Sake production in the Nada area dates back to the Edo period (1603–1868), making it a “newcomer” to the industry. But Nada soon became the main supplier of sake to the shogun’s booming capital of Edo. It was blessed with a perfect combination of factors affecting sake brewing. Water is an essential ingredient in sake production, and the nearby Rokko mountain range acts as a filtration system that provides Nada with pure underground water ideal for brewing. The winds that come down from the mountains also helped to cool the steamed rice used in sake brewing.
The area also has many fast-flowing rivers, which were harnessed to power mills for rice polishing, a key step in sake brewing that facilitated increased production. Nada is located on the coast, which enabled the import of rice needed for making sake and easy shipment of the finished product to key markets. It also benefited from the expertise of the Tamba tōji, master brewers based in the region. More recently, Nada’s sake industry spurred the creation in 1923 of the Yamada Nishiki rice strain, now the premier brewer’s rice. The strain is adapted to the climate in Hyogo Prefecture and is used in the vast majority of award-winning sake.
Five Villages of Nada
The Nada sake brewing district stretches for 12 kilometers from Nada Ward, in Kobe’s east, to the adjacent city of Nishinomiya. It is divided into five “villages” (go): Nishi-Go, Mikage-Go, Uozaki-Go, Nishinomiya-Go, and Imazu-Go. Collectively they are known as Nada-go-go.
Nadagogo is one of only five regions in Japan with a designated Geographical Indication (GI), a categorization based on the belief that its sake has established characteristics unique to its location. You would need two or three days to cover the five villages, but this introduction to the main breweries (kura) open to visitors and some other highlights in each “village” to help you plan a perfect one-day outing.
This well-known brewery was founded in 1717 by a rice merchant who began brewing sake as a side business. The company still uses the Japanese symbol for rice (※) on its products. Sawanotsuru retains a fussy approach to rice selection and on the production of junmaishu, sake made only from rice. The brewery uses the Yamada Nishiki rice strain, Miyamizu water drawn from beneath Nishinomiya City, and master brewers of the Tamba guild, to produce authentic Nada sake.
This is the closest sake museum to Sannomiya, the heart of Kobe. It features a reconstruction of a sake brewery with a display showing how sake was traditionally produced. The museum shop has free sake tastings and sells sake and other souvenirs.
Address: 1-29-1 Ōishiminami-cho, Nada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Ōishi Station
Hours: 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Closed: Wednesdays, Obon holidays (one week mid-August), year-end/New Year holidays
Hakutsuru, founded in 1743, is the largest sake producer in Nada-go-go, and is now one of Japan’s leading sake exporters. The company prides itself on maintaining brewing traditions and is also engaged in cutting-edge research into new methods and materials. It has long worked to create even more exceptional rice strains, and its Hakutsuru Nishiki rice gained official recognition in 2007, following eight years of development. Its sake range extends from premium daiginjō through to futsūshu (“table sake”), together with sparkling sake, organic junmai, and even plum wine.
Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum
This extensive museum in a renovated old sake brewhouse is a great place to learn about sake production. Allow plenty of time to visit both floors, featuring displays teaching the steps involved in traditional sake brewing, with life-size human figures that give a touch of reality. The sake-tasting area offers freshly pressed, unpasteurized Hakutsuru sake, unavailable elsewhere. The museum shop sells Hakutsuru sake and many other unique souvenirs.
Address: 4-5-5 Sumiyoshiminami-machi Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Access: 5 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Sumiyoshi Station, or 15 minutes’ walk from JR Sumiyoshi Station
Hours: 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM (last entry 4:00 PM)
Closed: Obon holidays (mid-August), year-end/New Year holidays
Kiku-Masamune, founded in 1659, maintains a fastidious approach to its ingredients and the skill of its master brewers to produce high quality sake, known throughout Japan. Kiku-Masamune is committed to producing dry Japanese sake brewed using the kimoto method. It is one of the very few breweries still using this time-consuming technique for creating the yeast starter mash. It is also famous for its taru sake, stored in cedar barrels, as was typical in the past. This imparts a distinctive flavor and aroma rarely found in today's sake.
Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum
The museum’s collection reveals the secrets of the master brewers of the Tamba guild. The museum shop offers tastings of fresh and other sake and sells snacks that are the perfect accompaniment, along with other souvenirs. Check out the sakamanju (sake-flavored sweet buns), only available here. Free tours of the Taku Sake Meister Factory are available but you must reserve a place via the homepage at least two days in advance.
Address: 1-9-1 Uozaki-Nishimachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Uozaki Station; or from JR Sumiyoshi Station. Take the Rokko Liner to Minami Uozaki Station; from there, the brewery is a two-minute walk
Hours: 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM (last entry 4:00 PM)
Closed: Year-end holidays (approx. Dec 31 to Jan 3)
Others in Mikage-Go
This brewery is worth a visit for its shop offering tastings of their famous sake and selling a wide range of local produce. Brewery tours must be arranged in advance.
Address: 1-8-17 Mikagetsukamachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Home of renowned brands Sensuke and Kosen. The brewery has a tiny shop offering tastings.
Address: 1-9-6 Mikagetsukamachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Website (in Japanese): https://izumisyuzou.co.jp/
If you are nearby, this brewery has a cute shop offering the full range of their sake and paid tastings.
Address: 1-5-23 Mikagetsukamachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Website (in Japanese): https://matashiro.jp/about/
Konanzuke began as a brewer of mirin, a sweet rice wine generally used in cooking. Now it is best known for its delicious pickles, made using sake kasu (lees), a by-product in sake and mirin production. The site has a historic house built in 1930, an alluring blend of Japanese and Western architectural styles and a lovely Japanese garden. The house has interesting displays related to the Nada-go-go and about the production of its pickles. There is also a large shop selling its products and other local produce, and two restaurants (sushi and soba noodles).
Address: 4-4-8 Mikagetsukamachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo
Website (in Japanese): http://www.konanzuke.co.jp/mukonosato/
Access: 5 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Shinzaike Station; or 15 minutes’ walk from JR Rokkomichi Station
Hamafukutsuru (Koyama Honke Shuzo Co., Ltd.)
While most breweries have reconstructions to show the traditional brewing process, at Hamafukutsuru, visitors can view the actual working brewery facilities on a self-guided tour. Hamafukutsuru uses the natural water from its well, which originates from the Rokko Mountains, continuing the Nada tradition of ginjo sake brewing. Founded over 200 years ago, this smaller brewery has a more intimate feel.
Like many breweries in the area, it suffered severe damage in the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, but the reconstructed facility enables visitors to view the brewing process through glass windows. The friendly staff offer extensive free tastings and there is a separate counter for tasting top range products at a reasonable price. The brewery shop sells a range of limited edition sakes, along with unique sake receptacles, daiginjo sake soft serve ice cream, and a range of local products.
Address: 4-4-6 Uozaki-Minamimachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyōgo
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Uozaki Station or from Rokko Liner Minami Uozaki Station
Hours: 10:00 AM - 4:30 PM
Closed: Mondays (or the following day when Monday is a public holiday), Obon and New Year holidays
This historic brewery has a small but interesting display of tools used in sake brewing, a sizeable souvenir shop with a free seasonal tasting on offer. The café on the ground floor is a great option for lunch or coffee—there aren’t many other dining options in the area. They offer an interesting variation on curry and coffee—flavored with sake kasu (lees). Upstairs is a fancy Japanese restaurant.
Address: 4-3-18 Uozaki-Minamimachi, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyōgo
Access: 5 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Uozaki Station or from Rokko Liner Minami Uozaki Station
Nihonsakari was founded in Nishinomiya in 1889 (making it a comparatively young brewery), yet today their sake is regularly served at the Imperial Household. The company has an extensive range that includes futsu-shu (table sake), honjozo (sake fortified with a small amount of distilled alcohol), junmai (made from just water, rice, koji and yeast, with no added alcohol), ginjo (high-quality sake brewed from rice milled to 60 percent) and daiginjo (top-quality sake brewed from rice milled to 50 percent or less). Nihonsakari also produces natural cosmetics made from rice bran, and health food products.
Nihonsakari Rengakan (Brick Warehouse)
The Rengakan opened alongside the Nihonsakari headquarters in 2000. The tourist-friendly facility features a sake tasting corner and a glass-blowing studio. The souvenir shop sells genshu, unpasteurized and undiluted sake (around 20 percent alcohol), direct from the brewery next door. Sake in this form can have minor taste differences with each batch. The restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, serves Japanese food prepared with seasonal ingredients, as well as fresh sake.
