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Updated: September 30, 2020

In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), various facilities around Tokyo may change their operating days or hours. In addition, some events may be canceled or postponed. Please check official facility or event websites for the latest updates and information.

When you think of Japanese alcohol, sake probably springs to mind. Japan's de facto national drink is made at more than 1,200 breweries throughout the country, and almost every bar and pub will serve a couple of brands—at the very least! Made mainly from rice and water, sake has a mind-boggling, taste bud-tantalizing range of flavors, aromas, and hidden depths, making it truly a drink worthy of the gods.
A fun way to sample sake is at shops that offer a kaku-uchi experience—an in-store standing bar where you can try some of the beverages on offer. Chat with the staff to select a sake that suits your palate, and to learn more about the brewery and the brewers. Through this, you can get a taste not only of great sake, but also of the stories behind it—many types of sake have decades or centuries of history.
The four sake bars we will introduce all offer extensive selections of sake, alongside other types of alcohol. They also have English-speaking staff on hand to give advice. Take the opportunity to work out your favorite flavor profiles, and pair your chosen beverages with the delicious small plates on offer at these in-store bars.

Tips

  • "Nomikurabe" means "to drink and compare." These sets are a good way to sample three different varieties in small quantities so you can enjoy different flavors and find your favorite.
  • Many sake stores will have a diagram of different sake taste profiles (e.g. fruity, light aroma, full-bodied) to help you navigate your preferences.
  • Otsumami are small snacks and dishes to be eaten with alcohol. Order a few, and see how they can change and enhance the flavor of sake (hint: cheese is usually a good bet!)
  • The vessel from which you drink can affect the flavor of sake. Notice the difference between a small ceramic ochoko cup and a thin wine glass.

IMADEYA GINZA

Located in the Ginza Six luxury shopping complex, Imadeya Ginza provides a suitably luxurious experience to match. The store boasts an impressive range of around 400 kinds of sake, including several super-high-quality brands such as Komyo, Niizawa, and Dassai Migaki Sonosakie. Stand at the sleek, square counter where you can enjoy 10 brands while considering your purchase options for later. With knowledgeable on-site staff who speak English, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish, you can be confident that you'll walk away with a delicious bottle of sake—or several!

Ginza Kimijimaya

With their first location having opened in Yokohama in 1875, Kimijimaya has been supplying sake drinkers for nearly 150 years. This branch in Ginza has a cozy and casual standing bar that offers more than 10 kinds of sake for sampling at very reasonable prices. If you visit on the weekend, don't miss the sake tasting sets or the special wines. All of these options can be paired with Kimijimaya's excellent small plates, such as miso-coated cheese, duck pastrami, and takoyaki (octopus doughballs).

Sumiyoshi Shuhan

Hailing from the gourmet paradise of Kyushu in southern Japan, Sumiyoshi Shuhan prides itself on the concept of "field to table." They take a particular interest in both the produce and the producers, and almost everything you'll find here has a story. As well as sake, this Tokyo branch offers shochu, a Kyushu specialty that is typically distilled from rice, barley, or sweet potato. You can also try Japanese wines or store-exclusive beverages, such as Miyazaki Hideji Beer or Sumiyoshi Shuhan's own lemon sour, made with a secret recipe. Once you've chosen your drink, pair it with one of the delicious small plates from the menu, which showcases Kyushu's best producers.

Isego Honten Nakameguro

Take a sip of history at Isego Honten, which opened in Sendagi in 1706! This branch, only a few minutes' walk from Naka-Meguro Station, has between 300 and 400 kinds of sake on offer, as well as shochu, Japanese wine, and Japanese whisky. Isego Honten fully subscribes to the belief that the appeal of sake cannot be told through words—you have to try it for yourself. Stop by their counter bar where you can begin your journey with a list of over 10 types of sake and 10 types of shochu. You can even sample some craft beer from a local microbrewery.