Answers from Our Experts (1)
If you want to really uncover what's so special about sake, we strongly advise traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun. With brands like Kouro and the super premium Hiroki, the streets of Tokyo hold some of the best sake labels out there. So, our Forbes Travel Guide editors caught up with one of Japan's most well-known sake experts, Master of Sake Tasting John Gauntner, to come up with the must-hit sake pubs in Tokyo.
1. Kozue, Shinjuku. Of all the sake pubs in Tokyo, Kozue stands out above the rest — literally. It's located on the 40th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The design's sleek chocolate brown interior of rich woods plays second fiddle only to the stunning views of the nearby Shinjuku district and, if the sky is clear, Mount Fuji in the distance. You can choose from more than 15 different sakes on Kozue's menu, and we recommend this pub as the go-to spot on our list for non-Japanese speaking travelers.
2. Sasahana, Ginza District. Sasahana's traditional and classy approach to sake sets this Ginza pub apart and makes it a high priority on our "must-visit" list. Cedar walls and white, wooden countertops help create a comfortable and traditional atmosphere, while the stainless steel kitchen on the periphery of the dining room adds a modern edge. You can order from dozens of sake brands in stock, including Kuoro, which is a super-premium ginjo-shu sake from Japan's Kumamoto prefecture, as well as other limited-edition brews served in a gourd-shaped tokkuri (sake flask) alongside a copy of the bottle's label.
3. Shimomiya, Nakano. At Shimomiya, the soft lighting, black, high-back wooden chairs and simple main counter place all of the focus on two things — fish and sake. The multitudes of mackerel, pike and tuna all procured from the world's largest fish market, Tsukiji, clearly display owner Koizumi Shimomiya's passion for fresh and seasonal ingredients. However, chilling just past the countertop in large coolers is the true heart of Shimomiya — the sake. Regularly stocked with up to 200 different labels, the restaurant's selection features a range of smooth and pure sakes, including the organic "Five Daughters" brand from the Chiba prefecture and the Taketsuru brand made in Hiroshima by the family of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Japan's whiskey industry.
4. Namikibashi Nakamura, Shibuya. Namikibashi Nakamura, which is situated closely to the Japan Railway Shibuya station, is a modern sake destination, not a high-end, designer pub. The contemporary ambiance stems from the sleek architecture and deep blue tones on the seating and walls. But what Namikibashi Nakamura does have is a premium sake selection, including Hiroki and Kotobuki, both from Fukushima, owner Teiji Nakamura's home prefecture. Of course, while this may not be the most formal location, the sake and food are still served elegantly. It's only drawback? Namikibashi Nakamura is so popular it tends to be crowded.
5. Akaoni, Sangenjaya. With a name that translates to "red devil," it's no surprise that Akaoni takes its sake seriously. Primarily a sake-centric location (the food is fresh and simple), this pub is in an out-of-the-way location, but once you get there, be prepared. With between 50 and 100 sake brands in stock on any give night, you can sip on ginjo-shu sakes including Junmai Ginjo, Yamada Nishiki and Omachi. The atmosphere here is unpretentious and modest, but you don't plan a trip out to this Sangenjaya destination for glitz and glamour. You head here for the sake.