If You're A Sake Enthusiast, You Should Know Japan's Historic Fushimi District

Japan's national drink is a complex and often delicate bouquet of interesting flavors that has no business being as delicious as it is. No single place in Japan can claim ownership of sake but, if we were to compile a list, the Fushimi District would be an easy contender for the top spot. Located in the southern part of Kyoto and home to almost 40 different sake breweries, Fushimi District is a sake lover's paradise.

Fushimi District didn't become the world's biggest destination for sake by chance. "Fushimi" roughly translates to underground water which is a reference to the enormous underground aquifers which provide the high-quality soft water that sake breweries need to make a premium product.

One of the more well-known sake breweries in the area, and one of the oldest companies in the world, is Gekkeikan. Founded in Fushimi District in 1637 by Jiemon Okura, Gekkeikan was originally known as Kasagiya. Though it wasn't the first sake brewery in town by any means. Records indicate that in 1425 nearly 350 sake breweries were operating in the region. But at the start of the Edo period in the 1600s, that number had dwindled to 83.

History worth sipping

Fushimi doesn't have access to the ocean, but it is well positioned along the Horikawa River towards the center of the country. This makes transporting sake to neighboring areas possible — another boon for the sake industry. But its central location has also had drawbacks. As the Meiji Restoration was picking up steam, Fushimi found itself directly across the fault line between the fading shogunate and what would become the modern Meiji government. Fushimi was the location of devastating battles which left the city in a state of serious disrepair. Gekkeikan (still known as Kasagiya at this point) was one of just two sake breweries that survived the devastation.

If you ever have a chance to visit Fushimi District, the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is a cheap way to see some of this history in person and the ticket even comes with a complimentary sake tasting. The other major sake brewery in town, Kizakura, also has a sake museum that's well worth a look. If museums aren't your thing, strolling through the streets of Fushimi is a treat all on its own. The breweries have retained their traditional wood and white plaster aesthetic, giving the area a well-deserved gravitas.