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Yuko Mukai, an editor for the Ozmall site, writes about her trip to the “holy land” of sake, Nada.

She comments that as someone raised in Tokyo, her impression was always that sake came from the Tohoku region to the north but for most people it refers to the Nada Gogō area in Hyōgo Prefecture, stretching between Kobe and Nishinomiya. It’s certainly home to a lot of the major brewers that she sees in ads and on posters: Hakushika, Nihonsakari, Ozeki, Sawanotsuru, Kiku-Masamune and others.

The area is supplied with water from Mount Rokko, and benefits from the Rokko-oroshi (六甲颪) wind that cools the breweries. Not only that, it’s close to the massive port of Kobe, and all these factors have made it a dominant force in sake production since the Edo period.

Mukai’s first stop after flying from Tokyo Haneda to Itami airport is Hakushika’s “Classic”, a restaurant and shop owned by the brewery offering sophisticated hospitality nothing like what she thought of when she thinks about sake breweries. There was a queue of people waiting to get in even in the rain, and the white interior was full of people who seemed to be locals. It offered rare sake, sake cocktails, and seasonal dishes to go with them either as a set menu or a la carte. The crockery and presentation were beautiful, resulting in a lunch full of Japanese aesthetics.

Next stop was the shop, where she imagined a room full of 1.8 litre bottles but instead found a selection of sophisticated items that you’d expect in the stylist Marunouchi or Ginza districts of Tokyo. Ochoko and masu with the Hakushika logo, miniature casks, tote bags and other items with stylish designs. There was sake too, of course, with a special limited edition shiboritate genshu on sale that day. Hakutaka, Nihonsakari and Ozeki – there are plenty of breweries within walking distance, many with observation visits, restaurants and shops so it’s a treat for foodies.

She then headed west to Kobe, home of Hamafukutsuru, Kiku-Masamune, Sawanotsuru and the Kobe Shushinkan operated by Fukuju, plus the famous old pickled vegetable maker Konanzuke who sell perfect sake snacks as well as everyday side dishes and seasonings. The larger breweries have museums with easy-to-understand exhibits on traditional brewing processes, which are either free or just a few hundred yen to visit, making them very reasonable.

Mukai was worried that she would lose track of what was what when visiting so many breweries, but the characteristics of each one stood out clearly and there was infinite variety in the flavours of their sake. There were so many things only available at that brewery or in this season that she felt she had to try everything, and more sake meant more snacks, and the merchandise was so nice… it ended up being hard on her wallet.

Everywhere had a shop, full of sake that was only available at the brewery as well as snacks, skincare and original merchandise, amazake and sakekasu (which she describes as aimed at women) and plenty of stylish and original goods aimed at the ladies. It was nothing like what she imagined a brewery would be.

And there was a reason – all of these breweries were badly hit in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, decimating their buildings and equipment. So they had to rebuild, leading to the modern, customer-focused facilities they have today. They’ve survived war, natural disaster and the collapse of their domestic market, and Mukai was full of admiration for their continued determination to appeal to new markets such as Japanese women and overseas consumers. She returned to Haneda from Kobe airport, with the flight taking just over an hour.