Where to Buy Sake? Your Guide to the Best Sake Bars and Shops in Tokyo
Where to buy sake, you ask? The answer is pretty much everywhere. To help you formulate a plan, however, we've got the definitive guide to the 20 best sake bars and shops in Tokyo.
Some say it allows one to enter the realm of the Gods, others that it’s OK tasting and gets you drunk quicker than beer, whatever your angle, sake is worth seeking out, especially when you’re in Japan. Made from just 4 ingredients (rice, water, yeast and koji) and unchanged since ancient times, sake is singular in its cultural and culinary significance; holding on its liquid shoulders a weighty burden of Japanese tradition.
Sake is in no danger of buckling under this pressure, however. Tradition, elegance and custom are all sake watchwords, but interestingly, the rice-wine shows no signs of going away. New generations of sake connoisseurs continue to come forth; innovators ensuring the liquor stays relevant and dare I say, cool.
What follows is an introduction to the myriad ways in which to enjoy sake in Tokyo. First off, we’ll take a look at some of the capital’s finest specialist sake bars and tasting centres – the places to wet your whistle and experiment. Second, we’ll point you in the direction of the best Tokyo stores in which to buy sake, whether to enjoy right away or take home as a souvenir.
Where to Buy Sake? The 10 Best Bars in Tokyo
1) Meishu Center
A short walk from Hamamatsucho Station in the south-east of the city you’ll find the lauded Meishu Center. The place straddles the space between a bar, store and promotional center and admirably pulls off the difficult feat of feeling like all three simultaneously. Filled with sake from all over Japan in all price brackets and varieties, visitors are encouraged to stand at the bar alongside the locals and try as much or as little as they like, with the option (but no pressure) to buy a bottle before leaving. Tasting samples are poured in small 60ml glasses and can be bought singularly or in a set of 3 alongside various traditional bar snacks designed to complement the sake.
The atmosphere inside is warm and the staff are extremely knowledgeable about their stock and sake in general. Highly recommended to everyone.
Address: Isoyama Daini Building 1F 2-3-29 Hamamatucho, Minato-ku
A small but long-standing bar in the popular western suburb or Nakano, Shimomiya is an unassuming but excellent sake bar often ranked among Tokyo’s very best. Choose from over 100 sake types at the simple bar and sip away in what is really the traditional sake drinkers natural habitat. The fish on offer at this place also needs mentioning. Fresh each day from Tsukiji Market and lovingly prepared, a little sashimi is the perfect accompaniment to a fine glass of sake.
Address: 1-52-18, Higashi-Nakano, Tokyo
3) Hasegawa Saketen
Like our first entry, Hasegawa Saketen is a store/bar/tasting center blend, perfect for trying or buying. With multiple branches across the city, you won’t have to go far out of your way to head here, though each does offer a slightly different experience. The Tokyo Skytree branch feels very much like a store, whilst the outlet in Kameido is much more bar-like in vibe. In general, the stores have a pretty modern design and the selection of sake is ample.
Price: Mid-range to high
Address: Seven locations, check the official site here for details of each.
Though Kozue has a smaller selection of sake than other places, each has been hand picked for assured quality. Enjoy a glass whilst looking out over the Shinjuku and the wider city from this 40th-floor bar at the top of the luxury Park Hyatt Hotel. The views and the sleek interior come at a premium, but for the experience, you probably won’t mind.
Price: Mid-range to high
Address: 3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
This joint keeps its focus firmly centred on the main event, the sake. The unpretentious Kuri stocks an ever rotating selection of over 100 sake types from all over the country; from the very high-end, brewery fresh premium stuff to the bog-standard but popular. An in-house sommelier is on hand to act as your guide, though don’t be afraid to take a gamble on a bottle that catches your eye.
Address: 6-4-15 Ginza, Chuo
Probably the most traditional, ‘local’ feeling establishment on this list, Akaoni, translating as ‘red devil’, does have the potential to intimidate first-timers. Conquer your fears though and you’ll be richly rewarded with an unbeatable sake selection at unbeatable prices. The staff are keen to educate amateurs on the delights of their sake, so don’t be afraid to ask. The food here is also highly regarded, especially the sashimi morisawase which requires pre-ordering.
Price: All price ranges covered
Address: 2-15-3 Sangenjaya, Setagaya
Cut out the middle-man and head to the Sawanoi brewery, but 90 minutes from central Tokyo. Warm yourself up with an informative guided tour before settling into the bar, serving its award-winning sake at retail prices. On a nice day, sit in the outdoor area beside the Tama river or end up here following a hike up nearby Mount Mitake.
