Updated: May 8
If you are in Hokkaido, there is one sake that you will start to notice everywhere and it is the sake made by Asahikawa's Otokoyama Brewery.
Now to say it straight away, there are many Otokoyama breweries in Japan, and it can be rather confusing, but there is only one Otokoyama in Hokkaido and with about 340 years of history it is certainly a brewery that should be on your list to pay a visit.
How to get to Otokoyama Brewery?
Located about 1,5h north of Sapporo on the train and another 40min by bus from Asahikawa is what they call Asahikawa's most famous sake.
It might sound like a bit of a trek, but it is still one of the easier accessible sake breweries in Japan. Also, Asahikawa is a great hub to travel from, especially if you are also planning to see the blue pond and Tomita flower park in summer or want to check out Furano or Mt. Asahidake in winter, not to forget Asahikawa holds the second biggest snow festival in Hokkaido, which by itself is worth the trip!
It is a pretty spacious complex, which also includes a sake museum, tasting room, shop, and a beautiful Japanese garden, which is popular with locals for its flower displays (from May to September). As for the museum, visitors get to see historical sake-related literature and artwork. In fact, a famous Ukiyoe painter, Kitagawa Utamaro, has referenced the sake in some of his work and some scrolls can be seen in the museum. Otokoyama even used one of the prints on the label for one of its Tokubetsu Junmai sake in the past.
What is quite nice about the museum, as the first part is very history related, both modern (with medals, prices, and newspaper articles) as well as ancient (Ukiyoe prints and other historical documents), the second part of it is much more down to earth showcasing tools, barrels, and pots used through the centuries and in addition to that, this is also where you can get a look at the current production.
The actual brewery and the museum are here divided by a glass wall, which gives visitors the opportunity to look straight into the brewery.
Another plus, especially in Hokkaido where English can still be a bit of a novelty, is that Otokoyama Brewery provides brochures and information in English (as well as Korean and Chinese) and some of their staff are also able to speak English.
Otokoyama Brewery Festival
One of my personal highlights and this has to be timed right, is the Otokoyama Sake Brewery Festival!
Held every year on the second Sunday in February, it attracts locals and visitors alike and is a real spectacle. Come and see, as the huge square in front of the brewery turns into the festival site with makeshift tables and chairs, food stalls, and best of all plenty of free sake!
During the festival, the brewery museum is, of course, open and there are a few activities such as a sake barrel-making performance, and some of the premium sake can be tasted for a small fee.
This is definitely the best time to come and visit and information and confirmation of the exact date can be found via their Announcement page here. You can also get in touch with them via their contact form (they do reply, although it can take a little time).
Definitely worth visiting and their Brewery Festival is one date I generally plan my Hokkaido trip around, so if you are in the area, do go and visit them.
And as you are already in Asahikawa, why not add another brewery visit to your trip and pop into Takasago Shuzo?
Address: Google Maps