Gunma’s sake is an expression of its natural surroundings
Last updated: December 21, 2020
Visitors are drawn to Gunma for its towering mountains, pristine rivers, and—in winter—its abundant powder snow. These same natural gifts are used by expert brewers to create delicious sake, Japan’s most famous tipple. Pure water is an integral part of high-quality sake, and Gunma’s snowmelt-fed streams are crystal clear. Sake also requires consistently cool temperatures, so Gunma’s mountainous geography encouraged brewing to flourish, even long before modern climate control systems were developed.
Throughout the prefecture, you can find breweries making “jizake,” or local sake. The area’s water and climate have a profound effect on the finished product, much like terroir in wine. Sample various brews as you travel around Gunma to truly taste the region. Some producers take the local-first attitude one step further, brewing “maikaze,” which is identifiable by a blue sticker on the bottle. Maikaze is sake brewed with a variety of brewer’s rice grown in Gunma and a specific type of yeast developed in the prefecture.
Sample local sake in restaurants, izakaya pubs, ryokan inns, and bars throughout Gunma. Try a flight to compare multiple brews and find your favorite. Be sure to pair jizake with some of the area’s specialty food, such as sukiyaki, okkirikomi, and konnyaku.
Some breweries offer tastings and tours. Visit to get a closer look at the techniques, ingredients, and history that goes into each cup of sake.
Tsuchida Sake Brewery in the town of Kawaba was founded in 1907 and is run by the sixth generation of the Tsuchida family. As old as that may sound, it actually makes Tsuchida a relatively new brewery by sake standards. The Tsuchida brewery continues to use its original production method called “kimoto,” which has largely fallen out of favor due to its labor-intensive nature. However, sake produced this way gains a richer and more mellow taste. Just as when they opened over one hundred years ago, Tsuchida only uses three ingredients: rice, spring water, and koji—the natural starter that is key to all Japanese fermented foods. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the facility.
Nagai Sake Brewery, also located in Kawaba, was started in 1886. Similarly, Nagai prides itself on local flavors drawn from the area’s pure water and brewer’s rice. Today, the brewery combines traditional methods with modern technology to create its sake. The head brewer brings experience traveling in the Champagne region of France to influence the craftsmanship of Nagai sake. Guided tours are available with a reservation made in advance.
Otone Shuzo in Numata expresses the surrounding Oze region in its brews. The brewery was founded in 1902, but sake history in the area stretches back at least a century earlier. The modestly sized facility produces a range of sake types, all of which use the area’s clear water. Otone Shuzo is dedicated to sustainable production and implements a carbon offset program. Reserve in advance for a brewery tour with explanation and tasting.
Asama Sake Brewery, located near Kusatsu, has been producing sake for over 140 years. Asama uses modern technology to ensure exacting quality control and freshness. The dry climate and soft water combine to create crisp-flavored sake. Tours are available on weekends, but the on-site shop selling sake and other local specialties is open daily.