Tokyo's Sake Brewery Sawanoi
Sake breweries. Doesn't this word remind you of old facilities in rural areas far from Tokyo? I’d like to surprise you with the fact there are about 10 sake breweries in Tokyo Prefecture, and one of them (link in Japanese) is even quite closed to the center of the city, in Kita-ku. I was surprised to hear that for the first time, too.
An important resource for making good sake—apart from rice of course—is water, and Tokyo Prefecture does have large mountainous areas with great spring water. Sake makers can get rice from anywhere, but the availability of large amount of good spring water is very crucial. 80% of the brewed sake consists of water, and the amount of water needed is about 50 times of the total weight of rice during the progress (soaking and steaming the rice, washing the bottles, fermentation etc.). That is quite a lot, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s the reason why you find sake breweries usually closed to good water sources, even in Tokyo.
I will introduce a brewery I visited, Ozawa Shuzo Co. LTD., commonly called Sawanoi in Ome City, Tokyo Prefecture. It takes about 90 minutes to get there from Shinjuku by train, and it makes a wonderful and unforgettable day trip, as there are some other lovely places to visit in the area.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the small Sawai Station on the JR Ome line, you will already see the traditional buildings of the brewery. I went for a free but very informative tour and a short lecture of 45 minutes; however, both were offered in Japanese only. There were handouts in English and though I think the information in the leaflet is very basic, I think it is still worth joining the tour. Usually there are 3 or 4 tours a day.
You can also try the different kinds of sake in the so-called tasting room. However, this is not free of charge, you will have to pay for each glass. They offer quite a variety of sake: Modern and sophisticated sake like ginjyo or dai-ginjyo or a revived sake following the recipe from the Edo Period, which could increase your curiosity on the history of Japanese sake.
I really love Tokyo’s countryside. Around the sake brewery there are lovely traditional Japanese restaurants offering a variety of food including some tofu specialties. In case you hope to have a nice time in the open air without a reservation, I recommend the local food at the relaxing Seiryu Garden (link in Japanese). I really enjoyed their carefully prepared dishes, which are usually hard to get in busy sightseeing areas.
After taking enough time in the brewery, it was wonderful to walk around the area and visit the Kushi Kanzashi Museum (link in Japanese) which exhibits female accessories like decorated combs and ornamental hairpins from the older days, that means from the Edo and Showa Periods. I found the accessories pretty amazing.
You will also find some rafting & fishing spots in the area, beautiful nature trails and the Gyokudo Art Museum (link in Japanese), which commemorates the great Japanese style painter Gyokudo Kawai. However, if you are not so much into museums, please go and discover the historical temples along the Ome line. Either way, you won't regret it to have come out here!