Novice and experienced sake drinkers will want to have the city of Saijo as part of their Japan trip itinerary. Sake brewing has been going on in Saijo for centuries and the brew masters have perfected their craft. Saijo is home to many sake breweries. Eight different sake breweries are within walking distance from the main Saijo train station. These breweries are open year-round and give visitors an opportunity to learn the method behind sake brewing. At the breweries visitors can sample sake and buy sake bottles.
Saijo Sake Festival
Those traveling in Japan during the fall time should plan their visit to Saijo for the second weekend in October. Every year during this weekend Saijo hosts a Sake Festival. The festivities begin the moment one exits the train station and walks on Saijo’s main boulevard. On this street, you’ll find various food stalls, vendors selling clothes or trinkets, and cosplayers dressed as samurai with whom you can take photos. Besides food stalls and vendors, you’ll find activities for children such as carnival games and jump houses.
For the best food options continue on the main boulevard to the outdoor izakaya. This outdoor Japanese style pub has seating for 5,000 people in the center of a courtyard. Around the perimeter of the courtyard are food stalls. Here one can eat made to order dishes such as fried noodles with pork and egg. Other food stalls sell grilled chicken or karaage, chicken that is deep-fried in oil. Besides the foods stalls and seating the izakaya has a stage for performances and special talks by local groups. When you have finished eating, be sure to take any garbage to the trash station for proper disposal and recycling.
The main attraction for the Sake Festival is Sake Hiroba. In Japanese Hiroba means plaza. Within Sake Hiroba one can sample various types of sake from breweries found throughout Japan. To enter Sake Hiroba you must buy a ticket from the booth next to the entrance to the plaza. Your entrance ticket comes with a small cup and large booklet. The small cup is yours to keep and used to drink the sake. The booklet comes printed only in Japanese and lists the various sake available to sample within Sake Hiroba. Each different available sake has a letter and number designation. The designation refers to the tent in Sake Hiroba where you can find that specific sake.
Sake Hiroba has over 1,000 different sakes from five different regions available to sample. The five regions are Chugoku, Chubu, Kinki, Shikoku Kyushu Okinawa, and Hokkaido Tohoku Kanto. A different color tent differentiates the various regions. To get the most out of visiting Sake Hiroba be sure to try at least one sake from each region. When you are ready to sample sake wait in the line leading up to the tent. When you reach the front of the line place your cup on the stand and let the pourer know the number corresponding to the sake you wish to sample. For non-Japanese speakers, a list of the sakes available are on a printout on the stand. Just point to the number for the sake you wish to drink.
Saijo is best experienced as a day trip from nearby Hiroshima. From Hiroshima’s main train station board the JR Sanyo Line to Saijo’s main train station. The trip takes thirty-five minutes, one way. Those traveling to the Saijo Sake Festival will want to arrive as early as possible as the event gets crowded by the afternoon hour.