Around every corner in Kyoto is another temple or traditional shoin-zukuri house, but Japan’s former imperial capital is also home to some of the oldest saké brewers in the country. The rice wine has played a central role in Japanese life for over 1,000 years, so sipping some saké while eating one of Kyoto’s famous, multi-course kaiseki meals can be just as rewarding a cultural experience as visiting a Shinto shrine. Here are eight recommended stops for saké lovers visiting the city, including breweries, restaurants, and historic sites.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
One of the most famous Shinto shrines in Kyoto lies in a district known for saké brewing. In the eighth century, Fushimi Inari, renowned for thousands of red gates lining trails that lead to the top of Mount Inari, was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. Today the gates exist through donations by individuals and companies, and you’ll find the donor’s name written on the back of each gate. Offerings of saké bottles even adorn some of the smaller shrines within the complex.
Gekkeikan Okura Sake
It wasn’t until the Edo period in the 16th century that saké brewing flourished in Fushimi. In 1627, Jiemon Okura founded a brewery here, and today Gekkeikan is not only one of the oldest saké brewers, but also one of the oldest companies in the world. At the museum, visitors learn about the history of saké making and of the company. Over 400 antique tools—from giant wooden barrels to rice boxes—are on display, but some of the most fascinating artifacts include Gekkeikan’s 19th century bottles, packaging, and promotional products. Visitors end the tour with a saké tasting that includes Gekkeikan products only available at the museum, including the dry and crisp “Tama-no-Izumi,” which was the company’s original name. The packaging for the “Retro Bottle Ginjoshu” is modeled after antique bottles from the Meiji period.