We invite you to meet master brewer Takumi Sato and discover the magic of sake. This unique drink holds a special cultural significance in Japan, entwined with many of the country’s traditions and customs.
On our Majestic Japan luxury guide tour, you have the pleasure of meeting Takumi Sato for yourself. Take a special guided tour of his brewery in Oirase, and learn the history and importance of sake to Japanese culture.
A simply stunning location, Oirase Gorge is a river valley that runs for 14km between Yakeyama, at the foot of Hakkoda-san, and Nenokuchi, on the shore of Towada-ko (Lake Towada), in Northern Japan. It boasts some of the most picturesque surroundings you will have the delight to ever experience. Drawing visitors from far and wide, this is one of Japan’s most-revered nature havens.
“I know how special this location is,” Takumi Sato says. “And I believe that our sake represents that in a particular way. We capture the essence of Oirase at the brewery and that’s how we share it with others. This is my personal motivation – letting others feel that magic.”
Travel with Luxury Gold and as well as visiting the sake brewery, explore the spectacular Oirase Gorge, a place of special scenic beauty. Wander along the crystal-clear Oirase Keiryu stream, admire the cascading waterfalls and marvel at the seasonal colors of the indigenous forest.
Related content: Mind the culture gap: the Chefs who make worlds collide through food
Meet Takumi Sato
“My inspiration to become a master brewer came from the former owner of the kuromato (brewery) here in Oirase,” Takumi Sato explains. “He had a phrase that translates roughly as, ‘local sake is the crystal of local food culture’.”
“I began making sake in 1990, but I did not become a toji (master brewer) until 2004,” he continues. “Becoming a toji is not simply about passing the examination. Personally, I believe that you must understand how sacred sake is and be mindful of the traditions that have been passed down through generations. I have pursued these traditions with a particular devotion and will continue to do so every day until I die.”
A brief Japanese sake history
Sake manufacturing in Japan began sometime after the introduction of wet rice cultivation to the country in the 3rd century BC. The first reference to its manufacture dates from the 8th century. The technique to ferment rice into an alcoholic drink was originally developed in ancient China.
Sake was produced primarily by the imperial court in ancient Japan, in temples and shrines. Japanese people have continuously refined production methods throughout Japanese sake history to create this truly unique drink, with manufacture by the general population beginning from the early 12th century.
Sake is often (incorrectly) referred to as a wine. This is easily done because of its appearance and alcoholic content. It is in fact made in a process known as multiple parallel fermentation, in which a grain (rice) is converted from starch to sugar. It is then converted to alcohol. Special strains of rice are precisely milled to remove the outer layers, a process that reduces the grain to 50-70 percent of its original size.
Related content: From London to Tokyo: Where to sample the world’s best street food
A sacred beverage
“Sake is the national drink of Japan, not simply because we like drinking it, but because we see it as a blessing from the gods,” Takumi Sato explains. “It is inherent to our culture and way of life, from the religious rites of thousands of years ago to the dinner table today.”
In Japan, sake is served with special ceremony. Before being served, it is warmed in a small earthenware or porcelain bottle called a tokkuri. It is then usually sipped from a small porcelain cup called a sakazuki. Premium sake, of a delicate flavour, is served cold or on ice. Sake is best when consumed less than a year after bottling.
“We commemorate every occasion with sake, from births and weddings to New Year celebrations, Memorial Day and funerals,” Takumi Sato tells us. “Some people drink sake every day, and of course you can, but it is usually served with meals and enjoyed with others. When you drink sake with friends or family, you must not pour it for yourself. First serve others and then someone else will serve you.”
The unique flavor of Oirase
“The unique flavor of our sake is a direct result of the environment here in Oirase,” Sato affectionately explains. “Here, you’ll see we’re near the lake, and the water that flows through the Hakkoda mountain range to Oirase is some of the purest on Earth. Not only is the landscape breathtaking, but the sake produced here is at the highest level. It reveals the distinct umami in dishes.”
“When you travel through the Towada-Hachimantai National Park to Oirase, you can immerse all five senses on your journey. The Japanese culture will enrich and enthrall you. I personally look forward to welcoming you here and sharing with you our sacred drink from the gods.”
Related content: The world’s friendliest cities
Learn the magic of sake, revel in the beauty of Oirase and meet Takumi Sato for yourself on our Majestic Japan luxury guided tour. Be captivated by the beauty and traditions of Japan over 11-days. Travel to Kyoto, bask in the serenity surrounding the iconic Golden Pavilion and see the Giouji Temple. Visit Hiroshima and Mount Fuji. In Tokyo, learn how to make sushi rolls during a private cooking class. Stay in exquisite hotels, travel on the bullet train and enjoy exclusive experiences along the way.