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Sake has been around for at least 2,000 years, and it's only become a more dynamic staple of Japanese culture throughout the centuries. Recent scientific and technological advancements in the brewing process have facilitated a more streamlined approach to making one of Japan's favorite beverages, but in Kobe, Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum still teaches visitors about the old-fashioned method.
The museum, located in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan's Kansai region, features interactive displays, a tasting room and a gift shop that sells a line of sake-centric goods.
Sake facilities and museums can be found throughout Japan, most of them distinguished by different varieties and brewing methods. There are several official types of sake: the sweet and floral “ginjo-shu”; the rich and smooth “junmai-shu”; and the mild and crisp “honjozo-shu.” But the most widely consumed sake is “futsu-shu,” which reflects a variety of flavors characterized by different breweries.
At Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum, sake brewing techniques still reflect those established during Japan's early Edo period, which ran from 1615 to 1868. The traditional methods are visible upon arrival to the facility, where clients will be greeted by an outdoor workshop featuring a rotating water wheel for polishing rice, a wooden tub, a bucket and paddles. The whole scene is designed to take guests back to the early days of the process, while simultaneously setting the stage for what's indoors.
Inside the museum's entrance hall is a series of signs, advertisements and displays of the "kasane gura" style of breweries. These were long, stacked facilities that took advantage of cold winds from the mountains and the sea.
Here, guests not only have the opportunity to understand Japan's different sake brewing traditions across the country, but also to learn about Kiku-Masamune itself, which was founded in the 17th century and today continues to operate as a family enterprise.
In the exhibit room are a series of hands-on displays divided into three themes: Time, Places and People. There are a variety of antique tools, too, along with convincing re-creations of old breweries, storage areas and shops that take guests back in time.
The immersive experience educates guests about "kimoto zukuri," the painstaking technique of making “moto” (sake seed mash). The laborious, time-intensive process involves mixing “koji” (malted rice) with steamed rice and water, then kneading it over a low temperature. With some assistance from natural lactic acid bacteria, the moto yields yeasts for creating rich, dry sake.
In addition to the detailed, step-by-step breakdown of the brewing process, the museum also features examples of colorful sake-bottle packaging, as well as decorated porcelain cups in which sake is often consumed. There's also another exhibition space featuring images and videos about the process in English, as well as a tasting room and shop where visitors have the opportunity to sample the freshly brewed beverage and even buy cosmetics made from its ingredients, as well.
In 1995, Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum suffered damage due to the Great Hanshin earthquake, but thankfully, many of the museum's old utensils survived the natural disaster. Now, the earthquake itself has been incorporated into the museum's timeline as just another testament to the attraction’s staying power.
From early hydrolysis of soluble sugars to fermentation and beyond, there's really no way to simplify Japan's variety of complicated approaches to making sake. But at Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum, visitors can learn a little bit more about this integral staple of Japanese society, culture and history — all while raising a sake cup and saying, "kampai!"