Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association | JSS

Professional Sake Regionality

In the days past, sake produced in different corners of the country led to unique regional characteristics. Today, some aspects of traditional sake regionality are lost. At the same time, sake brewers are creating new developments to re-establish the regional identity in sake production.


The amount of water needed for sake production is ten times more than the amount of rice. Therefore, a large source of clean water is one of the defining factors when establishing a brewery. Japanese people see the presence of a sake brewery as an indicator of good water source nearby.

The water used in sake brewing in most areas of Japan is naturally soft and contains only a small amount of minerals and metals. Some minerals can help with the fermentation, but an abundance of them could hinder the process and result in unwanted flavors. Similarly, the abundance of metal, especially iron, could produce unwanted flavors and coloring. Therefore, the soft nature of Japanese water is ideal for making light and smooth sake. Conversely, water with slightly more minerals tends to produce sake that is fuller in flavor.

The water in Nada (Hyogo prefecture) is the most renowned water used in sake brewing. The water is called "Miyamizu" ("mizu" means "water"), named after 'Nishinomiya' where it is sourced. It has an ideal blend of minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and a very small amount of iron.

Local Food Culture

Stretching over 3000km, Japan is a country that is full of rich food sources, including the sea and the mountains. Every region in Japan has its own food culture. The ingredients used and flavors vary from place to place. Even a simple dish such as miso soup is different from east and west Japan.

Traditionally, the flavor of sake matched the flavors found in local culinary culture. For example, food is generally sweeter in southwestern Japan. Therefore, sake from this region tends to be sweeter compared to the northeastern corners. Another example is that the food in inland areas tends to be saltier and the sake is sweeter and fuller to balance the dishes. Brewers traditionally tried to create sake that complemented the local cuisine. As a rule of thumb, coastal breweries would often produce sake pairing exceptionally well with fish or seafood, while a mountain brewery would focus more on producing sake that would pair well with salted food. Even today, people can enjoy sake food pairings unique to a region, making the sake culture very diverse.

Sake Brewing Techniques

As of 2020, there are 19 brewmaster guilds in Japan, each with its own style of sake brewing. In the past, brewmasters would share and pass down brewing techniques of their guild to each other. However, in recent years, brewers and aspired brewers can also learn these techniques at school or workshops.

Commonly, the owners of sake breweries hire their brewmasters through one of these guilds every season. When hired, the brewmaster gathers a group of workers to stay and make sake at the brewery until the end of the season. This recruiting system continues today in many breweries. By using this system, the guild’s style shines through in the brewery's final product.


There are over 100 strains of sake rice in Japan and each variation has a different impact on the flavor of sake.

Since ancient times, the Japanese people have made constant efforts to develop rice varieties with stronger resistance to cold weather, disease and to achieve a better yield. The most well-known sake rice varieties being Yamada-nishiki, Omachi or Gohyakumangoku. While some sake rice strains can grow in more than one region, most are limited to a specific area or prefecture. Even within regions, brewers consider certain areas better than others for producing higher quality region-specific strains. For example, many areas in Japan produce the Omachi and Yamada-nishiki strains. However, most regard the rice harvested in Okayama as the most valuable Omachi. On the other hand, the Yamada-nishiki deemed most valuable comes from Hyogo prefecture.


Low-temperature fermentation naturally occurs in areas with long cold winters and heavy snowfall. Therefore, cold areas tend to produce light and delicate flavored sake. However, new developments in temperature control systems reduce the influence of the local environment on sake brewing. With these new systems, a brewery in a warmer area can also create light and delicate sake. However, the local environment still influences sake characteristics rather indirectly through the local food culture.

New Movements in Sake Regionality

In recent years, breweries have started to develop new movements to re-establish the regional identity of sake production throughout Japan.

Geographical Identification

The National Tax Agency of Japan introduced a system to protect local alcoholic beverages in the 1990s. This system is referred to as Geographical Identification (GI). It serves to protect and promote the quality of a product that is specific to each region. To qualify for the GI label, the sake must meet certain criteria granted by the National Tax Agency. The criteria list includes special traits, a unique local environment, ingredients, and brewing techniques only found within a specific region. Sake with a GI label warrants that it was produced in a certain region and meets the production and quality standards.

As of 2020, Japan has five GI designated regions for sake brewing, including Hakusan (2005), Yamagata (2016), Nadagogo (2018), Harima (2020), and Mie (2020). In addition, Japanese sake itself became a GI designated product of Japan in 2015.

Geographical Indications protected in Japan

Regional Rice Strains

The movement to improve and develop sake rice started back in the 1600s. This continues today at a prefectural level with a focus on local strain development. In addition to reviving older strains, developers are working on new hybrid varieties that fit local environments. These strains are often grown in limited areas to provide regional value to the sake produced in that area.

For the complete list of sake rice, see Fact: Sake Rice.

Regional Microorganisms

As with rice, developers have isolated and bred yeast and koji fungi that are unique to each prefecture over the years. These variants of microorganisms add to the regional attributes of sake flavor and aroma.

Breweries Collaboration

In the past, a collaboration between breweries was unheard of as each brewery tended to keep its skill and techniques a secret. However, in recent years, groups of relatively young brewers have begun to get together to share and evaluate their products and brewing skills. As a result, groups of sake breweries within the same prefecture started to collaborate on brewing special editions of sake to promote sake from their prefecture.

In 2010, the first collaboration unit was formed in Akita. Based on their regular discussions, 5 breweries came together to create a single tank of sake. Since then, this group has created a new edition of sake every year which was received positively by the public. Their success as a collaboration group resulted in similar brewery units forming in other prefectures. In turn, these special sake editions increased in popularity for both promotional use and in general.

Professional Guide


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