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The various flavors of sake in different parts of Japan


Just as dialects are spoken in different localities, the characteristics of sake made in different parts of Japan vary. To be more specific, the flavor of the sake varieties and the foods with which they are compatible vary from place to place.


The reason for this variation has a lot to do with the great differences in climate in different parts of Japan. Locality has a bearing on whether the sake is sweet or dry, heavy or light.


Sweet or dry, depending on the prefecture
Sake can be classified according to its sweetness or dryness, as indicated by two measurements: nihonshu-do (which indicates sugar content) and san-do (which indicates the concentration of acid). If the sugar content is high, the sake will taste sweet, and if it is low, it is considered dry.


However, an indication of dryness comes not only from sugar content, but also from the concentration of acid. Just as an orange that has a low concentration of acid is perceived as sweet, if there is only a small amount of acid in sake, it tastes sweet. If, on the other hand, the sake contains a lot of acid, it tastes dry. The nihonshu-do and san-do figures are used to classify sake according to its sweetness or dryness.


In this connection, the National Tax Agency of Japan has published data on sales of sake throughout Japan. The results are shown below.



• Sweetness-dryness of sake sold in each prefecture (2010). Kagoshima and Okinawa excluded.


Among regions where sake brewing flourishes, those along the coast of the Inland Sea (including Okayama and Hiroshima Prefectures) are where sweeter sake tends to be found. On the other hand, drier sake is found in prefectures that include Niigata and Kōchi.


In terms of geography, Niigata and Kōchi have little in common. Niigata is known for its heavy snowfalls, while in Kōchi there is very little snow.


However, it is interesting to compare the types of food eaten in the two prefectures. In the area around Niigata, on the Japan Sea seaboard, prawns and white-meat fish are eaten. In Kōchi, on the Pacific side of Japan, tuna and bonito are eaten as sashimi. Considering the foods eaten in the two prefectures, dry sake is well suited to both localities.


So it is not just climate that determines the characteristics of the sake of a locality; the main foods eaten there are an important factor too. That is because a suitable type of sake serves to bring out the flavor of foods.


Sake that is popular within a locality tends to have more of a local character
By and large, sake from western Japan is regarded as heavy and strong. The rice varieties used for making sake in these areas include yamadanishiki and omachi, and each of them is a variety that originated in western Japan. Sake made with these varieties of rice has a depth to it.


In the colder Tohoku and Hokuriku regions, where a considerable amount of snow falls, the sake tends to be smooth with a clean finish.


However, this is only a generalization. It is not necessarily true in every case. As a matter of fact, nowadays, rice that is not originally from the locality is often used. Furthermore, the sake brewing environment is made uniform by means of air conditioning.


For these reasons, the characteristics of sake are not bound to the locality so much as they were in the past. In particular, there is very little local character in the high-quality sake that is produced for sale nationwide.


However, in cases where sake is popular locally, the drink does still retain local characteristics. In addition, there are some breweries that make a point of using the rice, kōbo, and water from the local area.


The local character of sake is mentioned here for reference only, but nevertheless there certainly are some broad characteristics that can be identified. Each region has its own climate and dietary make-up, and these attributes are reflected in the varieties of sake produced in the region.

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