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Jan 10, 2011 03:37 AM

Sake Season Underway: your favorite spots in Tokyo?

This time of year is when the really good sake is released from the many artisan kura all over Japan. It's a great time to pay a visit to your favorite sake specialty izakaya and try some of the truly wonderful products while they are still very fresh.

In the greater Tokyo area, what are your favorite places to have really good sake?
I am fortunate to live about seven minutes away from what I consider one of the best places in Tokyo.

How about you?

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  1. A very interesting and timely idea for a topic.

    For best combination of great food and unusual sake, I'd pick Galali in Gaienmae/Aoyama (grilled meats and fish); Souten Minami-guchi branch in Otsuka (yakitori); Kushibeh in Koenji (yakitori); and Tenmatsu in Shimo-Kitazawa (kushiage and oden).

    Just for unusual and limited-edition sake (although some of these places have decent food too) - Tengumai in Nishi-Shinjuku (Kaga-ryori); Sakaoto in Yotsuya (a tiny place that serves good grilled fish); Kohju in Shimbashi (izakaya); Kuri in Shimbashi (sake bar); Hasegawa in Tokyo station (sake bar); Daruma in Tokyo station (izakaya); Toki no Ma in Ebisu (Kyushu-ryori); and Sasagin in Yoyogi-Uehara (izakaya).

    1. I went once to Akaoni in Sangenjaya and loved it. That's about as "shitamachi" as you can get for Setagaya-ku.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        I second Akaoni in terms of sake, but a recent visit confirmed that service and cost performance are somewhat wanting.
        My list would be:
        Honoka in Musashi-Koyama (food and a seriously good sake list)
        Akaoni (sake & possibly the best ankimo in town
        )Kan & Owan both in Ikejiri Ohashi (food, sake and style)
        Kawashima in Musashi-Koyama (for the randomness)

        no doubt jem589 will have great list of 'go-to' places to contribute.

        1. re: wekabeka

          I went to Honoka on your recommendation and it was great!! (I live in Nishi-Koyama so love that it's nearby!) The grilled miso is next level! What is Kawashima like?
          I am sort of just getting into sake and would love to become a bit more educated so I actually know what I'm ordering.. I usually just ask for "refreshing" tasting recommendations. Are there any like tasting classes or anything I could go to?

          1. re: hello_liza

            I bet that Beks would be happy to have a tasting class with you!
            I really will try to organize something soon and post it here - not that I know anything, but it sure is fun to drink.

            1. re: hello_liza

              Great little place, isn't it? Glad you enjoyed it, too. As we are probably neighbours I would be happy to visit Kawashima with you. It is a completely different experience to Honoka, but still thoroughly enjoyable - that is if you don't mind a bit of clutter with your sake. Drop me a line - my email is listed on my blog profile.

              1. re: hello_liza

                sorry @hello_liza, i forgot to add the link to my blog. you can get in touch with me through that email.


              2. re: wekabeka

                Honoka Sake Dining, after one visit, is immediately bumped into my rotation of must visits when I'm in Tokyo. This place is a true gem. A tiny temple really to Nihonshu. Excellent list and a menu specifically geared to drinking. This is not an izakaya with a big sake menu nor really even a dining bar. It is sake dining through and through. We went through probably 20 different sake each and worked a good way through the grilled miso scoops as well. Not too mention many of the other bits on the food menu. The homemade tofu was quite good. The sashimi was a little "imaiichi" though. Just not a great selection. Foods are very simple, many of the preserved nature.

                They are serious about their sake here. No draft beer and no shochu. The table literature how to appreciate sake, how to analyze it, as well as the thoroughly broken down menu are all very approachable. They are not sake nazis. Just passionate advocates. And the prices are really, well, Mushashi Koyama-ly priced.

                My only regret is that we were joined by a third person in our party and got bumped to the kind of lonely second floor. Next time I'd like to sit downstairs at the counter. But after a dip in the Shimizu-yu onsen on the other side of Musashi Koyama Station, this was a perfect round of night caps.

