Nihonshu Genka Sakagura: Serving Sake at Cost Price Around Tokyo

If you feel unsure what sake to choose when eating out, or if you aren’t comfortable spending a lot of money on an unfamiliar drink, the sake restaurant I describe in this article can help overcome these obstacles. With up to fifty sake brands offered at the lowest prices, a friendly atmosphere, and well-made English menus, the wonderful world of sake is now within reach of nearly everybody.

2019-08-06   Bars & Restaurants, Tokyo,


Japanese Sake at Cost Price

Nihonshu Genka Sakagura (日本酒原価酒蔵) is a fairly new Tokyo-based sake restaurant chain with a very original concept: selling famous sake at cost price. “Sakagura” means “sake brewery” and also “sake cellar”, so the restaurant name could translate roughly as “The sake cellar of sake sold at cost price”.

Nihonshu Genka Sakagura logo (photo source: http://sake-genkabar.com/)

Normal business practice dictates that restaurants and bars sell drinks with a markup, or above their buying price. For example, if a bottle of sake costs 1600 yen retail, an “ichigo” (one fourth of the bottle) might cost 600 yen or more. However, Nihonshu Genka Sakagura will charge you the price the sake cost them, so just 400 yen, and you don’t need to drink the remaining three quarters of the bottle, but you may if you like!

Follow the bottles down the steps to the Ikebukuro branch

Famous Sake from All Over Japan

Nihonshu Genka Sakagura opened their first store in Shimbashi in 2015, and as of August 2019, they have 15 locations conveniently located near major stations along the Yamanote line in central Tokyo. Each branch is open daily from afternoon to midnight, and apparently, they all have slightly different decors and sake lists, so it can be interesting to visit more than one location. It’s also important to note that all branches are 100% non-smoking, still a rarity for large izakaya-style restaurants in Tokyo.

I’ve been to their Ikebukuro branch which had 35 kinds of sake on the regular menu, plus a few “special guests”. All are well-known and so, even if you are a total beginner, you can pick any one of them, and still have a great tasting experience. I recognized some brands I had tried before, and found a few that I had heard about, but hadn’t had a chance to taste…up until then!

Wall decoration at the Ikebukuro branch

The colour coded English menu organises the sake into easy-to-understand categories with short descriptions of each taste. For example, “Nanbu bijin”, a famous sake from Iwate in the light-dry category, is described as a sake that “has gorgeous fragrance and umami of rice”. This makes it easier to select the sake that best suits your taste. The menu also contains simple explanations of sake terms. At one point, be sure to try “Dassai”, arguably the most famous sake brand in Japan. Although it’s available in other countries, treating yourself to it abroad  will cost you a lot more than enjoying it at cost in Japan!

Ono-san, the store manager, holding a bottle of Dassai

Keping the Taste Fresh

Another unique characteristic of Nihonshu Genka Sakagura is that the sake is brought to your table in small 100ml glass bottles, chilled or at room temperature, whichever is best to fully enjoy the complex taste of the sake – some are also offered warm or hot. This may seem a bit odd at first, but although an opened bottle of sake keeps reasonably well for a while, after contact with the oxygen in the air, the taste will deteriorate slightly. In order to offer many kinds of sake, while keeping the taste from a freshly opened bottle, storing the bottle contents in smaller bottles is a good compromise.

9 bottles or nearly 1 liter of sake – time to call it a night?

The bottles are served with small plastified cards reproducing all the relevant information from the bottle label in Japanese, like the name, prefecture, rice milling rate, etc…Since the sake name is also printed in English, these cards provide a handy way to keep track of what you are drinking, and how much you have drunk!

The cards can be taken home

Pairing Food and Sake

Although Nihonshu Genka Sakagura specialises in sake, they are also a restaurant, and thus have a wide variety of typical izakaya dishes (edamame, karaage, sashimi…), and dishes that go well with sake, including cheese. The food menu is also in English and has pictures of all the dishes, so it’s super easy to experiment with some sake-food pairing.

I’d recommend trying the miso cream cheese (#29)

Although each restaurant can seat several dozens customers, the low cost concept means that Nihonshu Genka Sakagura can get quite full, especially on weekends, so make sure to reserve before going and arrive on time, otherwise your reservation may get cancelled. At busy times, your stay at the restaurant will also be limited to two hours. Their English website provides links for reserving online and Google maps for each shop. If you are staying at the Tadaima Japan Shinjuku Ryokan, then the closest branch is Shinjuku East Gate.

Visiting with up to four people provides the best experience

Finally, a good tip to avoid getting intoxicated while enjoying all this fine sake, is to drink lots of water. You can of course drink tap water provided at no charge (like in most restaurants in Japan) or you could try “shikomi water” (300 yen for 2 liters), special water used for brewing sake, and which, apparently, can prevent a hangover. Does it work? You’ll have to find out!

Enjoying sake with friends visiting from overseas

Read more about Japanese Sake on the Tadaima Japan website:

How to Order Sake – Know the Measurements

How to choose sake – check the prefecture

Talkin’ Loud, a sake bar in Shinjuku where the bartender will help you find your favourite “Nihonshu”

How to choose sake

If you choose to visit this restaurant after reading this article, don’t hesitate to tell the staff you found out about them through the Tadaima Japan website.

If you liked this article, please share it by clicking on one (or all) of the buttons below!

Tadaima Japan is looking to improve. Please rate this article!
[Total: 1 Average: 5]

You might also like

AUTHOR

David

David

Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.