Learn about Japan at the Sake Plaza
By Lisa Hong
Learning about local brews is an interesting way to get to know a culture. Beer from Colorado, USA showcases the river that runs through the Rocky Mountains. Wine from Burgandy, France gives insight to the age and essence of its vines. Sake represents Japan’s source of life – water and rice.
Typically, the best sake come from the regions that grow the best rice. To specify, Niigata, known as the king of rice in Japan, is also known as a champion of sake. Other good sake regions include… well actually, you can determine that for yourself right here in Tokyo!
At the Sake Plaza Tokyo, you get a hands-on, self-guided learning experience in which you can sample different sake throughout Japan. Keep in mind that this center is NOT a bar – it is an educational place, but one that includes alcohol!
To begin the learning process, ask for a tasting list (in English), from which you can choose 5 samples. The store attendants are friendly and can speak a little bit of English (at least enough to help you with the procedure, but probably not enough to educate you).
The list is quite long, so how do you narrow it down to 5 choices? Some determining factors can be:
- region (good water, good rice, good sake)
- dryness or sweetness level (positive numbers indicate dryness and negative numbers indicate sweetness)
- price of the bottle (in case you are looking to make a purchase after)
After choosing your samples, return the list to the store attendant and pay for your tastings, which is about 600 yen. Wait at an empty counter and the sake will be brought to you. While you wait, you can check out the free brochures (many of which are in English) that highlight different sake producing areas and give information on how sake is brewed.
Next comes the fun part – tasting! Sniff, sip, and savor. Don’t finish it too quickly. Drink a little, try another, revisit. Get a good sense of what each has to offer. You may notice hints of cedar, vanilla, or even citrus. Sake can be light, medium, or full-bodied, and good sake is always smooth.
After you are finished, return your tray and make bottle purchases if you desire. If you don’t purchase, at least make note of the area(s) of where your favorite sake was brewed. When enjoying your sake at home, remember to enjoy it chilled to get its full flavor.
You may leave the store a bit light-headed, maybe a little bit wobbly, or even overly happy, but nevertheless, you will have learned something new about Japan.
Wish to extend your learning? While traveling around Japan, always ask for the “Jizake”, which means local sake. Create your own tasting experience!
The Sake Plaza is located in Minato-ku, this trip can be combined with the Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace, Hibiya Park, and/or the surrounding areas.
Address: 1-1-21 Nishishinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0003
Hours: 10:00-18:00, M-F
Telephone: +81-3-3519-2091 (Japanese only)