Do you know the ‘Big Three’ Sake producing regions in Japan?
It is not easy even for Japanese people, including myself, to answer this question accurately. The ‘Big Three’ references are highly popular in Japanese culture – the trifecta of Toyota, Honda, and Nissan has made this reference globally popular. It is also common to refer to the ‘Big Three’ Cherry Blossoms, ‘Big Three’ Rapid Rivers, etc.
It’s believed that Sake brewing started in Japan almost 2,000 years ago in the Yayoi era among common people. The ‘Big Three’ Sake Spots have a long and rich history that spans hundreds of years. Let’s take a look at the ‘Big Three.’
1. Fushimi, Kyoto
Fushimi (Kyoto) has the longest recorded history of specialty Sake brewing in Japan. For your reference, Fushimi is also known for Fushimi Inari Shrine, which has thousands of Toriis (Red Gateways) and is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto.
Sake brewing in Fushimi began in 1594 when a preeminent Daimyo (Samurai Lord) Hideyoshi Toyotomi built Fushimi Castle and a neighboring town around it. Fushimi has since then been synonymous with Sake brewing which has developed and grown together with the city itself. Today, Fushimi boasts of 24 Premium Sake breweries.
The key to an excellent Sake brew is the quality of water that is used in the process. The underground water in Fushimi has been continuously selected as one of the “100 Best Water Sources in Japan” for many years.
The smooth and mild texture of the ‘Medium-Hard water’, often described as the “Beauty’s Skin,” makes the ideal Sake. Sake from Fushimi is commonly referred to as a “Female Sake,” due to the smooth and mild nature of it compared to the stronger “Male Sake” from other regions.
Fushimi is home to one of the largest Sake brewery in Japan, Gekkeikan.
2. Nada, Hyogo
Nada is another significant Sake producing region in Japan.
Nada used to be the largest transshipment point for goods to be delivered to Edo (Ancient Tokyo) for a long time in addition to being a famous sake region. The Edo market was very quality conscious, and only the high-quality Sake from Nada would pass muster to discerning taste palettes of the Edo Community. This economic reason, in turn, defined the benchmark for the brewers in Nada – to only create premium Sakes that would appeal to people in Edo.
In 1984, the owner of a sake brewery discovered “Miyamizu,” miraculous water that’s exceptionally suitable for Sake Brews. Miyamizu is categorized as ‘Hard water’ that contains a lot of minerals. Sake made from Miyamizu has spicy notes and a rough texture, which is referred to as a “Male Sake” (as opposed to a “Female Sake” from Fushimi).
The last of the ‘Big Three’ is Saijo in Hiroshima. Historically, Saijo has been known for its abundant water sources. But Saijo’s water sources were low in mineral content, and hence this “Soft Water” was considered unsuitable for Sake brewing. However, in the late 19th century, Senzaburo Miura, a scientist whose primary area of focus was water, invented an innovative method to brew great Sake from ‘Soft water.’ He was generous enough to share this know-how with all the other brewers in Saijo. Thus began the history of Saijo city as a major Sake brewing region in Japan.
There are eight major Sake breweries within half a mile of the JR Saijo Station. The most famous brand from Saijo is Kamotsuru. Saijo is also home to the “Saijo Sake Festival” that is held every October and is a highly popular event in the Japanese Culture.
Besides the Big Three, the Niigata Prefecture and the Tohoku Region are also Sake regions that are quite famous. I hope to write more about them in a different article in the future.
Founder of Japan Insider (Previously known as Ryu Tokyo). Japanese-born entrepreneur. Spent his life around the globe, including Tokyo, Singapore, Zurich, Canberra, and NYC. MBA from Columbia University in the City of New York