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Release | Takako Chiba

Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa” - Hokkaido sake brewery series (2)


The only sake brewery exists until now in Otaru is Kanei Tanaka Sake Brewing who brews Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa.” There were once about 50 breweries in Otaru at the peak period. I visited Tanaka Sake Brewing who uses only Hokkaido produced ingredients and brews only Junmaishu.


Table of Contents

- Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa” is made by Tanaka Sake Brewing who founded in 1899
- Three characteristics of Tanaka Sake Brewing’s sake brewing
- The fourth generation of Tanaka Sake Brewing is the president of Hokkaido Brewery Association
- The sake brewer is particular about creating smooth sake
- Two shops in Otaru City
- Staffs have great knowledge about sake
- Three recommended restaurants to try Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa”


Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa” is made by Tanaka Sake Brewing who founded in 1899

Otaru is approximately 32 mins away from Sapporo by JR Airport Express Train, and it’s one of the most popular sightseeing places in Hokkaido. 
Many tourists visit from all over Japan and the world to see historical buildings which were built at periods when Otaru was called “the North Wall Street,” Otaru Canal with gas lamps, glass crafts such as Kitaichi Glass and enjoy fresh seafood with sushi, etc.  
Tanaka Sake Brewing has continued its business for 119 years in Otaru since 1899.  

小樽田中酒造本店外観▲The flagship store of Tanaka Sake Brewing. 

They founded in Ironai-Cho Otaru City, and their flagship store is still in the same town. They built the current building in 1927. The 2-story wooden building is designated as a “Historical Building” by Otaru City. 

小樽田中酒造本店に掲げられている、創業当時の店の看板▲The flagship store uses the same sign used when they founded the brewery. 

小樽田中酒造明治以来の「宝川」の大看板▲They use the huge sign of “Takaragawa” from the Meiji Period. 

The signature brand of Tanaka Sake Brewing is “Takaragawa.” People in Hokkaido might also be familiar with “寶川” written with old-Kanji Character. 

小樽田中酒造曲イ(カネイ)は、田中酒造の屋号▲Kanei is the business name (Yagō) of Tanaka Sake Brewing. The brewery has a deep relationship with the local community as some people still call the brewery “Kanei-san.” 

“Takara” means treasure in Japanese, and they wanted to express “sake like a treasure” or “making lots of treasures.” The brand was at first called “Takaramizu (treasure water),” however, it sounded like they are in the water business, so they re-named the brand to “Takaragawa.” 

Three characteristics of Tanaka Sake Brewing’s sake brewing

There are three major characteristics of Tanaka Sake Brewing’s sake brewing
1) They only use Hokkaido produced ingredients

2) They only make Junmaishu

3) They brew sake throughout the year which is called “Shiki Jozo”

Many sake breweries in Hokkaido started to adopt Hokkaido produced rice for sake (*1). However, Tanaka Sake Brewing had declared that they will only use Hokkaido produced rice since 1998 when the first Hokkaido produced rice for sake was born. 
Since then, they mainly use rice for sake called “Suisei” which is produced in Niseko, Otofuke, Furubira, and Atsuma. 
They use subsoil water from Katsunai River which flows from Okusawa water resource in Otaru as water for brewing. They pump up water from 75 meters underground of Kikkougura where they brew sake. 

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵にある仕込水▲Visitors can try water for brewing and pump up water to take home at Tanaka Sake Brewing’s Kikkougura. 
* Closed during

There are mainly two kinds of Japanese sake: “Junmaishu” which uses only rice and koji and other than Junmai which uses rice, koji, and distilled alcohol, etc. 
And there are different kinds of “Junmaieshu” depending on the process of brewing, etc., (*2): such as “Junmai-daiginjo,” “Junmai-ginjo,” and “Tokubetsu Junmai.” 
Tanaka Sake Brewing only makes Junmaishu by using Hokkaido produced rice for sake and subsoil water from Katsunai River. 

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵の酒タンク▲The sake tank of Kikkougura. They don’t require many tanks because they can brew sake throughout the year. 

Usually, sake breweries make sake during winter which is called “Kanzukuri.” However, Tanaka Sake Brewing brews sake throughout the year (Shiki Jozo)
This is said to be quite rare brewery throughout Japan, considering the small size of the brewery. 
Atsuo Takano, the sake brewer, told me the good points of brewing sake throughout the year. 
“As we brew throughout the year, we can think about sake all the time without a break. If we notice something, we can make it better instantly. And it’s good in terms of sanitation as we maintenance equipment every day.” 


The fourth generation of Tanaka Sake Brewing is the president of Hokkaido Brewery Association

I interviewed Kazuyoshi Tanaka, the fourth generation of Tanaka Sake Brewing which will celebrate its 120th anniversary in 2019. 

小樽田中酒造4代目、田中一良さん▲Kazuyoshi Tanaka, the fourth generation of Tanaka Sake Brewing. He assumed the post of CEO when his father upset his health. Tanaka quit bank to take over the family business. 

