There are several compelling reasons to get off the train at Kinomoto — not that they’re obvious as you leave this unprepossessing station close to the shore of Lake Biwa. Don’t be deterred. An easy five-minute walk up to the old town more than repays your persistence.
The main street is lined with low-slung wooden buildings, many dating back centuries, that bear witness to the local history of artisanal food production. Over the span of a few hundred meters, you will find shōyu (soy sauce) and miso producers, two sake kura (breweries), one of which also makes mirin (sweet cooking sake), as well as wagashi-ya (traditional confectioners) and assorted eateries of varying vintages.
One in particular stands out, both for its architecture and its wares. Tomita Shuzo is not just one of the oldest kura in Japan — founded in the mid-16th century, its present owner, Yasunobu Tomita, is the 15th generation to run the business — the sake is some of the finest. Sold under the brand name Shichihonyari, it was little-known outside the local area a decade ago. Now it’s in demand as far afield as North America and Europe.
Slide open the front door and take a deep sniff. Although Tomita does not give brewery tours, you can sample and buy bottles on the spot. And if that leaves you hungry, go next door to Tsuruya Pan (0749-82-3162), an old-school bakery famous for its sarada pan bread rolls. Or head down the street to Sushi Kei (0749-82-2115) for saba oshizushi (pressed mackerel sushi).
1107 Kinomoto, Kinomoto-cho, Nagahama-shi, Shiga Prefecture; 0749-82-2013; www.7yari.co.jp/en/; open 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Tue.; sake from ¥1,188; closest station Kinomoto; smoking not permitted; major cards; English spoken