Saijo Breweries

Saijo Breweries

Japan’s renowned nihonshu region is still going strong after 400 years


Originally published on on February 2010

Photo by Sarah Cortina

When most people hear the name Hiroshima, they think about paper cranes, the Atomic Bomb Dome and the serene beauties of nearby Itsukushima Shrine. What they don’t necessarily think of is sake. Yet nestled in a valley just east of Hiroshima City lies Saijo, a small town that happens to have one of the most suitable climates for nihonshu production in all of Japan. Thanks to ideal natural conditions—including low temperatures and fresh mountain spring water—breweries have been popping up in Saijo since the mid-1600s.

The historic town is currently home to nine sake breweries. Because water quality is so important for the brewing process, most of them are located in a small area around Saijo station known as Sakagura Dori. This makes touring the town on foot a breeze, which is convenient when you plan to be sampling the wares.

Saijo is also refreshingly foreigner-friendly—after a quick stop at the information center next to the station, we left equipped with English maps and brochures for walking tours. Fukubijin, Hakubotan, Kamotsuru and many of the other breweries offer public tours, though some, like Kamoizumi, are by appointment only. And of course, all nine breweries have gift shops where guests can sample the various styles. Just one word of warning: temperatures inside the breweries average a chill 7C (45F), so be sure to dress appropriately.

Kamotsuru, located next to the ruins of an old daimyo lodging house, offers one of the most extensive tasting selections of the breweries we visited. We were especially intrigued by the Shinkirou, an innovative nigori (cloudy) junmaishu that’s ever so slightly carbonated. Over at Kamoizumi we got to sample the Junmai Daiginjo, a slightly dry sake with a flavor reminiscent of white wine.

However, the most unexpected highlight of our trip to Saijo wasn’t alcoholic at all. Each of the town’s breweries draws its water from different source wells, which can be found popping up all along Sakagura Dori. Passersby are invited to grab a dipper and taste the fresh water; our guide informed us that residents often make use of the wells for their morning coffee. Strolling through the town, we spotted several locals filling up large bottles to take home.

Photo by Sarah Cortina

In Saijo, sake appreciation extends into all areas of life. Kamoizumi has a line of “rice power” cosmetics, while visitors to Kirei can buy Jokamachi Udon noodles made with sake, and soaps made using kasu (sake lees). Saijo’s most famous dish is the bishu nabe, a variation on the traditional hotpot that’s made with high-grade sake instead of the usual dashi stock.

If you’re looking for something sweet to snack on, a popular destination is the Waroda Café in Kamoki Brewery, which serves a fluffy chiffon cake topped with raisins and whipped cream—and a pot of sake to be poured over the confection. The Hiroshima speciality, okonomiyaki, also gets an extra twist in Saijo. The owners of Okonomi Tamatama give their version of the dish a kick by adding a bit of nihonshu to the base.

As we prepared to bid farewell to Saijo, our guide urged us to come back for the annual Saijo Matsuri, one of the town’s biggest events. The festival, which falls on February 28 this year, features sake tastings, brewery tours and a raucous parade through Sakagura Dori.

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Getting there: Approximately 20 minutes by car from Hiroshima Airport, or 35 minutes on the JR Sanyo Honsen line from Hiroshima station to Saijo station.

For information on English tours, call the Saijo Information Office at 082-421-2511.

Saijo Sake is available online via the breweries’ websites (see, and at many major liquor stores in Tokyo.

Address Book

Waroda Café
Kamoki Brewery, 11-3 Saijo-Nishi-Honmachi, Higashi-Hiroshima. Tel: 082-423-8603. Open Tue-Sun 10:30am-5pm, closed Mon.

Okonomi Tamatama
9-7 Saijo-Okamachi, Higashi-Hiroshima. Tel: 082-422-5489. Open daily 11am-2pm and 5-9pm.