                Location is 3 minutes from Mushashi Koyama station along the east side of the high school and between two izakaya. Pretty much need reservations and if you can't speak or read Japanese, I'm not sure how the will deal with you. Probably not for tourists unless you can get someone to arrange for you. Also, it's tight in there.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  Glad you enjoyed it! This little gem is only few minutes from my house, so I'm lucky enough to be able to visit it regularly - much to the detriment of my poor, aching liver. The past two months have been great for tasting the new season's releases and to chat with Takisawa-san about his favourites. If you want to pick up some of the sake you liked, head one stop west to Nishi-Koyama station and visit Kagaya - an excellent sakeya which services many of the sake specialist restaurants around town.
                  BTW, thank you for pointing out that this shop is not suitable for non-Japanese speakers... I just hope people take heed. I've had comments from staff at Akaoni that they are getting a lot of non-Japanese speaking foreigners in recently, and they just don't have the time to babysit customers through the ordering process. Anyone who has seen the sake menus at Honoka and Akaoni will understand why explaining them would be incredibly stressful for non-English speaking staff.

                  1. re: wekabeka

                    Yeah I arrived early and could see a pressing moment of anxiety on their faces before I started speaking.

                    Musashi Koyama looks good. I like what they've done with the place, 'cept the Tokyo Station complex could have been more tastefully done I thought.

                    After Honoka, we went to Jiraya Ramen, which is on the other side of the train line, on the corner where the trestle used to be. I had "discovered" that shop years ago and loved the shoyu ramen and the chashu. It was a one man operation and the guy had a little countertop dishwasher and also, listened non-stop to old CCR.

                    Went back the other night and absolutely nothing had changed. Same guy, same good ramen, same dishwasher, same CCR. Only thing different was the train line of course is underground now.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Musashi-Koyama is great full-stop. Despite some attempts at gentrification, it's still a little shita-machi at heart...which always translates as 'good eats' to me.
                      Further up this thread I mentioned Kawashima: okay food, great sake & idiosyncratic service - possibly the most random izakaya I've ever come a good way.
                      I've also just 'discovered' another sake specialist a few blocks away from Honoka, called Shin Shin - great food with an interesting list of jizake from well-regarded, as well as obscure, kura. Worth a visit.

              3. re: Silverjay

                Moto. Actually, it's called 日本酒スタンド酛 . I almost forgot I went to this place in Shinjuku because I had such a good time and it was the second stop of the evening. It's on Yasukuni-dori on a corner on the edge of Kabukicho on the B1 level. It's just a small, stylish sake-centric "tachinomi". They have a small kitchen and cook up sake matching small items. The sake selection is modest but dedicated. It's good place to pop in or round out the night. Seems to have developed a pretty good following based on some regulars coming in. It was the kind of place where everyone joined in the conversation, but not in a gritty oyaji kind of way.


              4. Sake no Ana in Ginza has a selection of over 100 sakes and some very knowledgable staff to go with it. If you become a regular, they will come up with additional, rare sakes that are not on the menu, and you can try many different styles of sake from many different regions.

                The food is standard izakaya fare with sashimi, tempura and yuzu kosho paste pork the main attractions. Nothing special about the food, but the sake selection is good and varied, and prices are normal izakaya prices rather than Ginza prices.

                If you want lots of good recommendations (in English), check out John Gaunter's website ("the sake guy").

                1. Wait, when is it NOT sake season?

                  I really had sake on the brain last year. So much that at times I've felt like I must have been to all the good places. Every time I think that, someone recommends some new places and it starts again. Moto looks cool aside from the standing aspect, and Robb's list has a bunch of things I'd like to try (and some that I've liked, like Kohju (the Kanda branch) and Tokinoma).

                  I've summarized my thoughts on the best izakayas on a static page (, and sake is one of the categories, but here's a quick overview:
                  Per Robb's 'food and drink' thing: Koyu in Nezu is more food than drink; awesome food but still 20-ish good sakes. Ishii in Shinbashi is outstanding on sake and good on food. Beks mentioned Honoka, that's great. I recently went to Moromiya in Nihonbashi and loved it. Yamato in Morishita is modernized and has a differentiated list of brewers.

