Suwa's Wonderful Drinking and Walking Event
Suwa city is a small town away in the middle of Nagano prefecture. For such a small town though it is home to a lot of interesting festivals and events. From two of the most impressive fireworks festivals in Japan to one of the most interesting festivals where they ride holy trees down a mountain there always seems to be something going on. As it happens this past weekend, on October third, there was another one of my favorite events in Suwa and it has to do with one of my favorite things. Sake.
The event is called Nomiaruki, which literally translates into “drink walk” and that is precisely what you are supposed to do at this event; drink and walk. The event takes place on route 20, not far from Kamisuwa station, where the five main sake breweries of Suwa are located. Yokobue, Maihime, Reijin, Honkin, and Masumi. You can buy tickets for 3000¥ at the NTT building, which marked on the map you can get from the station, or you can pre-purchase online for 2200¥. Either way you start at the ticket window where you receive a small square sake glass which you then take down the street to visit the breweries. Having this cup grants you unlimited samples.
While each brewery has its own normal batch of sake for sample there are also several seasonal batches to try. Sadly I am no true expert on sake but I can say I preferred the normal brews as opposed to karaguchi, or dry, sake.
That said, let’s have a quick look at the five breweries.
If you head down the street from the ticket window outside the NTT building the first brewery you come to is Maihime. A small little brewery but still quite tasty. It was opened in 1894. You can visit their website here. Unfortunately it’s only in Japanese. You can check a listing of their products and get some information on the brewery.
Next in line is Reijin. Which happens to be one of my favorites. It is also the second biggest of the five breweries. Their basic sake is a little on the dry side but not so much so that I can’t enjoy it. Also they have a sparkling sake that is really tasty and bubbly. It opened in 1789. Their site (in Japanese) is mostly for the selling of their products.
Continuing down the same side of the street you come to another smaller brewery, Honkin. Again another enjoyable stop, as all of them really are. Honkin was opened in 1756. You can check their products and see some information on the brewery on their website (again, only in Japanese).
Just across the street from Honkin is Yokobue, another smaller brewery. Yokobue is the only brewery that has umeshuu, a sweet alcohol made from plums, for sample. It’s also a smaller brewery. It opened in 1958 making it the youngest brewery of the five. Their site (in Japanese) is designed for selling their products and has some basic information too.
Last, furthest down the street from the starting point, Is Masumi. Masumi is the oldest and largest brewery in the Suwa area and is fairly popular. It opened in 1662 and has survived some trials and tribulations over time. They offer a lot of different sake, from their normal brew, to their seasonal brew and even atsukan, warm or heated sake. Masumi’s site has, Japanese, English and even French support. You can find general information about them and their products. Or browse their online store for sake as well.
Of course just the sake breweries are enough but, it really wouldn’t be an event in Japan without street vendors. All down the street in various spots there are groups of food stalls selling various foods. Yakitori and the like. There are even a couple of stages with musical performances. One of the most notable vendors sells shikayaki, which is dear grilled on a stick. They also had wild boar sausages. Both were very delicious and I highly recommend them, even if they are a bit pricey at 500¥ for a piece.
I highly recommend Suwa’s Nomiaruki Festival. It is a great way to sample traditional Japanese sake and have a lovely day out. It happens twice a year. This was about the fall one which usually happens in October. There is a spring one, where you can try spring seasonal sake, that is organised in March.
To end off here are a couple of basic tips for enjoying Nomiaruki to its fullest.
- It is a walking event. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring some spare cash for the food stalls. It is worth trying some of the rare treats. Like wild boar sausage.
Don’t be shy with getting in line. Often large crowds will form very close to where lines should be for getting a sample. Have a look around and see if people have empty glasses or not and don’t feel bad about saying excuse me and pushing through to get in line.
That’s all folks. As far as getting there, unless you have a designated driver, I would recommend taking the train. Get off at Kamisuwa station and head to your right.