“There was not much high-quality rice for sake produced in Hokkaido when I took over the family business. So I must raise the quality of Hokkaido produced rice for sake first to raise the quality of local sake in Hokkaido. To achieve that, I involved in activities to create Hokkaido produced rice for the sake, and as we completed the project, I started producing sake with all-Hokkaido ingredients including rice, water, and brewers.” 
“At that time, I selected the strategy to make high-quality sake in a small batch rather than producing a large amount.” 

小樽田中酒造4代目、代表取締役社長田中一良さん▲“I have been involved in creating the ‘Hokkaido sake’ for a long time, and I am confident that I dedicated to raising the level of sake in Hokkaido.” The president Tanaka said. 

“Otaru has entered the golden age of tourism at that time. I thought of tourists when I was figuring out who would drink and buy sake in Otaru. Then I decided to establish the tourist souvenir market for Hokkaido sake and Otaru’s local sake as our specialty here.” 
“I was lucky that the golden age of tourism in Otaru and the timing I took over the family business was the same,” Tanaka said. However, I felt that it was not only his luck, but also he had the strong will to raise the quality of sake in Hokkaido. 


Why did he decide to use only Hokkaido produced ingredients and just make Junmaishu?
“We can’t make great sake without the total power of rice farmers, sake brewers, and the local community. As I become particular about Hokkaido, I can also dedicate to the local community.”
“There is the famous sake for rice called ‘Yamadanishiki’ which is used throughout Japan. Hokkaido produced sake for rice might not be as good as Yamadanishiki, and it would be a minus not to use Yamadanishiki at competition. However, I feel the fun and the meaning to challenge creating sake with only Hokkaido produced ingredients.”  
“Investors may not agree with me, but my opinion and directions are the same as the sake brewer. That is why we are strong. We have the goal to make the best Junmaishu, Junmai-ginjo, and Junmai-daiginjo in Japan. This may be an unrealistic goal which I need to pursue all my life and not achieve.” 

小樽田中酒造4代目、代表取締役社長田中一良さん▲Tanaka’s favorite delicacies to have with sake is “cold tofu.” “I think simple dishes such as natto with grated radish or plum pickles match best with sake.” 

What is Hokkaido produced sake as the president of Hokkaido Brewery Association? 
“All breweries in Hokkaido think that we are in the era to pursue quality rather than quantity and we are on the same page to raise the quality of sake. 
We continue to improve and encourage each other through competitions and pursue making great sake with Hokkaido produced ingredients and promote the attractions of Hokkaido sake.” 
“Our industry is going global. To do that, being particular about the quality is very important for success. To promote that Hokkaido is the area where internationally highly-rated sake is from, we need to appeal with the right information and increase fans. 


The sake brewer understands smooth sake as he can’t drink much

The sake brewer Atsuo Takano decides and manages the flavor of sake brewed in Tanaka Sake Brewing. 

小樽田中酒造杜氏の高野篤生さん▲The sake brewer Atsuo Takano

Takano was originally the engineer of fermentation field in Tokyo and entered to Tanaka Sake Brewing approximately 20 years ago. 

It was at the time when Tanaka Sake Brewing decided to convert their ingredients to Hokkaido produced rice for sake. Takano has always wondered what it is strange to use rice produced in a different region to make sake in Hokkaido. It was easy for Takano to understand the reason to use rice produced in Hokkaido. 

櫂入れ(タンクをかき混ぜる)をする高野さん▲Mr. Takano mixes sake in the tank.  

Takano is particular about creating smooth sake.  
As he can’t drink much, he thinks that the sake even a person who drinks Japanese sake for the first time thinks delicious is the smooth sake he wants to create. 
小樽田中酒造杜氏の高野さん▲“I want to brew sake which tourists think it’s smooth when they sample our sake,” Tanaka said. 

He aims to try out how much he can raise the quality of Junmai-daiginjo with Hokkaido produced sake. 
He always thinks about sake and improves the sake continuously as they make sake throughout the year to pursue the smooth Hokkaido sake Takaragawa. 


Sake Brewery tour in Kikkougura and the photogenic historical building

Tanaka Sake Brewing has two shops in Otaru City
- Tanaka Sake Brewering Kikkougura
You can find Kikkougura on the left side of the road when you drive towards Otaru Canal after getting off Sapporo Expressway when you visit from Sapporo. 
It is about 5 mins walk from JR Minami-Otaru Station. 
All sake from Tanaka Sake Brewing, including “Takaragawa” is brewed in this Kikkougura. 

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵▲Tanaka Sake Brewing Kikkougura. There is a Seven-Eleven next to the building, and the big parking makes us easy to stop by. 

The building is a wooden frame and stone construction one story some two-stories and was built in 1905-1906. It is old-Okazaki Storages and designated as “Historical Buildings” by Otaru City. 

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵▲I can recommend this place to visit especially to architecture lovers! Not only the exterior but inside is also pretty.

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵の酒造り見学▲You can observe the sake brewing process through the window at Kikkougura.  
小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵のショップ▲You can purchase and sample Tanaka Sake Brewing's sake at the shop. 

