, do not fret if your travel plans do not include all 47 prefectures in Japan. If you are just visiting the capital Tokyo, you can still find an amazing variety of sake from all across Japan in Tokyo’s ubiquitous sake shops. In some of them, you can even do sake tastings!
For a hands-on sake-making experience, join the 2-3 day Sake Brewing Experience in Nagano! The itinerary includes sake-brewing workshops, nihonshu tastings, sake pairings at a local restaurant, and overnight accommodation at a 100-year-old guesthouse.
There is no shortage of sake shops in Tokyo but there are some special ones that are definitely worth visiting if you are curious about sake. Here are some shops where you can buy some great sake in Tokyo:
1. Ginza Imadeya
3. Hasegawa Saketen
4. Sakaya Kurihara
5. Department Stores
Located in the basement of Ginza Six, the newest and most fashionable mall of Tokyo’s chic shopping neighborhood, Ginza Imadeya boasts a vast selection of sake from all around Japan. Unlike at supermarkets, all sake bottles here are refrigerated and kept in dim light for optimal storing conditions. While you can find premium sake for all budgets in Imadeya, the real highlight of the shop is its "gift sake" corner, where you can find sake with unique qualities such as aged sake as well as sake with specially designed bottles or boxes—a wide range of options that are great as souvenirs. On top of all that, Imadeya’s staff are highly trained in sake and can help you select the perfect bottle in English.
Kimijimaya’s main shop is located in Yokohama. But if you visit their two branches in Tokyo, Ginza Kimijimaya or Ebisu Kimijimaya, you can enjoy their sake tastings for really good prices, coupled with some delicious sake snacks too!
Besides the attractive tasting options, Kimijimaya offers a premium sake selection that includes some really rare bottles that might be otherwise hard to find in Tokyo. In fact, there is special sake just made for Kimijimaya stores!
While you are in the shop, don’t forget to check their extensive options of shochu too, a distilled beverage that rivals sake in popularity. Kimijimaya’s knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to help you navigate the world of both drinks.
Hasegawa is a well-respected name in the sake business. Having opened their first shop as far back as 1960, they now boast 7 locations all around central Tokyo. At all of the branches, you can find an extensive collection of high-quality sake. Hasegawa not only focuses on selling sake from the big and well-known breweries but they also promote small sake-makers that stand out with their quality. Some of the Hasegawa branches offer a tasting bar too, for those who want to sample a range of different sake before buying. A great place to taste and learn about what makes sake premium-quality.
While the main shop of Sakaya Kurihara is located in Machida, their branch in Moto-Azabu is an English-friendly sake shop that is used to helping foreign visitors from the area to learn about the world of sake. While smaller than the other shops on the list, this place boasts a fantastic selection of unique and rare sake. In fact, they offer limited, special edition seasonal bottles, as well. Be sure to try their selection of summer sake that stands out with their refreshing taste.
You might have heard of the reputation of Tokyo’s department stores among the foodies of the city. Indeed, these luxurious shopping spots are not only for fashionistas. Most of the department stores of Tokyo hide a basement floor that is full of sumptuous food offerings of all kinds. Just the variety and quality of the food sold in these places make them worthy of a visit.
That is not all though. What people tend to overlook is that most of these food heaven basements also offer a highly-curated selection of sake. So next time you grab your sashimi bento from the department store, visit the sake booth and ask the sake sommelier for his recommended bottle for pairing! Among the department stores, Mitsukoshi Ginza and Isetan Shinjuku especially stand out with their extensive sake booth.
When in Japan, we definitely recommend delving into the fascinating world of sake. The variety of sake on offer is mind-boggling and it might be overwhelming to decide which bottle to buy, but the stores listed above are excellent places to start your journey. So go out there, try lots of sake, figure out what you like, and enjoy every sip!
To learn more about nihonshu, browse Japanese sake tastings or watch as Shizuka Anderson visits a sake brewery in Miyagi that's aging their sake in a surprising way!