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Sake tastings mark the arrival of fall

by Melinda Joe

Special To The Japan Times

Sake lovers eagerly await the coming of autumn, when spring’s brash young brews begin to mellow and develop complexity. Unsurprisingly, this season is prime time for tastings, and October means sake events all over Japan.

The wave of festivities kicks off on Oct. 1, or Nihonshu no Hi (Sake Day). First celebrated in 1978, this holiday marks the beginning of the traditional sake-brewing season. On Oct. 1 and 2, 20 producers from Kyoto and Fushimi will team up with local businesses to organize the Kyoto Nihonshu Horoyoi Festa (www.kyoto-sake.com/event/1142), a two-day bar hop in Kyoto’s Karasuma district. Your ticket will get you a glass of sake and a plate of snacks at any four of the 40 participating restaurants and bars. Tickets are ¥2,800 in advance (until Sept. 30) and ¥3,000 on the day of the event.

Those who missed September’s Shizuoka Jizake Matsuri festival (www.shizuoka-sake.jp/topics/zizakematsuri2012_s.html) in Tokyo can catch the event on the evening of Oct. 1 at the Numazu Riverside Hotel in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. The tasting will feature sake from around 30 producers and a standing buffet. Tickets are ¥2,000 and can be purchased in advance through ticket agency e+.

Sake fans in Tokyo will also have a chance to celebrate Nihonshu no Hi. On Oct. 1, Sake Plaza (bit.ly/QkpR1A), located on the first floor of the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association building in Shimbashi, will be serving sake from a taru (wooden barrel) from 12 to 1 p.m and again at 5 p.m. The event is free, and the first 200 guests will receive a masu (square drinking vessel) to take home.

Home to nine sake breweries, Saijo in Hiroshima Prefecture will host the biggest bacchanal of the sake season, the Saijo Sake Matsuri (sakematsuri.com/index.html), on Oct. 6 and 7 in Chuo Park. During the festival, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to this usually sleepy town to sample 900 brews from around the country. You can check out the food stalls and live performances on the east side of the park for free; tickets to the sake tasting on the west side are ¥1,500 in advance and ¥1,800 on the day of the event.

On Oct. 19, the Nihonshu Tengoku sake tasting (bit.ly/TndykY) returns to Tokyo, at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. The event features around 300 brews from 30 producers and includes a dish of sake-friendly nibbles. Tickets can be purchased online for ¥5,000.

The annual Aki no Ginjo-shu wo Ajiwau Kai event (www.ginjyoshu.jp/event/12oct_tko/index.php) in Tokyo wraps up the autumn sake-tasting season at the Metropolitan Edmont Hotel in Iidabashi on Oct. 25. The event, which showcases sake from 48 breweries, draws a huge crowd every year. It’s one of the best chances to taste a variety of hiyaoroshi, seasonal autumn sake that has been pasteurized only once. Tickets for the afternoon session from 3 to 5 p.m. are ¥3,500 in advance (until Oct. 19) and ¥4,000 at the door. Entrance to the evening session from 6 to 8 p.m. is ¥5,000 and comes with a 720 ml bottle of sake.