Last month, I visited Japan for the first time in three years. I did not realize how much I missed it until I touched down. I am not one to be very emotional, but I felt overjoyed, relieved, and at peace when I was finally riding the train into the Akasaka-Mitsuke from Haneda. This time, I decided to stay in Tokyo for the whole 10 days I was there. Although there was a lot to do for research, my main reason for going to Tokyo was to visit my 96 year old grandma in Meguro. I was so happy to be reunited with her, while taking other days to visit breweries, and scout the latest in wares and foods.
I was afraid I wouldn't have a lot of options for visiting breweries, being stationed in Tokyo, but I actually had many to choose from. The first one I decided on was Tokyo's oldest sake shop and brewery – Toshimaya Shuzo. In addition to carrying Juemon Junmai Muroka Genshu on our shelves, I felt a special connection to them, as they started out as a bottle shop and bar.
When I inquired about visiting the brewery and sake shop, the president, Toshiyuki Yoshimura kindly replied back, offering to show me around the brewery.
So on September 2, I rode the Seibu Shinjuku line to Higashi-Murayama station and found Yoshimura-san waiting for me at the gates. During the taxi ride to the brewery, Yoshimura-san recounted the history of the brewery to me.
Toshimaya Shuzo, started in 1596 as a sake shop in Kanda, Tokyo. Customers wanted to taste the sake, so they started a bar and restaurant selling little bites. Their most popular item was bean curd with dengaku miso spread on it. In 1923, there was a huge fire in Tokyo, and everything was destroyed. So they rebuilt everything as just a sake shop. It was destroyed again in the mid 1940s during the Tokyo Fire Bomb raids. After the bombing, they rebuilt everything again, but on a different site.
After that, they also built a brewery in Higashi-Murayama (where it still exists today) to make their own brand of sake. In addition to selling their sake all over Japan (and now the U.S.), their sake is offered as omiki (sake offering) at Meiji Jingu Shrine during the New Year!
There is a statue of comedian Shimura Ken at the station, who is from Higashi-Murayama. Just as Yoshimura-san finished his story, we pulled up to the front of the brewery, where Takahashi-san, the sake brewery sales manager and a large tanuki greeted us. After settling in, Takahashi-san took us on a tour of the brewery.
Water tower with their sake brand "Kinkon" emblazoned on it. As it was the end of summer, preparations to start brewing were being made (i.e. cleaning and organizing equipment), but production had not begun yet. Takahashi-san by the old rice steamer.
They now use a mechanized steamer that moves the rice slowly on a conveyor belt.
Takahashi-san carefully crawls to the entrance of the koji room to open it.
This is the old well that was dug during the mid 1900s. It was too shallow, and they eventually had to dig a deeper well that is situated near the water tank at the entrance of the brewery.
We proceeded to the brewery shop, where we tried a bunch of sakes – some of which I brought back in my suitcase and will be sharing with y'all on October 13, 2022
, at our bar!
When in Japan, I always try to take advantage of trying as many seasonal namas as I can.
At the brewery tasting room, they had so many types of Juemon I hadn't seen before including a nama version and a summer nama version!
Me and Yoshimura-san in front of the brewery store. After the brewery tour, as Yoshimura-san and I headed back into central Tokyo, he told me about their latest venture, the resurrection of the Toshimaya Sake Shop. He said it had been a dream of his to resurrect the bar and restaurant idea after nearly 100 years (since it was destroyed in the 1923 fire). The sake shop and restaurant "reopened" in July 2020 in the same spot it existed at originally in 1596. He invited me to visit, so we agreed to meet at the sake shop a couple days later. The heat continued in Tokyo so I was very happy to make my way to the Toshimaya Sake Shop in Kanda for some chilled sake. Toshimaya Sake Shop was very easy to find, in the Kanda Square building.
As a bottle shop owner, I always feel a kinship when entering another sake shop.
A chilled sake flight awaited me as I arrived: Nama Juemon, Okunokami Nakadori, and Tokubetsu Junmai Rita.
A plate of hon-magura arrived.
Yoshimura-san was eager to share all the special bottles they had in the fridge as well as their modern otsumami takes. One of the highlights was this Toshimaya Butter, incorporating sake kasu and dried fruit. Rich butter collides with firm, earthy bits of dried figs and apricots. It was a perfect accompaniment to the crisp summer sakes.
The Meibutsu Dengaku Moriawase is THE thing to get at Toshimaya. It features three iterations of their famous dengaku miso pairing: the classic (plain), the seasonal (which happened to be uni-miso) and cream cheese with miso. Pairing sake with a salty element like miso brings out the umami of the sake. I love uni, so the middle skewer was my favorite. The uni and miso mixed together was a sweet, savory, and a meal in itself. It was a great pairing with the Tokubetsu Junmai Rita.
A bottle I was super curious aobut was the Edo Sake Oji.
This sake is made from rice, yeast, and water from Tokyo. This bottle was originally made to launch with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but we all know how that went. Luckily, they are still making it and I was able to taste this "crazy sake." Check out the specs!
It tasted like a kijoshu to me – a bit like sherry. They take this sake out of fermentation early, hence the low alcohol and high sugars and acidity. We finished the night off with my favorite, the classic Juemon with beer battered corn fritters. I knew I would sleep well that night with Tokyo sake and savory morsels in my belly.
I spent most of the daylight hours in Tokyo avoiding the outdoors, so I was more than happy to walk the two miles home as night had fallen. During my walk home, I enjoyed sights of the Imperial Palace and the safe, warm air of Tokyo. It was nice to be back!