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The Mainichi Shinbun newspaper reports on efforts by areas including the famous “five villages” of Nada to be recognised as special to the culture and history of sake.

The cities of Itami, Kobe, Nishinomiya, Ashiya and Amagasaki, all in Hyōgo Prefecture, have joined forces with the aim of being recognised as “sake heritage sites” in 2020.

Japanese heritage sites are designated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as locations that illustrate the history or culture of Japan through their history or other notable characteristics. 54 have been recognised to date, including a 73 kilometre stretch of roads and old post towns stretching from Ikuno Ginzan, an old silver mine, along the path taken by pack horses to Himeji Port.

The city of Itami has long been known as a centre of sake production, and possesses the Konoike Inari Shihi stone which records successful brewing of seishu (清酒, “clear alcohol”) in the town as far back as 1600. (See Where is the birthplace of sake in Japan? for more on why clarity is the hallmark of “modern” sake – it’s still part of the legal definition today and seishu is an alternative name for nihonshu.)

The present-day cities of Kobe and Nishinomiya include the legendary sake-producing Nada Go-gō (灘五郷, “five villages of Nada”), namely Nishi-gō, Mikage-gō, Uozaki-gō, Nishinomiya-gō and Imazu-gō. Amagasaki city is famous for producing straw mats printed with logos or colourful patterns used to wrap sake barrels – the resulting wrapped casks are used for barrel-breaking ceremonies known as kagami-biraki (鏡開き, “breaking open the mirror”), so it also plays its part in sake culture. 

The five cities are holding planning meetings for obtaining designation as heritage sites, and writing up what makes them historically important for sake. The city of Itami is coordinating the effort, and its mayor Fujiwara Yasuyuki said he hopes that obtaining the recognition will improve sake culture and increase recognition for the area.