Three Sake Breweries in Nara – with long histories and innovative brewing methods



Nara is famed as the birthplace of many aspects of Japanese culture that have endured to the present day, and one of these is modern, refined sake. This quintessential drink of Japan can be enjoyed everywhere, from restaurants to izakaya pubs and standing-bars (tachi-nomi-ya) (and even as shuttled out of the ubiquitous vending machines), but one can also participate in tastings and tours for a deeper experience in the manufacturing of Nara’s own sake (“Narazake”) and the methods and customs of consumption. Shoryakuji temple and Nishiuchi Shuzo are two breweries whose recent products are made with unusual processes, have attracted attention and awards, and can be visited for tastings and detailed production tours.


Buddhist temple Shoryakuji, on Mount Bodai, which is a 25 minute drive from the centre of Nara, is considered the more precise birthplace of sake, and just 3 years ago it fully revived its technique of brewing called “Bodaimoto”. This 500-year-old technique distinguishes the old from the modern (the latter being brewed in stages) and employs a particular yeast starter. Shoryakuji is an impressive and atmospheric temple with gorgeous gardens and a long, distinguished history. It is a veritable museum of (secular and religious) art, architecture, and Buddhist statuary from the 7th century right up to the present day, and this alone makes it worth visiting – but it also happens to have its own brewery. In truth, this is not an anomaly: temples and shrines have long brewed sake (sometimes the former supplying the latter), and it was neither prohibited as religious tenet or as a form of income.


Kurabito (sake brewery workers) mashing the rice on spread-out sheets of hemp. A paper ribbon in the foreground hangs from a partition that is an acknowledgment of Shinto links with the production of sake, and marks off the production area. Shoryakuji temple


In the 15th century, the monks of Shoryakuji pioneered the Bodaimoto method which quickened and increased production through the use of lactic acid water and  a sake yeast starter for fermentation. With a tour, the method can be observed at the temple and its products tasted. The yeast (shubo) is cultivated through mashing it together with steamed rice, koji mold and water – and the rice mold spores used are ancient ones isolated recently in the revival project. However, ending production on completion of the first stage, which involves adding lactic acid water, rice, and koji mold to water and raw rice, results in an exceptional sake called Bodaisen (“Mount Bodai”) which has a complex, rich, and interesting flavour somewhat resembling that of a dry white wine. This very old type of sake, the making of which is described in a 15th century manual, is well worth trying both for the very novelty and the taste. When yeast is also used, and the brewing continues in three stages (the far more common process), a much bigger brew can be produced, but it is the initial brewing stage that differentiates the Bodaimoto technique of Shoryakuji from other modern processes. The lactic acid bacteria and the pure water used are both unique to Shoryakuji land, too. Shoryakuji offers sake tasting and vegetarian temple cuisine in the autumn when it enjoys an influx visitors for its beautiful foliage. It also holds a sake tasting festival in November.


Barrels of Bodaisen sake at Shoryakuji temple


Nishiuchi Shuzo in Sakurai City – and along the Yamanobe Road – is another brewery of note, not only because it has been the recipient of national and international acclaim, but also because it has an interesting history. It is housed in a traditional Meiji period merchant’s house and has a close relationship with Shinto. At nearby Tanzan shrine its products are used as offerings to the gods who, unlike Buddhas, enjoy this alcohol as one element of the array of gastronomical offerings ceremonially presented to them. Their main brand is Tanzan.


A household shrine for the gods of Tanzan Shrine inside Nishiuchi Shuzo sake brewery


Like Shoryakuji, the production process cannot be observed without a pre-booked tour, but one can look around and taste for 500 yen, and also purchase products. These span a wide range from the unrefined and cloudy types to aged sakes, which are quite uncommon. Its acclaimed Daimyoshoyazake is unprocessed and cloudy (nigori-zake) while Ruijoshu is aged, amber-coloured and almost like a dessert-wine. Several of Nishiuchi Shuzo’s products have received international awards, including Ruijoshu which swept up a Gold award at the 2023 International Wine Challenge. Nishiuchi Shuzo is also noted for its Kijoshu, a sake similar to a sweet noble rot wine that is brewed using junmai (pure rice) sake instead of water. Ruijoshu goes a step further, as it is brewed using Kijoshu sake, making it a one-of-a-kind, ultra-luxurious sake that is cultivated through this unusual process of cumulative brewing.



The family-run Nishiuchi Shuzo sake brewery, which boasts a history of over 150 years. Sakurai City


An array of sake – many of them award winners – at Nishiuchi Shuzo


If Shoryakuji temple and Nishiuchi Shuzo brewery are too far afield, Harushika Sake Imanishi Seibei brewery, established in 1884,  is located more centrally – in the pretty Naramachi neighbourhood, a 25 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. For just 500 yen one can enjoy tastings of five varieties of sake (though no brewery tour). English information is available. Here too, sake ties into its local environment, as with the temple and the merchant house. Sake is not only a component and representative of national gastronomy, but one that, like the best food and drink of any country or locality, is deeply embedded in culture and history, something that only enhances the drinking experience.


Harushika Sake Imanishi Seibei Brewery, Naramachi




157 Bosatsuyamacho, Nara (taxi/drive from Nara Station)

Mar – Nov: 9:00 – 17:00
Dec – Feb: 9:00 – 16:00

Entrance (to temple):

Adults: ¥500
Children: ¥200

*Group discount available

English language guidance not available (except with a tour interpreter (please contact us for more details), but English, Chinese, and Korean information is available).


Nishiuchi Shuzo:

3, Shimo, Sakurai Shi, Nara (Can be reached by train from Kintetsu Nara station to Sakurai station followed by an 8-min bus ride from the South exit to Seirinji (temple) and a 2-min walk, or a drive just short of an hour from Kintetsu Nara station)


Holidays: Dec 30-31

Viewing of Brewery and Sake Tasting (with a Sake lees mousse dessert): 1000 yen

English language guidance not available (except with a tour interpreter (please contact us for more details)).


Harushika Sake Brewery:

24-1, Fukuchiin –cho, Nara City

10:00 – 17:00 (The sake tasting accepts until 16:30)

Holidays: Event dates, Obon holiday (the middle of August), New year holiday.

Entrance/Sake Tasting: 500 yen

English language guidance available.


Please feel free to contact us for further information or for a custom tour.


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