ChuToroZuke’s Sake Chronicles Vol 4 - recommended sake shops in Tokyo
In Volume 4 of The Sake Chronicles, we will go over some recommended retail shops to shop for sake and/or taste sake in Tokyo. Every store is unique and will have its own different inventory, style, approach, and arrangement of their bottles.
The smaller neighborhood shops generally do not accept credit cards (cash only) and employees may not be able to converse proficiently in English. The larger shops and especially department store basements will be likely more English speaking friendly, prices could be a bit higher for the same bottle elsewhere, and if you show your passport and receipt at the correct floors you may be eligble for a tax refund, and they will also wrap your purchase tightly for transit if you inform them of the request.
This list is a general guide for sake enthusiasts of all levels and is by no means comprehensive.
Here they are in no particular order.
1. Suzuden - Yotsuya
This legendary sake shop was established in 1850 and is revered by many in the industry. It is just a few steps away to the right of the original Sushi Sho Yotsuya, so if you happen to have lunch there or you arrive prior to dinner, do stop by inside to take a look! You will see many selections in their refrigerators on the ground level and also some bottles outside (non refrigerated). As this shop also supplies to restaurants there will be a lot more 1.8 Liter bottle formats for sale and sometimes the only option for a particular type. In general the more eye catching bottles are in the refrigerators, from the high end rare bottles to the seasonal draft releases. Don’t miss going downstairs into their walk in freezers (about 2 or 3 separate storage areas) for even more sake to browse (and to conveniently cool down during the hot summer months). Suzuden carries some eclectic selections and stocks rotate frequently. They also have an adjacent space selling sake and standing bar style food that I believe operates starting in the afternoons. When it gets really busy you may see customers bringing food into the shop to enjoy. A lot of the small bites offered pair nicely with sake. The shop appears to be cash only, so make sure you have enough money on you just in case. It is also possible that employees may not speak much English at the shop. Recommended to come here only if you know what you would like to buy.
Address: 1 Chome-10 Yotsuya, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0004, Japan
2. Takashimaya Times Square - Shinjuku
Head to the basement level, close to the wine and champagne section to find the sake section. Some of the most high end respected brands and offerings can be found here. The higher end and most expensive bottles are in the refrigerated section. You might also find some bottles that are only sold exclusively by Takashimaya (for example: Tatsuriki). Depending on the days of the week, they also have a booth showcasing a particular brewery with various sake you can taste for free before buying. This gives you a chance to interact with the brewery representative if they speak some English, or sometimes an employee of Takashimaya pours on their behalf. Do not hesitate if you really enjoy something you taste, so buy if it you really like it! The booth may not be there for long (especially if it is a regional brewery and offering). Takashimaya also has a location in Nihombashi, although I prefer and recommend the Shinjuku location personally. If you have time, it is worth visiting both locations as their inventories are not entirely the same.
Address: 5 Chome-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan
3. Isetan - Shinjuku
Similar to Takashimaya Shinjuku, the sake section is in the basement. They also have a bar where you can taste whatever sake is featured but I believe you need to pay. There are some brands and labels that Isetan will carry that Takashimaya does not and there will also be a little bit of overlap. Also depending on the schedule, sometimes they will showcase at least one brewery on an almost weekly basis, with representatives coming to pour during non brewing season especially, and have some samples for customers to taste for purchase. Sometimes certain breweries only go to one big department store but not the other..
Address: 3 Chome-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0022, Japan
4. Ginza Imadeya (Ginza Six basement 2nd level)
Imadeya is a shop that originated in Chiba prefecture, and their Ginza store, located in the second level of the basement at Ginza Six, is truly a sake lovers dream. There should be another location in Sumida, but the one at Ginza Six is the newest location, and a lot more accessible for visitors. The shop is very well laid out and easy to navigate, and most of the staff appear to speak English. The breadth and depth of selection is amazing and includes a lot of cult and highly sought after (not to mention limited production) brews, including a few mentioned in Volume 3 (16 sakes you must try), with the exception of Juyondai and a few others. In general those brews are stored in the refrigerator, so be mindful of handling and storing them properly after purchase. Quality of service is great. Adjacent to the cashier is a section where you can also pay to taste what they have on offer. Ginza Imadeya also stocks some very high end expensive sake bottles that can go upwards of 100,000 yen, perfect gift for the super fan of rare sake. If you only have time for visiting a few sake shops, make this one your first and top priority.
