Every year, Suwa City hosts the Sake Drinking Festival, or Nomi Aruki (Walk and Drink) hosted by Sake makers. It’s hosted not in only one venue, but all over the city, meaning that people who join literally walk all over Suwa to taste different kinds of sake and umeshuu.
Entry for the festival is 2200 yen in advance and 3000 yen at the door. You can pay right outside Kamisuwa train station, where you are given a small cup and a map of the town. Lanyards are also available for purchase to hang your cup on when you’re not using it.
On March 28th 2015, the weather was perfect. A crowd gathered to grab some cups and although we were slightly worried they’d be sold out by the time we got there, there were plenty left. If you’re planning to go sometime in the future, it may be better to get a ticket in advance – as well as being 800 yen cheaper, you may have to arrive early to get an on-the-door ticket; we arrived at around 12:15, almost an hour before the event itself started.
Unlike many drinking festivals, it was absolutely fine to bring your own drinks and buy some from nearby convenience stores – there were at least two between the train station and the farthest Sake vendor. If you’re not keen on Sake, it might be better for you to just buy alternative drinks such as beer. However, you’ll be missing out on tasting an unlimited supply of Sake.
As well as Sake, there were many food vendors offering everything from takoyaki to grasshoppers fried in soy sauce. They weren’t bad, either. Near the Sake vendors were people offering juice served inside their original fruit, and the shopkeeper would draw anime characters, as well as your name, on them for you.
As expected, several hours into the event, many people were tipsy. Being Japan, however, it remained a pleasant and fun atmosphere – I met many friendly people, tried some food and could practise my Japanese. 3000 yen isn’t bad considering the event lasted from one o’clock to six o’clock, and most of the vendors were kind enough to fill up your cups almost to the brim with alcohol.
Tips for your visit
Take sun cream. Although Nagano’s winter can last into even April sometimes, March 28th was hot and sunny, which can be dangerous if you’re standing outside drinking all day. You won’t regret taking (or buying when you’re there) some standard-strength sun cream to ward off the worst of potential sunburn.
Remember you don’t have to drink Sake. As mentioned earlier, if you prefer, you can buy beer, wine or your preferred alcoholic beverage along to the party – you won’t get kicked out of the venue, because it’s all over the city.
Take plenty of money. Suwa gets crowded during the event, and there might be a queue for the cash machine. Avoid waiting in line by taking plenty of cash with you. Be careful, though – if you’re the type who likes to spend a lot of money when you’re drunk, it might be best giving your wallet to a trusted friend.
Nomi Aruki is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Suwa or the Suwa area. It’s held every year in Spring and in Fall, but seems to progressively get more expensive the popular it gets. Whether you’re interested in Japanese Sake and Umeshuu, or are just looking for a fun day out to get drunk with friends, it’s worth taking a look, and perhaps making some local friends along the way.
Website (in English): http://www.masumi.co.jp/english/event/archives/001657.html