Here’s a great way to start wading into the deep waters of the sake world.
Sake is sometimes referred to as “Japanese rice wine,” which is a bit of a contentious description, since sake is actually brewed, making it arguably closer to beer than wine. However, just like wine made from grapes, sake (or nihonshu, as it’s more commonly called in Japan) from different regions can taste very different, due to differences in the characteristics of the rice and water used in the production process, as well as local flavor preferences.
So if you’re a nihonshu neophyte looking at the sake options in a restaurant or liquor store, or even a veteran who just doesn’t recognize any of the specific brews, a simple way to narrow down your selection is by knowing which region of Japan makes sake that suits your tastes. To help with that, nihonshu information app Sake no Wa has compiled the impressions of its users for sake varieties from all over the country, then sorted the data by region and made different charts for the prefectures of Japan.
▼ Charts for Akita, Yamagata, and Fukushima Prefectures on top row, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kanagawa on bottom
Each chart contains ratings in six categories:
● hanayaka/華やか (top center point): complexity and impact
● hojun/芳醇 (upper right): mellowness
● juko/重厚 (lower right): depth of flavor
● odayaka/穏やか (bottom center): smoothness
● dorai/ドライ (lower left): dryness
● keikai/軽快 (upper left): lightness
Starting at the country’s northern tip and moving down, let’s begin with Hokkaido and the Tohoku region.
▼ Left to right, and top to bottom: Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, and Fukushima
Moving on to Kanto (which includes Tokyo), the data shows a number of light brews.
▼ Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma
Niigata, found in the central Chubu region, is commonly held to produce some of Japan’s finest nihonshu.
▼ Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Yamanashi, Nagano
▼ Gifu, Shizuoka, and Aichi
In Kansai, the greatest sake glory traditionally goes to the examples made in Kyoto’s Fushimi district.
▼ Mie, Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, and Wakayama
The Western Chugoku region can count Hiroshima’s Kamotsuru (enjoyed by former U.S. President Barack Obama) and Yamaguchi’s “please-don’t pay-so-much-for-it” Dassai among its sake representitives.
▼ Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi
Thirsty after a long day of pedaling to/from the island of Shikoku on the Shimanami Kaido cycling road? Check here before making your pick.
▼ Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi
And finally, we come to the southwestern island of Kyushu, which is actually better known for shochu, but still has its share of nihonshu makers.
▼ Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Oita
People with a love of not just sake but geography too may notice that three prefectures, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, and Okinawa, aren’t accounted for. That’s because Sake no Wa doesn’t have sufficient user data to make charts for them yet. They’ll be added in due time, though, and in the meantime, if you still can’t make up your mind about which sake to drink, you can always go by which has the most handsome anime boy version.