links to APDL and KCC link to KCC homepage link to APDL homepage

Roads of Oku: Home

Inspiration ...

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa / Google Map: Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North")

Journeys ...

Spring 2004: On the Road in Kansai / Google Map
Summer 2005: Roads of Oku / Google Map
Fall 2006: Where Gods Alight / Google Map
Summer 2007: Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama / Map
Winter 2008: Snow Country / Google Map
Spring 2008: Full Bloom & Festivals / Google Map
Summer 2009: Fireflies & Sweet Fish / Google Map
Fall 2009: North Country Colors / Google Map
Summer 2010: Legends of the Land / Google Map
Spring 2011: On the Far Side of Disaster / Google Map
Summer 2012: Travels in the Fifth Moon / Google Map
Summer 2013: Far Roads: Finishing Touches / Google Map
Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew

Memorable ...

Roads / Seacoasts & Coastal Roads / Bridges / Ferries / Walks & Hikes / Mountains / Ropeways / Rivers / Waterfalls / Lakes / Trees / Rocks / Caves / Hot Springs / Sakura / Fall Colors / Archaeology and History / Castles / Shrines / Temples / Gardens / Festivals / Food / Drinks
Photography: Dennis Kawaharada and Karen Ono

Note ...

On Driving in Japan

Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland

A collection of essays on Japanese culture, history and literature. Available at (Far Roads Press, 2015).


Wall of Sake, Echigo Yuzawa Train Station, Niigata. Winter 2008 and Summer 2009

The train station in Echigo Yuzawa features a wall of sake, where you purchase slugs to sample sake from dispensers. The wall offers over a hundred sakes, many of which are sold at the shop next door. Niigata is known as the Kingdom of Jizake (Local Sake), with more breweries that any other prefecture. A figure outside of the wall-of-sake room illustrates the effect of too much sake.

Wall of sakeAsleep

More more on saké in Niigata, see "Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew."

Obata Brewery, Mano, Sado Island, Niigata. Fall 2009

After tasting Manotsuru at the wall of sake in Echigo Yuzawa in Winter 2008, I was to get to the brewery on Sado Island. In 2009 we visited and bought its ginjo, daiginjo, and super daiginjo.

Obata BreweryBuying sake

Gekkeikan Brewery, Fushimi, Kyoto, Kansai. Spring 2004

Our first visit to a sake brewery was in Spring 2004. Located in a quiet neighborhood with canals shops, and restaurants, south of Kyoto in Fushimi, Gekkeikan Brewery houses a sake musueum.

GekkeikanGeishaSake museum

Otokoyama Sake Brewery, Asahikawa, Hokkaido. Summer 2005

Otokoyama is one of the well known sake brands in Hawai'i, so we stopped by its brewery when were were in Asahikawa. The brewery was originally from the Osaka area, but moved to Hokkaido to brew with the spring water coming from the snow melt of Daisetsuzan. The water and cold climate make it an ideal place for sake-brewing.

Otokoyama TastingSpring water

Masuichi Ichimura Sake Brewery, Obuse, Nagano. Winter 2008

On a wintry day, Masuichi Ichimura Sake Brewery served passers-by with cups of hot amazake, a sweet low-alcoholic drink made from the leftovers of the sake-brewing process.

Masuichi Ichimura Sake brewery

Saijo, Hiroshima. Summer 2009

Saijo, Hiroshima, Chugoku. Summer 2009. Eight breweries are located around the train station in Saijo — Kamotsuru, Fukubijin, Kamoizumi, Kirei, Saojtsuru, Hakubuton, Sanyotsuru, and Kamoki. We went for sake tasting and had our first taste of nama, or unpasteurized sake — refreshing! In October, Saijo celebrates sake with a festival.

SaijoSake display

Dewazakura Brewery, Tendo, Yamagata. Fall 2009

Dewazakura brews some of my favorite sake: Dewasanzan, Dewa Oka, and Dewa Izumi Judan. We visited the brewery in fall 2009. Next to the brewery are an art museum, a traditional house displaying ceramic sake cups and flasks, and a sales room. We bought a bottle of daiginjo not available in Hawaii.

Dewazakura Brewery

Sake wares

Sake Breweries, Summer 2010

By summer 2010, I had done enough research on breweries to be able to find a local brewery wherever we traveled in Japan.

