Kyoto is best known for its wildly beautiful architecture, like the Fushimi Inari Shrine and Fushimi Castle, also known as Momoyama Castle. Travelers who dig a bit deeper into the city’s Fushimi district, however, discover another key aspect of its cultural identity: sake.
As legend has it, Fushimi sake is especially good because of its water. Expert sake production began with Gekkeikan, a brewery helmed by the Okura family since 1637. Now led by a 12th-generation family brewer, Gekkeikan is making waves internationally. Last month it took home two gold medals from the prestigious International Wine Challenge 2018 Sake Competition for its Tokusen and Tsuki Genshu brands.
In Fushimi, Gekkeikan is both tourist attraction and historical landmark. What functioned as a local brewery for its first 250 years now provides sake to the entire country and world. A visit to the source is highly advised for any traveler thirsty for adventure.
A visit to Kyoto’s Fushimi district can be short and sweet. The residential neighborhood surrounding the sake museum is relatively quiet, easy to find, and navigable on foot or bicycle.
The Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum opened in 1982 to give locals and visitors a glimpse into its rich history.
Hanging in the eaves of each sake brewery, you’ll see a spherical ball of leaves called the sugidama, or sakabayashi (“sake forest”). These are made using leaves from the sacred sugi tree and are used to signify that sake is brewed and ready.
In the museum, a self-guided tour reveals the sake-making process, production methods, and tools.
Between the museum and the Uchigura brewery next door, open wooden containers once used for fermentation loom in the courtyard where they once sat drying in the sun.
Another section of the museum features sake artifacts, advertising posters, and photographs detailing Gekkeikan history.
At the end you’ll be greeted by sweet volunteers pouring free tastes of Gekkeikan products, past and present.
You won’t have to venture far from the museum grounds to find something to eat —and pair with fresh, locally brewed sake, of course. Steps from the museum are several sake breweries and izakayas.
And if you haven’t had enough, stop into an adjoining shop and pick up a bottle for yourself or as a gift to go.