By Sherilyn Siy
Inaba Shuzo was founded in 1867 when they started brewing Minanogawa sake using high quality rice and carefully sourced pure spring water, which as all sake connoisseurs know, is the basis of delicious sake. Inaba Shuzo is now run by the 13th generation of brewers, one of whom is Nobuko Inaba, one of the few female brewers of sake in Japan. Minanogawa is the name of the river that flows through Mt. Tsukuba and is exalted in the Ogura Hyakunin Issyu, a classical anthology of one hundred poems by one hundred poets. Minanogawa sake has been served as the sacred sake at Tsukuba Shrine.
As you enter the building that has remained unchanged for the past 150 years, you will be greeted by the fresh and almost fruity aroma of sake. The shop interior is cellar dark except for spotlights on the sake bottles and their many awards, giving an overall sophisticated feel to the place.
Inaba Shuzo is a relatively small brewery that prides itself in producing sake completely by hand. Every step of the process, from the washing of rice to processing the koji (malt) to managing the moromi (fermented mixture) is done manually. The moromi is not squeezed -- rather, it is hung from a bag to drip, a slow process but one that is true to the traditional craft of brewing.
Right beside the shop is a cafe where you can enjoy fresh sake from the tanks, along with seasonal vegetable side dishes. Note that the cafe opens slightly later and closes slightly earlier than the retail shop .
Admission is free and sake tasting costs ¥540. For a 40-minute tour (in Japanese but with English support materials and guide), reservations are necessary. Visitors are discouraged from putting on perfume or cologne or eating natto before they visit to allow everyone to enjoy the delicate aroma of sake.
From Tsukuba Station via the Tsukuba Express, get on the north-bound bus and get off at “Tsukubasan-guchi.” From Tsukubasan-guchi bus stop, the brewery is a 10 minute walk away. The brewery is also accessible by car and free parking is available.
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For Sherilyn Siy, Asia is home. Born in Hong Kong, Sherilyn spent time in the Philippines, China, and now lives in Japan. She speaks English, Filipino, Chinese (or putonghua), and Hokkien, her family's local dialect. Running is one of her favorite ways to explore Japan. She proudly finished the 2015 Tokyo Marathon -- her first ever full marathon -- in 4 hours and 37 minutes. She was absolutely psyched when she got selected again to run the new Tokyo Marathon route in 2018. She hopes to complete other races in Japan.