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Widely enjoyed as a daily drink and for special occasions

Japanese rice wine, or sake, has long been deeply involved in religious rituals since it has appeared in reference works from ancient times, which makes it a particularly special item not only enjoyed as a favorite alcoholic beverage, but also for its use during ceremonial occasions. The process of making sake by adding rice malt, steamed rice and water together in two phases was first established during the latter half of the 16th century and is considered the foundation for modern sake brewing. Many sake brews are made during the winter time when temperatures are lower and the fermentation process takes longer, but some distilleries also brew sake throughout the year regardless of season.
Visitors are encouraged to sample the many different tastes of Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, among others, produced based on the extent to which the rice is polished.


As of January 2015, there were 13 different sake distilleries in Hokkaido. Otaru City has a long history of distilleries because of its early growth as a center of trade and fishing and today three are located in the city. There are two distilleries located in Asahikawa City.


■Map / Main producing municipalities

Sapporo City, Otaru City, Kutchan Town, Shintotsukawa Town, Asahikawa City, Mashike Town, Kushiro City, Nemuro City

Hokkaido sake made from locally grown rice is gaining in popularity

Japanese sake requires pristine water and brewer’s rice with a large white core and that contains a large amount of protein. Although Hokkaido is blessed with pristine waters throughout, for many years local rice had been considered unfit for sake brewing.
However, ever since a sake from Hokkaido using the Ginpu variety of rice won a gold medal at a national competition in 2003, people’s outlook of Hokkaido sake made from locally grown rice changed completely. Sake made from the new Suisei variety of rice has also won a number of awards at this same national competition, which has solidified Hokkaido’s status for producing high quality sake that is second to none in Japan.
Given this success, there has been a rise in the number of local distilleries producing sake made completely of ingredients sourced from Hokkaido.

Japanese rice wine : sake Family

  • Chitosetsuru
    Chitosetsuru is Hokkaido's oldest distillery dating back to 1872 when it was founded in Sapporo. Subsoil water from the Toyohira River sourced from 150 meters underground used in the production process contains low amounts of iron and manganese and is ideally suited to sake production. Tastings are available at the Chitosetsuru Sake Museum in Sapporo's Chuo Ward.
  • Tanaka Shuzo
    Founded in 1899, Tanaka Shuzo is a distillery that produces sake year round. It operates two stores in Otaru City, its flagship store made of wood and its Kikkogura store made of stone, both of which are registered as historical buildings by the City of Otaru. The distillery makes Takaragawa, a noted sake that has won several gold medals at a national competition, as well as plum wine made from local Hokkaido ingredients and hon mirin, among other products.
  • Otokoyama
    Otokoyama was founded in Sapporo in 1887 and then relocated to Asahikawa in 1899 to carry out the tradition of producing the brand Otokoyama, which was popular from the 17th to 19th centuries. Since 1977 it has won a number of gold medals at international sake competitions and established a strong brand internationally. The distillery's Otokoyama Sake Museum contains a large collection of rare works and documents about sake making.
  • Kitanohomare Shuzo
    This distillery has maintained a presence in Otaru, known as a famous site of pristine waters, since 1901. It has continually produced sake from local pristine snow melt since it was first founded. It also operates Shusenkan, a museum that fosters deeper understanding about sake making traditions. Here patrons are invited to taste free samples of the distillery's famous vintages as well as limited edition original sake made from Hokkaido grown rice.
  • Takasago Shuzo
    Takasago Shuzo is a famous distillery located in Asahikawa City that produces the Kokushi Muso brand of sake. It was founded as Kohiyama Shuzoten in 1899 and in 1926 it won Hokkaido's first ever gold medal at a national competition. The distillery uses unique methods to produce sake in ice domes and snow, which produces a flavor only made possible in Hokkaido, considered the land of snow.
  • Kunimare Shuzo
    This distillery began making sake from the subsoil water of Mt. Shokanbetsu in Mashike Town back in 1882. It is widely known as Japan's northernmost distillery. It produces the famous Kunimare brand as well as limited edition original sake and shochu made from sake lees. The distillery's products are perfect examples of the traditional sake brewing methods used since it was first founded.


Sake is made and distributed throughout the year, but you can also enjoy new sake vintages as they are released from January to March or seasonal favorites such as Hiyaoroshi, which is aged for about half a year until fall before its shipped.

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