                  As purer sake specialists who still have decent / good food, Omasa Komasa in Higashi Nakano is insane. So is Tamanegiya in Kagurazaka, but more for the koshu. Nekoya in Tsukiji is cat-themed and kimono-hostessed. Dajare in Akasaka is sort of 'sake salon' but not in a fussy way. The secret place in Ikejiri is phenomenal. Kitayama in Otsuka had three pages of sake I'd never heard of.

                  Things I would most like to try at the moment are Ichibe in Ogikubo, Kuu and Hanaoka in Otsuka, and the place in Oshiage.

                  How about we all organize a meeting in early February?

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: jem589

                    Early February, or indeed any other time!

                    1. re: Asomaniac

                      I forgot to mention three other places that I think are cool:
                      Hana Modern in Kagurazaka is casual but seemed tasty and committed to sake.
                      Luck! Zen in Ningyocho and All That Jazz in Arakicho both had quirky, southern-focused selections (e.g., Luck! Zen had a ton of different varieties of Yorokobi Gaijin).

                      Aso, can you email me? My gmail is eoitwj.

                      1. re: jem589

                        Done - please let me know if the mail got through.

                        Do you have any views on Sasagin in Yoyogi-Uehara and Takara in Otemachi? The latter is not an obvious choice - I really don't enjoy the sterile shopping mall, B1 atmosphere and only went there initially because there was a sake tasting, but they have some very interesting sakes and microbrewed japanese beers to boot.

                        1. re: Asomaniac

                          I haven't been to Takara - Robb's writeup made me think there were other places I should go first. Actually I haven't been to anything in that Musshu group despite thinking about the Ginza one sometimes. As for Sasagin, its only crimes are being outside my usual area (I'm an east-side guy) and being...too popular on Chow. I'm just grumpy like that. Have you been to that Nishiki place just up the hill from the station? It looks kinda good.

                          I noticed on a sake thread and also on the Ishikawa thread that you like Juyondai. Omasa Komasa is almost certainly the best place to drink Juyondai, period. Last time I went it was just the master and me, and we tried (together) a vertical of 4 years of Dewasansan jungin, then 5 and 7-year-old Hattan-Nishiki. All of those are nama; he just keeps them so well that they don't taste at all like koshu.

                          I think I wrote that (and the following) before, but another super-cool place I went one time was Good One in Awajicho. Standing bar with 10 varieties of Juyondai, among other things, at low prices.

                          1. re: jem589

                            I went to Takara with John Gauntner. I can heartily recommend it. Of course, you can probably go to a supermarket with John Gauntner and end up drinking great sake.

                            1. re: Uncle Yabai

                              Gauntner is a huge fan of Takara; the sake tasting I was referring to was organised by him.

                      2. re: Asomaniac

                        Ah! Have a glass for me guys! (although I may be around March/April...)

                        1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                          There will be a lot of sake to go around in March/April... Let us know in advance when you might be making an appearance so that something can be organised.

                      3. re: jem589

                        One more thought on this for those who like Juyondai. I just got the weekly mail from Omasa Komasa, advertising his 4th annual special tasting event. For Y10k, you can try the following 14-dai nama jungin: the complete vertical of Aiyama from 2002 - 2009, 2001 Dewasansan, plus 2001 and 2002 Ryu no Otoshiko.
                        It's one bottle of each, and I think limited to 20 people because he advises that everyone will get 5 go.
                        Seriously, it's an extraordinary place.

                        1. re: jem589

                          OMG!!! THE MAN IS A LEGEND!!!

                          Seriously, every brewery should be so fortunate to have someone like Mori San around. I wish I could be there.

                            1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                              The mail said Feb 19th or 26th, not yet decided. If I was reading right. I believe it fills up though. The first time I went there was last year around this time. He mentioned the tasting, but only in the context of "I'm doing this and it's already booked up."