Address: Ginza Six: 6 Chome-10-1 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan (Imadeya is B2 level)
5. Hasegawa Saketen - Nihonbashi, Tokyo Station, Omotesando.
This is another very famous sake shop that carries a wide range of selections from famous regional breweries across Japan. Unless the brewery is very obscure and extremely small production, it is likely you will find something here. I highly recommend visiting the Kameido location for the widest and largest selection even though it is very out of the way for many visitors. Nihonbashi location is the newest of the lot and is probably better than Nishiazabu and Omotesando in selection, and has a good sample of some very popular brews amongst big fans of sake. Both Nihonbashi and Omotesando Hills location have a bar where you can pay to taste sake (the list changes daily), although unfortunately the sake bar menu is only in Japanese. If you cannot make it to Kameido location, the Nihonbashi will be the next best location.
Website with address info: https://www.hasegawasaketen.com/shop_en.html
6. Kimijimaya - Ginza, Ebisu
Kimijimaya has three locations: Yokohama, Ginza, and Ebisu (in the Atre building near the station). You can pay for a small pour ~ 90 mL to taste, but is subject to availability and what they have opened. The menu is also only in Japanese, but sometimes being adventurous can pay off. Some tastings belong to super rare bottles that are not sold in the store, so you may get lucky. You may find some interesting cult regional sake selections here, and they also have a small selection of wine (mostly French) as well for Ginza and Ebisu locations. There are also a select few bottles that were created exclusively for Kimijimaya (e.g. Masuizumi and Tatsuriki) and you will not be able to find them anywhere else.
Ginza: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 1 Chome−2−1 紺屋ビル １FL
Ebisu: 150-0022 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Ebisuminami, 1 Chome−6−1 (Atre building West Wing 4th FL)
7. Isego Honten -Flagship store in Nakameguro area
This is the flagship location of Isego. It is not as big as some of the other shops, but everything is neatly arranged and for the brews that require refrigeration, are neatly put in for safekeeping until purchasing. They carry some of the more eclectic selections, and I believe they do have a bar area for tasting, although they don’t operate until sometime in the afternoon. If you are in the Nakameguro area, please check them out.
Address: 153-0042 Tokyo, Meguro City, Aobadai, 1 Chome−20−2
8. Tokyu Food Show (basement) - Shibuya
Literally just right outside JR Shibuya station, locate Tokyu Food Show and head into
the basement. Adjacent to one of the supermarket areas is the alcohol section. Right before you reach that area is a small place where sometimes a sake brewery representative will set up bottles from the brewery’s portfolio to sell and likely the chance to taste for free before purchasing. Normally these bottles for tasting are not sold at Tokyu Food Show sake shop, so if you like you can buy and pay for it at the cashier. Don’t miss the chance in case there is a remarkable and super affordable bottle that you like, it may not be available for purchase again once the display has to be taken down. Otherwise the sake selection of Tokyu Food Show has some interesting bottles to look at, even if smaller. While you are here, explore the wonderful food, produce, and supermarket at this level.
Address: 2 Chome-24-1 Shibuya, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0002, Japan
9. Niigata Antennae Store (N’Espace) - Omotesando
Strictly for fans of Niigata sake. This shop not only stocks a variety of produce, snacks, and food souvenirs from Niigata, they also have a fairly decent selection of Niigata sake from big name producers to some smaller regional ones. You won’t find much in the way of rare high end bottles, but you may find interesting affordable variations not available in the big shops.
Address: 4 Chome-11-7 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
10. Mitsuya Liquor Store - Nishi Ogikubo
This is a store recommended by John Gaunter, one of the first leading sake educators and sake samurai. A lot of regional small to medium sized producer brews, shochu, wine, and even some aged sake if they have in stock. A serious store with a serious selection for the sake connoisseur. Recommended for advanced drinkers who know what they are looking for.
Address: 2 Chome-28-15 Nishiogiminami, Suginami City, Tokyo 167-0053, Japan
11. Sumiyoshi Shuhan - Tokyo Midtown Hibiya
Sumiyoshi is a very famous sake shop from Fukuoka, so naturally they will have quite a few selections of sake and other offerings from that region, Saga Prefecture, and other souvenirs from Kyushu/Kitakyushu areas. It is a good place to visit before or after a meal at Sushi Namba Hibiya. As far as some of the more sought after sake (e.g. the more expensive bottles of Nabeshima which may appear sometimes), this location of Sumi Yoshi may have even higher prices than at Fukuoka. You might also find some of the top of the line sake by a few other cult breweries (e.g. Sawaya Matsumoto / Shuhari).
Main website: http://sumiyoshi-sake.jp/
Address: Hibiya Midtown: 1 Chome-1-2 Yūrakuchō, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 100-0006, Japan (B1)
This list is just a sample of many that are out there, but is a great way to get started for sake shopping.