Sunset in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture
The mere mention of Hyogo pricks up the ears of sake lovers around the world.
Much of the sake we enjoy today has in some way been shaped and influenced by the innovation and learning from this Prefecture in west-central Honshu that has been producing sake for well over 500 years.
To recognise this, Sake Central is showcasing all things Hyogo with a range of delicious food and beverage options available to taste and buy throughout the store.
To whet your appetite, let’s take a closer look at the history and geography of this fascinating Prefecture, to understand a little more its contribution to the knowing smiles of Hyogo fans.
Of the 47 prefectures, Hyogo is one of just three to have a coastline on both the Sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea. It’s split between Tajima in the north and Harima in the south, and in April this year, amidst all the pandemic headlines, was one announcing the Japanese government’s grant of a protective Geographical Indication (GI) to the sake produced in the Harima area, and well deserved.
Most folk and commerce are centred around the city of Kobe - they do some decent beef down here, you might have heard about that - and crucially the central plains of Hyogo, secluded from any bad weather by various mountain ranges, provide a lush growing habitation for prime yamada nishiki rice, Japan’s most famous sakamai (sake rice).
This “King of Rice” accounts for the vast majority of winners at the annual Japan Sake Awards and entered the market as an official shuzo kotekimai (basically rice suitable for sake brewing) in 1936.
This fat rice varietal has a central starch core (shinpaku) that occupies as much as 80% of the grain and has a high tolerance to cracking during the polishing process making it the natural choice for many brewers. Over the last nearly 100 years it has seen cultivation across many of Japan’s Prefectures although its tall stalks (130cm) make it one of the more challenging varietals to cultivate as it’s prone to bad weather damage.
Lucky for non-Japanese speakers, the simple kanji for yamada nishiki - 山田錦 - are quite easily decipherable on the labels, and brewers generally love to shout about using it.
Whereas Hyogo in its totality is accountable for around 30% of the overall sake produced in Japan, the centre within a centre has to be Nada-Gogo (“The Five Villages of Nada”), arguably Japan’s most celebrated brewing region and making itself 25% of Japan’s national production.
Nada’s famous water is known as miyamizu and flows down furiously from the steep Rokko mountain range, which in turn led to the introduction of primitive rice polishing machines, powered by harnessing this hydro-energy. The skilful head brewers of the Tanba Toji Guild quickly latched onto developing production methods best suited to working with the hard miyamizu waters, creating the rich umami dry style now characteristic of the region’s sakes.
To top off the perfect storm of terroir, expertise and ingredients, in 1907 a sake yeast was isolated at Sakura Masamune that was selected by the Japan Sake Brewing Association as the Sake Kyokai Yeast No.1 and led to widespread use ever since with brewers nationwide.
There are currently 80 or so breweries in Hyogo, right across most of the Prefecture, and around a third of which are in Nada-Gogo. Daikokumasamune lies within the village of Mikage-go, the label’s beautiful lettering looks as if the ink is still drying. Their junmai genshu is made at low temperature ginjo fermentation level and produces a typical Hyogo robustly assertive sake.
Akashi Tai is the pride of Akashi Shuzo, using small batch production techniques, largely by hand and overseen by Toji Kimio Yonezawa supported by his loyal team of kurabito.
Available at our Sake Central Bar, their genshu daiginjo uses only Hyogo produced yamada nishiki both for koji-making and for mashing, milled down all the way to a tiny 38%. Not surprisingly it’s luxurious and floral, with honey, lily and pear aromas aplenty, created by a lengthy 72-hour koji propagation period, a full day longer than most places.
Look out for the noble sea bream fish on the label, contorting himself through the waters off Akashi in Osaka Bay. The brewery is in awe of this creature as it fights against the strong currents and rip tides, epitomising a strength that lends itself to these fine sakes.
For the full Hyogo experience, food must accompany these amazing sakes. The Prefecture has a long history of grain culture, and not only rice. Its barley and wheat form the diet of the famous Tajima Cattle whose marbled meat is celebrated at Sake Central in a decadent Wagyu Rice dish, that layers Hyogo brown rice with a mushroom ragu, topped with an onsen egg and thin slices of this fabled beef, its fat softened and liberated by a gentle lick from the salamander grill.
Hand in hand with all these grains comes a range of flours, our recommendation being a micro-processed buckwheat flour that makes for some delicious (protein and fibre rich) pancakes which are also gluten free of course.
Take a browse through our retail section to find some great gifts for not only the Festive Period but for any travel-starved friends and family in need of some love from Japan.
We have prepared curries and plenty of miso-based foodstuffs. An exciting range of three sauces are available from Kobe City’s 130-year old Waku brand. The soy sauce based sauces can be used for Japanese dishes but are also designed to work well with western tastes and are particularly good as a marinade seasoning for chicken, pork and beef, even hamburgers. A new take on adding flavour to any barbecue plans this weekend.
For those in need of carbs, Hyogo has plenty to offer in terms of noodles, from udon noodles (hand pulled on Awaji Island situated between Honshu and Shikoku to the southwest of Nada-Gogo) to sprout soumen noodles, super healthy but thinner than their udon brothers.
Premium Soba completes the noodle range, ours are from Tanakaya Foods and represent the historic taste of Izushi soba, something which has been passed down for more than 300 years. Izushi is the castle town that quietly exists in the mountains of Tajima in the north of Hyogo.
These buckwheat noodles are ready in less than five minutes and can be served simply with scallions, sesame oil, pickled vegetables or just a simple splash of a Waku sauce. Delicious, healthy and very easy, just what you need in the run up to a naughty Christmas!
So come and taste, slurp, chew and shop your way through Hyogo with us here at Sake Central. Items are limited and won’t be here long. Festive shopping never tasted so good!
A certified sake sommelier, Will Jarvis is the owner and founder of Sake Matters, consulting for a variety of clients in Hong Kong and around the world. He has over 20 years’ experience working in the F&B industry in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, is a trained chef and holds a diploma in hospitality.