                              1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                Also, I am not affiliated with Omasa Komasa or Rocco's NY Pizza.

                              2. re: jem589

                                Mea maxima culpa, it's actually 'Tatsu no Otoshiko', and it translates as 'seahorse'. I ran into a bottle Saturday night in Asakusa and was set straight. Shows you how much I know.

                              3. re: jem589

                                @jem589 - Just like to add my two cents here about Koyu: perhaps one of the most disappointing izakaya experiences I've had in Tokyo. My initial phone reservation with the wife, which was conducted in Japanese, was pleasant enough. I asked about the need to pre-order sashimi (I was booking for a Sunday night) and told her I had read good things about their sake selection. Then, when I gave her my name (a foreign one), her mood completely changed. "No Engrishu desu!" she exclaimed. Given we had been chatting amicably in Japanese for 5 minutes, I found this rather odd, but I assured her that I could read kanji, so there would be no problem. "No set menu desu!" she squealed. Again, I told her that was no problem. She then, thankfully, returned to Japanese and complained that a lot of foreigners had been making reservations recently (perhaps due to the No #1 izakaya ranking on your blog), and that I should come with a Japanese speaker. Again, I assured her (in Japanese) that I understood her concerns, but if it made her feel better my dining companion was Japanese. That seemed to do the trick, and she accepted my reservation. #random
                                Upon arrival, I slid open the door to Koyu, only to have her bar my path and demand to know if I had a reservation. After confirming my name and reservation, she begrudgingly allowed us to enter.... the completely empty store. #WTF!
                                The atmosphere was generic and lacking any sort of character. Sterile is probably the best description. We took our seats and perused the menu: pretty standard, and nothing I would cross town for. There were no daily specials, just what was written on the set menu . At this stage alarm bells were ringing in my head, but I persevered - it did come highly rated after all. Our ootoshi was dumped in front of us without any pleasantries, and enquires about the menu by my companion (a middle aged women who spoke to the wife in keigo throughout), was meet with monosyllabic replies. Hmmm, so service isn't her forte, but at least the food and sake was suppose to be excellent, right? Errr, wrong!
                                They list a dozen or so sake from well regarded kura and at reasonable prices, but, again, nothing worth going out of your way for. We ordered a round of Tedorigawa, along with some sashimi and a couple of dishes to get us started. The food, prepared by the (long suffering) husband, was good and nicely presented... but nothing exceptional. I've had much better elsewhere.
                                The wife's attitude to us throughout our short stay bordered on being hostile, which, given that we were the only customers, seemed outrageously bad form. I had actually taken my companion there because she does tours for a national tour guide association, and was looking for a good place to take guests, but due to the appalling experience we had there that lucrative business went to Sake no Ana, instead.
                                We could'nt bring ourselves to order anything else, and quickly settled our bill. No farewells, no smiles (not even a fake one)... the feeling was very much 'don't let the door hit your arse on the way out'.
                                So in summary, food: good but not amazing; sake selection: fair, but nothing special; atmosphere and service... a big fat zero. Tabelog comments give high praise of the food, but the ranking is brought down by the patchy service. Our mutual (foreign) friend had similar feedback to mine, so I think we can safely assume that my experience wasn't a one-off.
                                If you are Japanese, take your chances. If you are a foreigner, go elsewhere.

                              4. Has anyone been to Suzuden in Yotsuya? It's a sake shop but on the left side there is a small room that is a standing bar with light food, and all prices are very low. You can buy sake in the store to drink in the stand bar for a small premium on the price.

                                There used to be a Suzuden izakaya in Toranomon, but it closed several years ago.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  When i first saw this thread I thought of Suzuden in Toronomon, such a great place, the food was terrible, but it had a fantastic selection of sake.The long communal tables and friendly crowd made for a lively time. So sad to hear it closed.

                                  1. re: steamer

                                    Yeah, the food at Suzuden in Toranomon wasn't much good at all. However, it is rather good (in the home cooking style) at the stand bar in Yotsuya. Both places don't have GREAT sake, but it is quite good for the price.