Exploring Sake Culture in Japan’s Rice Capital – Post 1/3
For the New Year I traveled to Niigata Prefecture in the Chūbu region of Japan, facing the Sea of Japan. This area is famous for the quality of its water, which, coupled with the cold climate, means that rice grows very well here. This favourable environment has helped to make Niigata’s rice wine or ‘sake’ some of the best in the world.
During my trip, I took the chance to explore Niigata’s sake culture for myself. There are many small sake producers in Niigata Prefecture, and shops selling sake speckle the Niigata landscape. I visited one in the Kameda area of Niigata City -Niigata Kameda Watago Sake-ten, a stylish and well-stocked sake shop with a very friendly owner.
Established in 1977, Watago Sake-ten is just a 15 minute walk from Kameda Station, which is itself only a ten minute train ride from Niigata Station. Originally, the low-lying Kameda area was used for rice field cultivation, but today, Watago Sake-ten stands in the middle of progressive developments which set this fast-changing area of Niigata City apart. The building itself has been recently renovated, too, with the bare beams exposed in its high ceiling giving Watago Sake-ten a stylishly traditional appearance.
The colourful bottles were beautifully lined up, with a wide variety of sake featured. The owner was very helpful as we selected the sake – looking at the bottles with us and suggesting which might suit our preferences. As we don’t know much about sake, we were happy for the help!
We selected three bottles. The first was a Niigata sake called Gorohachi; a ‘nigori’ or thick, white sake produced at Kikusui Brewery in Niigata. Next was an absinth-green bottle of Chine Otokoyama from Watanabe Sake Brewery in Niigata, and lastly, a sweet bottle of Niida Shizenshu from Fukushima Prefecture, in a deep chestnut bottle. This sake was particular as it was a ginjō-shu, which uses the especially pure central part of the rice grain only.
Because of the frigid weather in wintry Niigata, we intended to drink these as o-kan or hot sake, and we found that the flavours changed markedly depending on the temperature of the drink. The sake was warming, and even for someone like me who only drinks about once a month, they were pleasant and very smooth.
If you find yourself in Niigata, visit Niigta Kameda Watago Sake-ten for yourself and have a taste of Niigta’s sake culture. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Niigata Kameda Watago Sake-ten
2-3-3 Kameda Yotsugoya, Kōnan-ku,
Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture,