‘Sugidama’ Sake Breweries |Traditional shops – Takayama Japan


Traditional Sake Breweries

We walked through the Sanno-machi streets of the traditional area and were able to investigate the shops more thoroughly which proved  pretty interesting. There are quite a few Sake breweries in the area, many of them  established since 1692. Each brewery uses a different  rice variety and has a unique traditional sake making method to brew their  rice wine. One brewery Harada Sake Brewery has a relative new sake “Sansya”  (which means festival float). This  particular sake has only been brewed since 1855. Harada Sake Brewery also makes a special Ginko Sake using Flower Yeast refined from nectar by a special process, a world first success in this particular technology.


Sake Brewery traditional ‘sugidama’ or cypress balls hanging under eaves and over doorways.

The Sake breweries proved fascinating with such interesting bottles and packaging on offer. A sake brewery can be identified by a round ball known as “sugidama” (cypress ball), this is a traditional sign hung outside a brewery. There is a large and a small cypress ball above the door of this brewery.

During the Edo Period(1603-1867) about  62 sake breweries existed in the region, the barrels used for brewing made from Japanese Cedar. It became a traditional means to identify a sake brewery by hanging a cedar/cypress ball under the eaves or above  the brewery door.  Today, large enamel-ware is used for Sake brewing instead of cedar barrels.


Sanno Machi Streets- attractive packaging Sake Brewery-Takayama Gifu Province

Sake very attractively packaged

I had no idea Sake came in so many shaped bottles of glass and pottery. The presentation is really attractive and relates to the variety of rice wine used.  Now I have read more about rice wine, I wish I had taken time to taste a few more varieties. In the winter months sake brewery tours are a popular event along with sake tasting. Some breweries have free tasting while some charge a small fee. Sake is more like a brewed beer than a traditional wine as we  know it. I believe  beer brewed in Takayama is very different to western beer.


“The Bagpipe” a Scottish pub in Takayama Japan?

Always good to know you can get a beer if you’re not into the local sake  brew. Came across the pub called “The Bagpipes” on our walk the first day. It was a bit of a surprise finding a Scottish named pub in a Japanese city.  Didn’t get to have a beer though, weather  too cold for beer drinking for me at least. The Bagpipes has a quaint interior (a Scottish pub look?). In contrast If you are a fan of Hyouka  and Anime you will appreciate some of the posters and items on display, also a note-book for Hyouka fans to write in.  Tea and coffee are available and Matcha cake.  Takayama is the local setting for Anime.


Streets of Takayama – traditional local shops

Traditional Local Shops

A young mother with  child in stroller visits a local shop; a tourist takes a rest on a welcoming seat outside. If you are a bit footsore from walking an alternative is a tour by rickshaw. The local rickshaw drivers offer a  60 minute tour costing around 5,000 Yen.

At one shop we stopped to admire grotesque masks; another local shop attractive lacquer-ware with a wonderful range to choose from  in traditional  red and black and other attractive colors; hard to resist.

Fascinating traditional old water wheel outside a Craft Shop, Takayama

Traditional old water wheel outside a Craft Shop, Takayama

Traditional old Water Wheel

The traditional old water wheel caught our attention, we ventured inside and found handcrafted wooden objects, so beautiful to the touch, beautifully carved or turned. I would have loved a five storied Pagoda or one of the exquisite small chest of drawers, there were vases and trays in many-colored timbers, all in a range of prices.

Eventually came across a little snack bar selling cappuccino; a life saver, having withdrawal symptoms, really needed a caffeine hit (although I did enjoy all the Japanese special teas at the Hotel). The Sake is also very warming on a cold day, quite takes one breath away as I found out.

Sanno-machi traditional district restaurants, souvenirs and local shopping- Takayama

Sanno-machi traditional district restaurants, souvenirs and local shopping- Takayama

Everywhere the streets are so neat, clean and tidy. The pot plants, flowers,lanterns,and banners make the traditional buildings look bright and cheerful. It soon dispelled the idea of sombreness that first greeted us when we arrived and walked through the streets of old Takayama. Once the  shops opened the following day the area came to life and proved a colorful and attractive place.

Sanno- machi Streets-traditional shops -Takayama Gifu Province

Sanno- machi Streets-traditional shops -Takayama Gifu Province

Takayama museum

Samurai Costume-Hida Archeological Museum, Takayama

Hida Archaeology Museum (Hida Minzoku Kouko-kan)

The Hida Archaeology Museum  originally residence of the physician to the daimyo, employed by the Kanamori family, the lords of Takayama castle in the Edo Period. The Samurai residence features a suspended ceiling, a concealed entrance and hidden tunnel leading to a well. The storehouse of the residence displays  historical and archaeological artifacts  from the period. An interesting visit.

Sanna-macho-streets-traditional hand made soaps in delightful designs and colors

Sanna-macho-streets-traditional hand-made soaps in delightful designs and colors

Our stay in Takayama was so very interesting and enjoyable. I would love to visit  this traditional city again, particularly when it is festival time, or when snow covers the surrounding mountain peaks.

Next we are on the bus again, this time heading for Shirakawago, about one hours drive from Takayama.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Takayama. Regards

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