On a dreary, drizzling day in Kyoto, we hopped on the train down to the Fushimi ward–one of the oldest sake producing districts of the city–in search of the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum.
Housed in former Gekkeikan sake brewery buildings that date back to the early 1900s, the museum isn’t large, but ably introduces you to the history and process of sake production. Your 300 yen entrance fee includes a mini bottle of sake to take home (which they sell for 300 yen in the gift shop), and a tasting at the end of tour. Very worth it!
As is so often the case at breweries and distilleries, the quality of the water is credited with producing a superior product, and visitors are invited to give it a taste.
Gekkeikan is the worlds largest producer of sake, and most of their brew comes out of thoroughly modern facilities in Osaka. But here you’ll see the traditional methods and implements of sake making.
Old woodcut seals that were used for branding casks of sake.
Up until this point, I didn’t think I liked sake. I was ready to swig quickly and move on– but this was actually delicious. Of the three samples, I gravitated towards the sweeter variety, though all were very drinkable.
Just past the tasting is the gift shop, with a great range of sakes and sake infused sweets to take back home. You can see why they don’t charge much for the museum; they correctly assume they’ll make it back at the gift shop.
Having passed boats tied up on the canal during our walk to the museum, we investigated further on the way back, and opted for a boat ride down the Takasegawa Canal, along the backyards of many historic sake breweries. Built in the 1500s to transport goods to and from Osaka, nowadays the canal is used only for pleasure.
At first we were told it would be about half an hour for the next boat, but they quickly realized they could squeeze us in with a group of very drunk Japanese businessmen.
My limited Japanese ran out pretty quickly, so for the remainder of the boat ride, the drunkest of the group kept repeating the same conversation: “Miss!, Miss!” (then something incomprehensible to me in Japanese). My “Sumimasen, wakarimasen” (sorry, I don’t understand), only got me off the hook for a minute or so before he tried again…and again.
The boat turns around at the gate to Uji River, where we had a chance to get off, take a look at the tiny canal museum, and the river. And then back on the boat with our inebriated companions.