Navigating the labyrinth of Tokyo’s backstreets, filled with their local drinking dens and street side standing bars, in search of truly authentic sake bars can seem like a daunting task if you’re new in town. How can you untangle this network of bars, and then decipher what to order? Are there bars which exist purely to serve sake? To help you out, we’ve put together a guide to where and how to drink sake in Tokyo, so you can drink like a local during your trip!
A local favorite, Fujita is one of Tokyo’s longest standing sake shops, having been founded in 1928! This unique venue is located in Kanda - an area usually packed with regulars drinking Sapporo Red Star lager, a drink only found in traditional izakaya. Although small on first appearance, the place is deceptively spacious, and there is plenty of space at the back of the venue. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, and there is a real retro buzz in the décor. A family business, the bar is run by a local couple, and they offer customers 3 different types of sake, while you can get a 2 sampler set for only 500 yen. Fujita’s appetizers are delicious! Starting with crackers at 50 yen and pickled plums, their kinpira-style sautéed burdock and other appetizers are 200 yen. In true Tokyo style, the appetizer menu changes depending on the season but it’s always authentic, local and delicious. If you’re looking for a tranquil sake drinking experience, this is the perfect place. The venue is so local, it doesn’t even have a website!
2-10-2 Kamikida, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo - nearest station: Kanda (4 min walk)
Kimijimaya at Ebisu Station
Kimijimaya is one of Japan’s longstanding sake houses, having been held in high esteem since it was established in Yokohama in 1892. This particular branch, as well as being somewhere to buy all kinds of sake is complete with “kaku-uchi”. A brilliantly simple concept, kaku-uchi are essentially standing bars within liquor stores where you can sip affordable samples (in this case 300 yen each) of the stock they have in store; a sort of try before you buy experience. Each and every brand of sake on sale here is hand selected, and the store’s president visits and nurtures a relationship with each and every brewery.
The store has a small bar and tasting menu which changes daily, offering an impressive selection of sake from across Japan. Even better are the small plates of tapas style food which accompany your drinks, and each sake comes with a recommended food pairing. If you’re not sure, the 3 flight tasting set is an excellent bet, and comes with tasting notes and a recommended dish for each glass. On the path to sake enlightenment there’s nowhere better to try, and the friendly staff are always on hand to help you out should you get lost along the way.
Atre Ebisu nishi-kan 4F, 1-6-1 Ebisu Minami, Shibuya-ku
Bar Gats is known (by those in the know) as the place to drink hot sake. Loved by some and hated by others, hot sake is a delicate art form whereby sake is warmed to anything from warm to almost boiling hot. The three types you’re most likely to find are nurukan (40 degrees), jokan (45 degrees), and atsukan (50 degrees). Choosing you sake is easy; there’s no menu as you don’t get a say in the matter - the bartender does that for you. Squeeze in to their tiny 8 seater bar and let the staff choose a selection for you, which will come with the perfect pairing of nibbles known as “otsumami”.
17-2 Maruyamacho, Shibuya-ku
Tucked away down a narrow street in Tomioka is Orihara Shoten, a small scale “kaku-uchi” whose wooden interior, floor to ceiling shelves of sake and just two tables to perch at make for a cozy sake tasting experience. In this one small room are over 150 types of sake which change with the seasons, which you can taste for 300 yen a glass, then buy the bottles you like to take away with you. As is the norm, you can also enjoy some food along with your sake, with a menu which also changes seasonally. But as is generally not the norm, they also offer instructions in English showing how to choose your sake, how to order and a guide to the different types. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, and the owner himself is always on hand to talk you through the different varieties, all of which are hand picked and with an emphasis on small scale, independent breweries.
1-13-11 Tomioka, Koto-ku
Kuri is just a stone’s throw from Ginza Station, so you’re likely to be sharing the bar with local office workers after a hard day’s work! This bar is favored by sake connoisseurs, and the owners are just as fussy - they only stock one bottle of each brand at a time to make sure the quality is good. But don’t be put off, as it’s also surprisingly a good spot for anyone new to the world of sake. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will choose for you, all you have to do is tell them if you like dry, sweet, fruity or grainy flavors - then violà, the perfect sake will be poured for you! It’s not the cheapest spot, with the smallest glass starting at 300 yen, but you’ll have the opportunity to taste high quality and rare varieties, from the freshest to finely aged.
