To enter the warren of low-rise, low-rent back streets southwest of Shinbashi Station is to venture well off the gourmet beaten track. These few blocks around Karasumori Shrine are known for carousing, not fine dining. But at least there is plenty of good sake to imbibe — once you have found your way to Nozaki Sakaten.

Among the down-at-heels drinking holes and seen-better-days red-lantern eateries, Nozaki stands out thanks to its narrow but well-kempt facade and bold indigo banner. Further clues that you're in the right place are the wooden barrels by the window, and the glow from the amply stocked refrigerator inside.

Sake is Nozaki's raison d'être — not the cheap mass-marketed version of Japan's national tipple made by the major sake companies, but jizake, quality brews crafted on an artisan scale by smaller regional kura (breweries), especially limited-edition versions that are often hard to get hold of beyond their immediate locales.