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Toshimaya: Tokyo sake since 1596

From a sake shop…

In comparison to Kyoto, Nada and Niigata, Tokyo is not famous for its sake. However, like everywhere in Japan, people brewed sake there as well. Toshimaya Shuzou is one of a few sake breweries remaining in the city.

The Toshimaya business actually started as a sake shop in what is now Kanda bridge area by Toshimaya Juemon. The trade was flourishing due to the ongoing reconstruction of the Edo castle.

The building materials were arriving at Kanda and then to the castle site. So a lot of samurai, merchants, and builders were hanging out there treating themselves with a choko or two of reasonably priced sake.

The oldest shirozake brewery

After a while, Juemon also started brewing shirozake, “white sake”. According to a legend, he had a dream in which a paper doll told him how to make it. Shirozake is a fermented sweet alcoholic drink around 6-8% ABV, very popular mostly among women during Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) celebrated on 3 March of each year.

Edo meisho-zue "Kamakura-cho Toshimaya saketen Shirozake o akinau no zu"
Toshimaya sake shop in Kamakura-cho selling shirozake

Now is February and the stores in Japan are stocking up shirozake for the upcoming festival. Toshimaya remains the oldest brewery making shirozake.

The start of sake

The company started brewing sake only in the 20th century opening a sake brewery in Higashi-Murayama in Western Tokyo. The company has its own source of water, which is coming from mount Fuji.

I came across Toshimaya sake at Edo Tokyo Kirari (which I will cover in my next post) in January. Toshimaya’s main brand is Kinkon, which means a golden wedding anniversary created to wish happiness to the Emperor on his silver anniversary.

Toshimaya sake range

Toshiyuki Yoshimura, the president of Toshimaya corporation, presented six of Toshimaya sake and talked very engagingly and enthusiastically about each of them.

Toshimaya Sake

Sparkling delight

The first was Kinkon Sparkling Junmai “Aya” made of Koshibuki rice milled down to 65%. This is a lightly sparkling sake made by the second fermentation in the bottle method like champagne. It’s a light and dry sake, with a nice bitterness and balanced acidity.

This sake should be a good match for the Western palate, for people who like dry wines. No surprise that Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in Paris serves Kinkon Aya to its customers side by side with French wines.

Exquisite daiginjo

The second sake was Daiginjo “Edo no Hana” (A Flower of Edo) brewed with top-rate Yamadanishiki rice milled down to 35%. Edo no Hana is an aromatic sake with elegant taste. It’s also a dry sake with a luxury feel and taste.

Junmai Daiginjo “Gin no Mai” (Dance of Ginjo) is a relatively low alcoholic sake (only 13-14% ABV) with a milling ratio of 50% made of Hattanishiki rice. It’s a very pleasant sake with a fruity aroma and a delicate taste. it’s a great sake for an aperitif and according to the brewery is popular among ladies.

Bold Junmai

The next sake was Kinkon Junmai Genshu Muroka Juemon, undiluted and unfiltered sake named after the founder of Toshimaya. It’s a hand-crafted savoury sake, rich in umami and with a good punchy finish. Yoshimura san told me that it is his favourite sake. Just a quick note: unfiltered sake doesn’t mean nigori, which is a cloudy sake, pressed through a coarse mesh.

The last sake I tried was Kinkon Junmai Ginjo “Edo Sake Oji” (Edo Sake Prince). It’s again a low alcoholic sake with 14% ABV made from rice from Tokyo (Kinuhikari) milled to 60%. It’s also brewed with Edo yeast, which is rare. The sake is quite sweet and bold (SMV is actually -30), but still has enough acidity to enjoy.

Unique product line

I haven’t come across Toshimaya sake in London before. That’s why it was interesting to try their sake range. It’s a relatively small sake brewery with a product line of around 12 sake. Toshimaya brewery makes 3 types of daiginjo sake, 3 types of junmai (including nama, genshu, muroka and sparkling), and one of each of junmai daiginjo, junmai ginjo and honjozo. There is also one kijo sake (a type of koshu, an aged sake).

Toshimaya Sake Brewery
Toshimaya Sake making team (taken from the brewery’s website)

Toshimaya sake range is quite unique. First of all, it’s one of a few local Tokyo sake breweries with amazing history and traditions. Secondly, each sake in the Toshimaya range has something interesting in the taste or in the brewing method. Toshimaya sake could also be a very good present especially one of its daiginjo sake which looks quite lavish.

So if you are in Tokyo and need to buy a present for your Japanese friend, drop by Toshimaya shop in Chiyoda City and buy a bottle of daiginjo. You and your friend will definitely enjoy it talking about life, the universe and everything 🙂



Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.

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