Okayama and its Special Sake Rice Make this Western Japanese city Sake Central
Also located in Chugoku like Hiroshima, Okayama is the next largest city, and for good reasons. It’s the location where Sanyo Shinkansen joins with the only railway connection to Shikoku, making it an important transportation hub.
Ages ago during the Edo Period which lasted from 1603 to 1867, the city was developed as a castle town and become among the most significant in regional powers. Because of its three main rivers in the northernmost portion of Okayama, the southern flow serves as a natural way to filter the water. This makes it a prime place for sake production, and an even better place to explore if you love sake.
The region is often referred to as the "Land of Sunshine" because of its excellent record of clear days and sunshine.
Brief History of Okayama
When the Meiji government of Japan replaced the feudal system with a centralized government in 1871, Okayama was declared the capital of Okayama Prefecture. Not long after, in 1889, the city of Okayama was founded.
Even before this though, this city had developed as a castle town during the Edo Period. If you look to ancient texts from the Nara Period in the 8th century such as “Harima Fudoki,” Okayama is named as the birthplace of sake.
Today, that’s quite evident in the many available sake tours in Okayama. It’s a beautiful place with plenty to see and taste. Sip your way around and discover why this place has become so renowned for sake!
Why Okayama is Adored for Sake
It’s been said that there are 3 things that must be in place to make good sake – good rice, good water, and masterful skills. Because of its location at the connecting point of 3 main rivers with a southerly flow, Okayama has an esteemed position in creating the best sake.
Sake is revered here, and the high level of craftsmanship can be seen in the stringent production processes. Omachi rice is also one of the key ingredients to making Okayama sake a shining example of this spirit. It was developed over 100 years ago in the area and has been used ever since, lending a deeply fragrant aroma and an undeniably mellow flavour that has made it a national treasure.
It’s not to say that sake made elsewhere in Japan isn’t of fine quality. However, just as different wine regions have their nuances in flavours, so too does the sake of Okayama which has a rich and thick flavour compared to sake from other regions.
Best Things to Visit While in Okayama
When in Japan, make time to visit Okayama, and it will be time well spent. You’ll have the chance to taste sake from the birthplace of it. One of our all-time favourite brewery in the region is the Kikuchi Sake Brewery, located in Kurakuchi city, slightly under an hour train ride west of Okayama. The brewery was founded in 1878 and has since then been producing truly delicious sake!
Mr Kikuchi is the ‘Toji’ (BrewMaster) of the Brewery since 1996. His motto is all about bringing up the tradition of sake, skills and his brewing knowledge on to the next generation of ‘Toji’. He brews Sanzen sake, their signature brew, very carefully through overseeing every step of the brewing processes himself. His excellent skills in brewing Sake are assured by many awards.
Mr Kikuchi is an avid musician. At 5 years old he started to play the violin. In 1974, he founded the Kurashiki Orchestra, where he has served as conductor, violinist, and violist to the current time. Taking advantage of his unique career, Mr Kikuchi plays Mozart’s music in the sake brewery during the sake brewing season. He holds a concert at the brewery every spring where he performs as a violinist or violist.
Make sure to take in the sights while you’re at it. You can see one of Japan’s most famous gardens, Korakuen Garden. Nearby, stop in Imbe, the home of Bizen Pottery where you can get some of the best sake cups around to take home as the perfect accompaniment to your sake purchases.
Don’t miss Okayama Castle, also called the “crow castle” because of its black appearance. It was built in 1597, and you can get a splendid view of Korakuen Garden from your vantage point.
Should all this work up an appetite, taste the delicacies of Okayama. Locals love the sawara (Spanish mackerel), takomeshi (steamed octopus and rice), and hinase kakioko, a savoury pancake filled with juicy grilled oysters. Enjoy them with Okayama sake, and you’ll be living your best life!