Among the breweries we stopped at that summer: Okunomatsu and Daishichi in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima; Yonetsuru in Yamagata; Mansaku-no-hana (Hinomaru) in Akita; Dewanoyuki in Tsuruoka; Miyao (Shimeharitsuru) in Murakami, Niigata; Kirin in Tsugawa, Niigata; Koshino setsugetsuka in Joestu, Niigata; Miyasaka (Masumi), in Suwa, Nagano; Shichiken, in Daigaharajuku, Yamanashi

Not all breweries are set up for visitors, tastings, and sales; here are three that were:

We went to the Kirin Brewery in Tsugawa because the town has an interesting legend of kitsune-bi (fox fire, or bioluminescent fungi). The townspeople thought strings of ktisune-bi, which appear on nearby Mt. Kirin, were lanterns in a fox wedding procession. At the beginning of May, the townpeople make-up their faces to look like foxes and put on a fox wedding. Kirin brewery makes a sake called Bride of the Fox. In the showroom, there were bottles ready to pour in a refrigerator. We bought two bottles of daiginjo, one called Shogun Sugi, which is said to be the oldest tree in Japan, in Mikawa, a town just downstream from Tsugawa. (See "Trees.")

Fox brideKirin showroom

The Masumi Brewery in Suwa, Nagano, has an elegant tasting room that sells a $3 tasting glass, with which you can sample from a range of six brews, but not their daiginjo. When I asked about it, she brought some out and poured a glass, after which we bought a bottle (called Nanago).

Masumi BrewerySake bottles

The Shichiken Brewery in Yamanashi is in a former station town on the old Koshu Road between Edo and Nagano. It's housed in a historical building with an interesting interior and a modern tasting room. The founder, Ihei Kitahara, became enchanted by the Hakushu water in Daigahara-juku and brought his brewing expertise from Nagano to Yamanashi in 1749, during the Middle Edo period. We bought an award-winning daiginjo called O-nakaya.

Shichiken BreweryTasting

Gozenshū Brewery, Katsuyama, Okayama. Spring 2011

On the way to Yubara Onsen, we stopped in the town of Katsuyama, in Maniwa, Okayama, and visited the Gozenshū Brewery. The town features a shopping and restaurant street with 93 Edo-style houses. I tasted Gozenshū sake at a Maniwa hotel in 2009 and wanted to visit the brewery, which features a daiginjyō called Kei (50% polished rice) and one named Hō (40% polished rice). "Their original sake was a tribute to the castle lord, Gozen-sama. Conditions for making sake in the area are excellent -- good quality rice, pure water from the understream of the Asahi River that flows through the town and the winters are sufficiently cold, providing just the right temperature for the brewing process."

Gozenshū Breweryasahi river

Sake Shops

The best reason to go to a brewery is to taste the sake before you buy it or to purchase a special sake not widely distributed. Some breweries offer tours, but most tours are in Japanese only.

If you're not near a brewery, you can stop at any sake shop and find a range of sake from local breweries.Most of the major train stations have sake shops in their shopping areas. One sake shop on the highway into Kochi, Shikoku (Fall 2006), was memorable because of two samurai figures perched on a second-floor ledge, enjoying sake together.

Two samurai

We stopped to take a photo, then went in and bought a couple of bottles for the road.

Bottles for the road

Sapporo Beer Factory, Sapporo, Hokkaido. Summer 2005

Beer breweries are another favorite stop. The Sapporo Beer Factory served some deliciously cold beer. A restaurant attached to the brewery served sausages and beer. Sapporo was built during the nineteenth century as Japan borrowed technology and processes from the west as part of its industrialization.

Sapporo beer factoryTasting the beerSapporo ads

Asahi Beer Factory, Saijo, Ehime, Shikoku. Summer 2009

After a hike on Mt. Ishizuchi, we head from the Asahi Beer Factory in Saijo for a glass of beer and sausages.

Asahi beer factory


Although shōchū can be produced from rice, barley, soba (buckwheat), or chestnuts, our favorite is imo-shōchū (produced from imo, or sweet potato) because of its distinct flavor, which some describe as "almondy" others as "smoky." Unlike sake, shochu is distilled. Its alcohol content is higher than sake (16% vs. 25% or higher).

We first tasted imo-shōchū in Kagoshima, Kyūshū, where it was once exclusively produced in Japan. The distilling process was brought from China via Korea. The warmer climate of Japan's southernmost main island is conducive to growing imo.

Our favorite imo-shōchū is Satō, served in restaurants in America, but not sold in liquor stores. It's even hard to find in Kagoshima city; it depends on which restaurant or which liquor store you go to.