Address: 4-28 Yōgai-chō, Nishinomiya City, Hyōgo
Access: 15 minutes’ walk from either JR Nishinomiya Station, Hanshin Nishinomiya or Imazu Stations, or Hankyu Imazu Station
Website (In Japanese): http://www.rengakan.com/
Hours: 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM (shorter hours April - October) Last entry 8:00 PM
Shop: 11:00 AM - 7:00 PM; Glass Workshop: 11:00 AM – 6:30 PM
Closed: Shop: Tuesdays; Restaurant & Glass Workshop: Tuesdays & Wednesdays, December 31 & January 1
Admission: Free of charge
Hakushika (Tatsuuma-Honke Brewing Co. Ltd.)
Tatsuuma sake brewery was founded in Nishinomiya in 1662. Today, Hakushika not only offers delicious sake, it also creates sake sweets, and shares the pleasure of sake vessels to expand the horizons for enjoying sake.
Hakushika Memorial Museum of Sake
Japan’s only museum dedicated to sake and sakura (cherry blossoms), the museum is comprised of two parts, the Kinen-kan and the Sakagura-kan. Sakagura-kan is the original sake brewery (saka-gura), built in 1869, and features an extensive display of implements used in sake production and videos explaining the processes. An English audio guide for smartphone is available in the Sakagura-kan.
Kinen-kan has three main exhibit rooms. The Sake Reference Room displays themed historical exhibitions regarding sake. The Sasabe Sakura Reference Room has one of Japan’s foremost collections of cherry blossom tree-related materials, collected by Sasabe Shintaro, who devoted his life to protecting and nurturing indigenous Japanese cherry trees. The Planned Exhibition Room hosts seasonal exhibitions including art works from the collection of the sake-brewing Tatsuuma family.
Address: 8-21 Kurakake-chō, Nishinomiya City, Hyōgo
Access: 15 minutes’ walk from Hanshin Nishinomiya Station (there is also a Hanshin bus from the south side of the station bound for Marina Park, alight at Kotsu-Koen Mae, then it is just a one minute walk.)
Hours: 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM (last entry 4:30 PM)
Closed: Tuesdays (or the following day when Tuesday is a public holiday. If Tuesday is included in a long-weekend, the museum is closed the day after the holidays). Year-end/New Year, summer break
Admission: general 500 yen (elementary/junior high schoolers 250 yen) (*Separate admission is charged for special exhibitions)
Others in Nishinomiya-Go
This brewery has a museum, bar, restaurant and souvenir shop for an all-round sake experience.
Address: 5-1 Kurakake-chō, Nishinomiya City, Hyōgo
Website (in Japanese): https://hakutaka.jp/
Takura Musume (Osawa Honke Brewing Co., Ltd.)
This brewery uses traditional techniques to brew in its historic wooden facility and has a shop open to the public.
Address: 1-13-28 Higashimachi, Nishinomiya City, Hyōgo
Website (in Japanese): http://ohsawasyuzo.com/
Renowned sake maker Ozeki has a shop open to the public selling Japanese sweets made with sake.
Address: 3-3 Imazudedaike-cho, Nishinomiya City, Hyōgo
Website (in Japanese): https://sekijuan.ozeki.co.jp/
Getting There & Getting Around
For a pleasant one-day visit, I suggest you stick to one area: choose one or two adjacent go, paying careful attention to brewery opening days. It is easy to walk between the breweries in Mikage-Go and Uozaki-Go, and also possible to walk between Nishinomiya-Go and Imazu-Go.
The easiest way to reach Nada’s sake breweries is on the Hanshin Electric Railway, which runs closest to the coast, connecting Kobe with Umeda and Namba in Osaka. The JR and Hankyu Railway run parallel to Hanshin and also connect the two cities, but further inland, generally necessitating a connection or a longer walk.
More about Tastings & Group Visits
Most of the breweries listed offer tastings, free and/or paid, but you must be aged 20 or over. Note that Japan has zero-tolerance approach to drinking and driving or cycling. For groups (10 or more people) breweries ask that you contact them in advance to arrange your visit.