Otokoyama Sake Brewery, based in the fishing port of Kesennuma, has been quietly exploring the new frontier of Japanese sake: aging rice wine underwater. Starting in 2006, the brewers at Otokoyama have been tinkering with the conditions of their underwater fermentation project, adjusting the depth, aging time, and packaging method, and letting nature take care of the rest. They found that after fermenting for between six months to one year, their nihonshu had a pleasant balance of flavors. A buzz of excitement surrounds each new haul of sake, with slight variations in its taste depending on the water temperature and wave patterns.
The sake retrieval and storage expedition starts at the Otokoyama Main Store, where visitors will get a chance to tour the brewery with an English-speaking guide. Then, the sake bottles are prepared, with each member of the sake storage crew writing a note to the next retrieval team, to be attached to a bottle of sake.
After the bottles are prepared in water-tight packaging, the group will travel to a local oyster farm and hop aboard an oyster fisherman’s boat. Sailing past the oyster farms, with seagulls gliding overhead, and the diminishing shoreline in the distance, the sense of anticipation to taste this season’s aged sake is heightened.
Upon reaching the underwater treasure trove’s location, the boat will halt and the fisherman will haul up the basket of sake bottles, which was swaying 15 meters below the waterline. It’s a spectacle to behold, the aged bottles of sake decorated with months worth of seaweed and sea life, especially when compared to the fresh basket of sake, ready for fermentation.
Once the new batch is stored, the boat will return to shore for the celebrations. On land, a tasting awaits, and guests can compare the fermented sake with the fresh while enjoying a meal of Kesennuma delicacies.
Japanese sake brewery tour
Transportation during the tour
Japanese sake tasting
A small bottle of sake and a sake cup as a souvenir
Meeting Point and Meeting Time
From Kesennuma Station, walk (30 minutes) or take a taxi (10 minutes) to Otokoyama Main Store (address: 3Chome -8 Irisawa, Kesennuma, Miyagi 988-0013)
As fermentation takes at least six months and few bottles can be stored at a time, there are limited spots available for this sake retrieval voyage.
Please do not wear perfume.
Please do not eat natto or yogurt (this may disrupt the balance of the yeast and bacteria involved in brewing sake).
Guests must be at least 20 years old (the legal drinking age in Japan) to participate.