Saijo is a small city just on the outskirts of Hiroshima, and has many fine sake breweries. It comes to no wonder when the city is also host to the Saijo Sake Matsuri, also known as the Sake Festival, a yearly event participated by some of the country’s most well-known sake brands. The festival is held every October around JR Saijo Station and attracts up to 200,000 local and international tourists and lasts for two days during the weekend. This year it is on October 7 and 8 leaving visitors and their taste buds content to welcome the cool breeze of autumn.
Upon stepping foot outside the station, visitors are welcomed with the tempting smell of fine sake that lingers throughout the main boulevard of the station where the festival takes place. Streets across the station jump to life as soon as the festival starts, with stalls lined up and down the lane. Visitors are also greeted with live music, karaoke contests, brewery tours, and numerous street foods, adding to the lively bustle of the event.
Essentially, the festival serves as a huge sake sampling venue with more than 1000 kinds of sake from breweries all over the country. The main boulevard across the station is lined with many sake stalls, each handing out free samples of their products for visitors to try. Imagine sampling numerous kinds of sake from all over the country, be it sweet and light ones or the rough and strong ones, all in one day! Did I forget to mention that it is also free of charge?
Photo by five6eightthree on IstagramThere is a special area in the festival though, called the Sake Hiroba Grounds, which will cost you 2,100 yen to enter. What is so special about this place? Upon entering the Sake Hiroba Grounds, you will be given a small glass to take around the area to taste the finest sake from 80 leading sake breweries in the regions of Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Where else can you get a free-flow of exclusive sake from around the country all in one place?
While jumping from one sake booth to another, do not be surprised to see families with younger kids nearby. Although the festival itself primarily focuses on the Japanese alcohol, the Sake Matsuri is also a perfect place for families who are looking for a great place to enjoy the weekend. Various food stalls and children-friendly games such as kiddy fishing were packed with excited little kids. The Saijo sake brewery, one of the oldest breweries in the prefecture, is also open to the public during the festival. The brewery stops all its production processing as visitors get to see firsthand the production area and cellars filled with barrels of sake which is interesting to experience with your friends or family.
As with other events involving alcoholic drinks, it was a common sight to see people walking unsteadily or trying to walk with an umbrella as a walking aid after enjoying gulps of sake. It was nowhere near worrisome though as the crowd in general was so fun and sensible that it only added to the amusement of the festival.
Another thing that caught my attention was that despite being a very lively and merry festival, the main boulevard was surprisingly clean from any kinds of trash. Cups from the sampling booth or food wrapping were nowhere to be found.
Though trash cans were only provided in certain spots, litter was not an issue.
The Saijo Sake Matsuri is indeed a unique and worthy experience to try during your stay in Japan. Getting a closer look at this Japanese traditional drink combined with fun, live music and delicious street food will definitely be a travel treasure from Japan.