Thursday 15 June 2017

Tour of a Japanese sake (日本酒) brewery - Ishikawa sake brewery (石川酒造)

My sister Kylie and her partner Paul along with 2 of their friends recently came over to Japan for a week and before coming I asked them what they would like to do while here.  One of their requests was to have a tour of a sake brewery.  Now, sake requires clear, clean water which usually comes from areas sparsely populated, ie, mountain areas so my initial reaction was "a sake brewery, in Tokyo, with English??  Not wanting to shoot down the idea so quickly, I did a search for "sake brewery near Tokyo" and to my pleasant surprise the first hit was an article that outlined 3 sake breweries in and around Tokyo that offered tours and tastings in English!  I selected the one that was nearest to central Tokyo (advertised as 45 minutes from Shinjuku by Chuo line), Ishikawa sake brewery (English website here).  I sent an email to them and received a prompt reply and after a couple of days, had settled on a date and booked a tour.

Arriving at Haijima station we jumped into a couple of taxis (a 730 yen trip) and made our way over to the brewery.  As we arrived, my heart did a little skip of joy as the look of the buildings was quite old and the architecture quite traditional.

Going inside we met Kaiko who was to be our tour guide.  The tour started with the sake brewing warehouse.

Kaiko explained that the building was built in 1880 and had survived that Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and , unlike a lot of wood buildings in Japan, had never burned down, being built with fire resistant adobe materials.

Hanging above the door was a sight that I had seen many times here in Japan but did not truly understand what it signified.

Thanks to Kaiko, I now do know what it is!  It is called a sugidama or sakabayashi.It starts off green in colour and is hung above the door to let customers know that a new batch of sake is under production.  When it turns brown, this signals that the sake has aged sufficiently and is ready for drinking.

We next moved inside the building and the first thing I noticed was how cool it was inside!  I mentioned this to Kaiko and she explained that the brewing process, similar to beer, needs a controlled temperature to function efficiently.

We left the brewery warehouse and walked back out past the offices

past this (which, I think is talking about the river that flows through the area, the Tama River)

and stopped here 

where Kaiko explained that they get the water used in the brewing process from 150 metres underground!  She said that we were welcome to fill up pet bottles with the water.

Next up were a couple of trees that we were told were about 400 years old!

Next up was a massive old cauldron that used to be used for steaming the rice near the beginning of the brewing process.

Following that was another huge old cauldron that Kaiko told us was used by the brewery to brew beer in the late 19th century.

As we headed over to where they brew their beer,

Kaiko told us that the brewery first started brewing their beer in 1887, making them one of the pioneers if the young beer industry in Japan.  Unfortunately, 2 years later the brewery sold off their brewing equipment.  Fast forward 111 years and the decision was made to revive their beer brewing efforts and they now produce a variety of craft beer.

That beautiful little red machine in front of the building

Is an early 1970's Subaru that still runs!  You might be able to make out, on the front passenger side, the early style air conditioning that was used at the time!

The final stop on the tour was at an old well where the brewery used to draw their water from.

Listening carefully, you could still hear the water dripping away 20 metres underground.

This was also in an area that had a number of tables and chairs and Kaiko informed us that there are often events held here where the CEO, who plays the harmonica, often performs for guests.

And at that point, the official part of the tour finished.  We then went back to nearby the cellar shop

where we did some tasting and were able to buy some products.

The brewery also has 2 restaurants on site, an Italian restaurant and a Japanese restaurant so we decided to enjoy lunch in the Japanese restaurant which was beautiful inside and out.

Here are some of the dishes that we ordered.  Some Japanese pickles,

some fried tofu,

some delicious minced chicken patties that had crunchy chunks of lotus root in them and were then wrapped in a seaweed sheet, dipped into tempura batter and fried,

and my main dish which was a nice, bowl of soba noodles in soup with a couple of pieces of fried tofu on top.

What a delicious way to finish of a very informative and interesting tour.  For me, the buildings on the brewery grounds were a highlight.  Some of them are officially listed as Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan, which basically means that they are Japanese Heritage buildings

So, if you live in Japan and have a free day coming up, or if you are visiting Japan and would like a unique experience, get in touch with the Ishikawa brewery and have yourself a tour!

That's it for this post.  Thanks, as always for reading.  Please leave a comment below and sign up to receive email notifications when I update.  Thanks again and see you next time.


  1. Hello Jason... as always an interesting article with excellent photos.I do not recall if you went to the Nadagiku Sake Brewery in Himeji.It has not been around quite as long as Ishikawa I don't think,but it is heritage listed and has a restaurant,bottle shop and the oldest buildings made of wood.I like the look of the pickles,tofu and noodles...have tried soba and ramen,but as you know I like udon a little better.As you know, there are so many varieties of sake(nihonshu),which in Aust. is so expensive,A little bit of warmed sake on a cold night has a lot going for it..the trouble is that once you start it is hard to stop.I usually try a bottle every Christmas...which only lasts about a month and drink it slightly chilled , generally.I like a soft mellow sake..not that keen on sake with a sharp edge..but you can add a bit of spring water to take away the sharpness.I really like those wooden style Japanese Restaurants and the the one you have shown looks excellent.The red car is so so tiny...not that suitable for a tall western man I imagine.The mighty Bombers have demonstrated that they could now make the finals...after a massive victory over Port...never thought they could win by such a large margin.With a rest this weekend,they should return fit and strong for their match at the SCG.
    Well Jason,that is all for now...not getting any rain here since end of May...unusual as you well know for this time of year.Ja mata...all the best in the land of the rising sun...or as a Japanese guy told me the UK(utsukushii kuni "the beautiful country"..his humour trying to fool me)

  2. Hello again Jason,after today's pitiful performance it looks like the bombers have blown away their chances of making the final 8.Supporters have acted strongly,with some scathing reviews and tearing up of membership tickets.At the start of the season officials/coaches etc. thought they had an excellent now appears many of the players were overated...and some supporters are not happy with the selectors/coach.With 8 matches to go, there is still a slight chance of making the final 8,but they will meet Adelaide at Docklands in round 21 and will need to win this match and all the remaining matches to do so.

    1. Hi Noel, sorry I didn't reply sooner. I have not been able to watch many of the Bombers games this year. The Youtube channel that I had been watching them on last year is not uploading them this year. The highlights that the Bombers channel has on Youtube shows only the goals so I cannot watch very much. I think that next year I will get the AFL pass so I can watch all of the games. Personally I think that this year was always going to be up and down. Half of the first team had not played football for more than 12 months so the rigours of a full AFL season were always going to take their toll and performances were always going to be inconsistent. I think next year will be a better benchmark for the quality of the squad.

      I saw that South Australia had a dry June but it seems that this month has brought some rain. I hope it has not done too much damage for the farmers this year.

      Anyway, take care and fingers are crossed for the Bombers!