In Kyushu, a region famed for distilleries rather than brewing, Saga is the odd prefecture out. More sake is consumed there — and less shōchū — than anywhere else in southwest Japan. And that is all the more reason for discovering Kokushu Sakaba, a sparkling new standing-only bar that has recently opened in Oimachi, just south of Shinagawa.
The gleaming, glass-fronted refrigerators hold around 200 different bottles produced solely by Saga brewers. The best-known names are likely to be Nabeshima and Shichida. And here you'll find an enviable selection of some of the finest, freshest brews, many unavailable elsewhere in the metropolis.
You can also nibble on typical Saga bar snacks, such as strips of nori seaweed from the Ariake Sea or an award-winning deep-fried curry bread filled with sweet-spicy Saga-gyū beef. These won't substitute for dinner, but they should help keep you upright as you work your way through this excellent sake selection.
With its designed interior, state-of-the-art nitrogen-flushing sake dispensing system and curious infatuation with Kewpie angel figurines, Kokushu Sakaba seems incongruous among the scuffed, old-school drinking holes that are Oimachi's calling card. But what really makes it a symbol of the area's incipient gentrification is just how friendly and approachable it is. Curmudgeons might object, but this is a welcome marker for the future.
Sake from ¥400; bar snacks from ¥250; Japanese menu; some English spoken