Kobe Stories and Tips

Tour Sake Museums and Breweries

The Nada district, just outside of Kobe, is famous for its sake breweries. Sake, the traditional Japanese rice wine, was historically produced in the Nada area because of the availability of clean mountain stream water, rice from the surrounding area, and a climate favorable for the brewing. There are still a dozen different sake breweries in the neighborhood today and you can visit them as an quick side-trip from Kobe.

I took the 20 minute train ride from Kobe one sunny midday to visit some of the breweries and sample some of their sake. I'm not a sake connoisseur, nor even a particularly big fan of the drink, but I had an interesting couple hours and learned a bit about how sake is made.

After getting off at Uozaki train station, I followed the pleasant path along the canal stream to my first establishment (chosen mostly at random from the tourism map), the Kiku-Masamune Sake Museum. The museum features a film describing how sake was traditionally made (before WW II), with old black & white footage and English commentary which really does a good job of showing how incredibly labor intensive the process was, as well as requiring the expertise of the brew master who knew the required time when to proceed with each step in order to get an ideal product. The film also explains the various grades of sake and how the polishing of the rice affects the quality. After the film, the museum has several implements from the traditional process, such as the barrels and giant stirring paddles, that you can examine and pose with. After that comes the sake tasting. I enjoyed the tasting here very much as they take the time to tell you what you are drinking, you get some personal attention to answer your questions, and you get to sample different grades of sake, so you can really learn the difference between a fine sake and an everyday one.

Next, I walked to the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum, a much larger place housed in what was once a warehouse for the brewery. In your self-guided tour here, you walk around to several stations on two floors of the former warehouse, where full size dioramas or artifacts/implements from the traditional brewing period are displayed, and you push a button for audio commentary (English is available). It was well presented and nicely complementary to the other museum's film. Hakutsuru is a much larger organization and shop than the other, so the tasting experience is much less personalized. They have a wider range of products here, including non-traditional sake blends.

I had an enjoyable time, but I was disappointed in a couple respects: First it was a little disillusioning to learn that it's all a modern stainless steel process now, done by automated machinery. I was also disappointed that most of what I got to see was only museums, not actual breweries. Even touring a modern factory would have been fun.

To reach the Nada sake district, take the JR Hanshin line from Kobe's Sanomiya train station. I got off at the Uozaki stop, but there are other stops, such as Saniyoshi, that would work also. Before boarding the train, take care that you have a train which includes these stops and isn't an express route that would pass them by. Trains are pretty frequent and you buy a ticket at the automated machines in the station and you shouldn't have to wait more than a half-hour for a train going that direction.
There is a common Nada Sake tourism brochure you'll easily find in Kobe with a little map showing a walking route you can follow to most of the breweries/museums. Beware of this map, as I found its scale very inconsistent, where something that looked like a 5 minute walk turned into 15. There are also supposedly signs marking the route between the museums, but the couple I was walking with and I had a hard time finding very many of those signs.

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