Address: 2 Chome-770 Sawai, Oume
8) Namikibashi Nakamura
We’re back in the heart of the city with this pick, but a stumble from JR Shibuya Station. Namikibashi Nakamura is a popular post-work drinking hole offering a premium sake selection in an elegant setting. This is very much a forward-looking sake joint, fitting into its modern urban surrounds perfectly.
Price: Mid-range to high
Address: 3-10-13 Shibuya
Yamachan is a DIY all you can drink sake bar in central Shinjuku, perfect for those who don’t mind their bars rough around the edges. The stock here is impressive and you can drink as much of it as you like, which is nice. The interior is bare minus the simple chairs and tables and you can even bring your own food. A lot of fun.
Address: Yasukuni-dori, Shinjuku, 5-17-11
A basement sake bar with a relaxed vibe, soundtracked by 60s jazz. What could be better? The sake selection is smaller than that of other places on the list but those on offer are hand-picked and to a good quality, often sourced from smaller regional brewries. The food here is also a real treat and all for a good price.
Address: Barack Court B1F, 1-31-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro
Where to Buy Sake? The 10 Best Shops in Tokyo
Inevitably, there exists an unknowable volume of sake shops in Tokyo. They range from tiny, specialist, neighbourhood places to sections of large department stores and online retailers (but where’s the fun in that?). Though in no way comprehensive, we’ve compiled a collection of our personal favourite shops in the capital for your consumptive pleasure.
1) Tanakaya Liquor Store, Mejiro
Already given a shout-out on this site, that time for its beer selection, Tanakaya is one of Tokyo’s premier all-around liquor stores. Descend the stairs into a booze-hounds cavernous layer, each wall lined with liquor of all types, including of course, sake. They have an excellent selection for all budgets and the best part is that with its station side location, you won’t have to lug your purchases too far for the train.
Address: 3-4-14 Toshima, Mejiro
2) Yomo, Akasaka
Apparently in the same location since 1624, Yomo, in the salaryman heavy Akasaka offers a great range of sake at bargain prices. Many regional brands and rarities are on offer here but those clinging to a European palette can find an equally great range of wines in the basement.
Address: Minato-ku, Akasaka 3-12-21
3) Hasegawa Saketen, Harajuku
A pretty upmarket sake shop in the fashionable Harajuku, complete with a small tasting bar and a few snack options. This is neo-sake done well, though you may long for the traditional charm most sake shops major in.
Address: Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 4-12-4, Omotesando Hills 3F
4) Miyagi Furusato Plaza “Coco Miyagi”, Ikebukuro
Japan is big on local pride. “Antenna shops” are the retail expression of this; shops specialising in local food, drink, craft, and pretty much anything else they like, including sake. This Ikebukuro example stocks around 50 varieties and is a great shopping experience.
Address: Toshima-ku, Higashi-Ikebukuro 1-2-2, Higashi-Ike Bldg 1/2F
5) Liquor-Off, Koenji
Again, not a specialist sake shop, but Liquor-Off stocks a good range for the lowest prices you’re likely to find anywhere. The store stocks items nearing their expiry dates and employs various other crafty methods to ensure their prices are rock-bottom, though do check the price tag, not everything is a bargain.
Address: 2-7-6 Koenji-kita, Suginami-ku
6) Suzuden, Yotsuya
They take their sake seriously in this speciality store, but you wouldn’t know if from the relaxed environment that abounds. Pick up bottles from across the nation and even try before you buy at the small stand-up bar.
Address: Shinjuku-ku, Yotsuya 1-10
7) Echizenya, Kiyosumi-Shirakawa
Perhaps closer to a sake closet than shop, this narrow neighbourhood stalwart nevertheless stocks an excellent range of obscure and delicious sake from far and wide. Definitely worth checking out, just don’t take too many friends.
Address: Koto-ku, Miyoshi 1-8-3
8) Gunma-chan-ya, Higashi-Ginza
Another antenna shop, this time home to specialities from the Gunma region. On top of over 30 of Gunma’s best sake brands, find fresh vegetables and craft items.
Address: Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-13-19
9) Kimijimimaya, Ebisu
Hidden away in Ebisu, Kimijimimaya is an elegantly decked-out but modest sake shop, hailing originally from Yokohama. Also includes eveyone’s favourite sake shop feature: a tasting bar.
Address: Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Minami 1-6-1, Ater Ebisu Nishikan 4F
10) Shochu Authority, Shiodome
As the name suggests, this store specialises not in sake but in it’s more potent cousin, shochu. And this place really does take its specialisation seriously, stocking over 2000 varieties. Don’t worry though, a smaller sake selection is also available.
Address: Minato-ku, Higashi-Shimbashi 1-8-2, Caretta Shiodome B2F