Sakurai Bldg. 2F, 3-19-4 Shinbashi, Minato-ku
Akaonai is the go to spot if you’re looking for rare, seasonal and vintage sake that you’re unlikely to find in other izakaya or tachninomiya. The small plates which you can order to nibble on as you sip some of the rarest sake you can find in Tokyo change daily, so it’s worth stopping by a few times just to taste what’s new. A few minutes from Sangen-jaya station, it can be tricky to find on your first visit, but you’ll be rewarded with over 100 varieties to choose from including "namazake", a raw and unpasteurized sake, "daiginjou", a popular variety as well as incredibly rare bottles.
The staff are picky when it comes to what they serve, and although the vibe is modern their dedication to rare and vintage sake is decidedly old school. Cosy up at the bar and let the warm and inviting atmosphere, as well as the knowledge of the friendly staff float you away on a sake cloud - just be careful, the name of the bar translates as ‘red devil’!
2-15-3 Sangenjaya, Setagaya-ku - nearest station: Sangen-jaya
If you’re passing through JR Tokyo station and feel like a glass of sake, Hasegawa Saketan is the perfect solution. Although it can get busy thanks to the location, the buzzing atmosphere and mingling with local commuters adds to the authenticity of the experience and it’s actually regarded as one of the best sake bars in the city. If you like what you’ve tasted, you can pop next door and pick up a bottle to go. Sample a glass as you wait for your train, or rub shoulders with the office workers and they stop by for a quick drink on the way home from work. They stock modern varieties, and tend to go for whatever brands are the trends of the moment, but the old fashioned sake drums which are dotted around the bar remind you of its historic tradition in temples and ceremonies.
1 Chome-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, 100-0005
Visiting Buri in Ebisu makes for a unique experience; not only is this a standing bar, or tachinomiya as the locals call it, but they specialize in cup sake. This means that rather than having a small glass poured from a bottle, you drink your sake straight from the small cup, or container that’s it’s sold in. Cup sake might not be for traditionalists, but it’s certainly exploding onto the scene as the hip way for younger generations to enjoy sake. Buri is a great spot to try cup sake, as the buzzing atmosphere and walls lined with hundreds of varieties of cup sake will keep you entertained for hours. If you’re not totally convinced, they also serve “mizore-sake”, which means half frozen and is perfect to cool down with during the summer months!
1 Chome-14-１ Ebisunishi, Shibuya, 150-0021
Bright, airy and open, Suzuki Shuhan offers comprises of both a sake bottle shop and an authentic standing area for you to indulge in a few craft beers. Not only specialising in sake, they offer liquors for every occasion; from every part of Japan. These include sake, shochu, plum wine, whiskey just to name a few. Of course, Tokyo’s not just about sake, and locals and visitors alike love a good craft beer. Luckily this place has plenty to choose from too (at a very reasonable price). For a 150¥ corking fee, you can take your pick and enjoy in the traditional way, stood at the bar with good company.
The staff are very friendly, and it's the perfect spot to chat with the local regulars while sipping a craft beer or nihonshu. Unlike some of the other venues, this place maintains a chic vibe, serving various regional sakes in delicate wine glasses. Depending on the time of year, you’ll also get the chance to sample some seasonal sake selections (although this deluxe selection starting at 250 yen per glass). Popular names include "Ishizuchi," "Dassai," and "Kudokijozu", and are served at 300 yen per 90cc.
5-25-2 Negishi, Taito-ku, Tokyo - Nearest station: Minowa (2 min walk)
A popular and stylish “kaku-uchi”, close to Yurakucho station in the up-market area of Ginza, this spot is always busy with business men stopping by after work. Part standing bar, part sake shop, they’re run by the long established liquor merchant Kimishimaya, who are highly regarded in the business. There’s an excellent selection of sake, as well as shochu, beer, wine and spirits for surprisingly decent prices considering the location. They do a great 3 set taster which is 600 yen, and is served in wine glasses - for Japanese customers, this is something of a new trend! - or you can order single glasses from 300 yen upwards to 700.
As well as their contemporary take on glasses, the appetizers here at Ginza Kimijiimaya are not what you’d normally find in a tachinomiya or izakaya; nibble dishes like miso picked cheese, Italian parma ham, sliced duck and smoked mackerel as well as street food classics like takoyaki.
1-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Konoya Building 1F - nearest station: Yurakucho (2 min walk)
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