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵にある酒▲They offer not only the signature brand “Takaragawa” but also seasonally limited sake, etc. 

小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵限定販売の純米吟醸原酒▲The Junmai-ginjo Genshu which you can buy only at Kikkougura. 

Junmai-ginjo Genshu “Kikkogura” is sold only at this shop. You can’t purchase online nor the flagship shop. 

Make sure you don’t regret that you did not buy this sake if you have a chance to visit here! 
小樽田中酒造亀甲蔵試飲コーナー▲Hokkaido Likers editor in chief is sampling the sake. (Guys, I am working!) Junmai-daiginjo “Takaragawa” (made with Suisei produced in Niseko) had some delicate flower-like aroma and was easy to swallow. How delicate this sake is! 
- Tanaka Sake Brewing flagship store
The flagship store is very close to Kikkougura. Drive towards Yoichi along Otaru Canal, turn left along the curve, and turn right at the first traffic light. 
It is about 10 mins walk from JR Otaru Station. 
You can purchase and sample sake at the flagship shop, but the sampling room is quite nice!  

小樽田中酒造田中酒造本店▲Tanaka Sake Brewing flagship store. 

They turned the old office into the sampling room, and it feels like I came to the past from this retro and nostalgic atmosphere. 

小樽田中酒造本店の試飲室▲The sampling room of the flagship store. 

小樽田中酒造本店店内▲I can feel the history of Tanaka Sake Brewing! There are many signs displayed on the wall which were used since they established.  
You can sample their sake at both shops. However, those who are planning to drive a car or a bicycle, and those under 20 years old can not drink! 

Staffs have great knowledge about sake

I imagined the artisan-like experienced staffs as Tanaka Sake Brewing is a long-established brewery. However, there are many female staffs work at both Kikkougura and the flagship store. 

小樽田中酒造本店のスタッフ▲The staffs of the flagship store. Everyone welcomes customers with a smile. 

Many staffs of Tanaka Sake Brewing have certifications related to sake such as sake brewer, certified sake professional, and Kikisake-shi, etc. They will answer all the questions. 

小樽田中酒造道産もち米を使った本みりん「魔法の一滴」▲“Mahou No Itteki Honmirin” (includes 13% alcohol) is made with Hokkaido produced glutenous rice.

Other than Japanese sake, they recommended “Mahou No Itteki Honmirin.” According to Haruna Ono from the General Affairs Planning Division, this mirin is not only good for cooking but also drinking with soda and having it with a scoop of ice cream! 


Three recommended restaurants to try Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa”

It must be nice to have Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa” in Otaru. So let me introduce two restaurants in Otaru and one restaurant in Sapporo where you can try “Takaragawa”. 
- Otaru Masazuhi Honten
You have to have sushi in Otaru! “Masazushi,” founded in 1938, is one of the most famous sushi restaurants in Otaru. They offer not only nigiri but also varieties of side dishes and delicacies. Have some nigiri sushi at Masazushi with “Takaragawa,” you should be able to fully enjoy flavors of Otaru! 

小樽政寿司本店* Provided photo from Masazushi

1 Chome-1-1 Hanazono, Otaru-shi, Hokkaido (Sushi Street)
Phone: 0134-23-0011
11:00 AM - 3:00 PM (Last call  2:30 PM)
5:00 PM - 9:30 PM (Last call 9:00 PM)
Holidays: Every Wednesday, January 1
* They may close irregularly according to national holidays and other events 


- Ajidokoro Kamawanu
They are particular about dishes using Hokkaido ingredients so it can’t go wrong with “Takaragawa” made with Hokkaido produced rice! They use beautiful plates as the family of the owner is a ceramic store so enjoy the dishes, too! 

小樽味処かまわぬ* Provided photo from Ajidokoro Kamawanu

2F, 1 Chome-6-4 Hanazono, Otaru-shi, Hokkaido
Phone: 0134-24-3232
Hours: 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM (Last call)
Holidays: Sundays


Umizora No Haru - Hokkaido seafood and Hokkaido sake
If you want to try “Takaragawa” in Sapporo, you should definitely visit “Umizora No Haru” which we have already introduced in Hokkaido Likers. You can enjoy Ainu culture, Hokkaido cuisine, and Hokkaido’s local sake. Each private room is inspired by sake breweries in Hokkaido, and the room is named under the local sake. If you are planning to try “Takaragawa” here, why don’t you make a reservation for the room called “Takaragawa”?

北海道海鮮和食と道産酒 海空のハル
J-BOX Building 5F, 4 Chome Minami 3 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Phone: 011-231-6868
Hours: Mon-Sat, National Holidays, the day before National Holidays 5:00 PM - 11:30 PM (Food last call 10:45 PM, Drinks last call 11:00 PM) 
Holidays: Sundays
* Closed on Mondays and instead open on Sundays when a Monday is a National Holiday 
You can basically purchase Tanaka Sake Brewing’s sake at Kikkoukura or the flagship store in Otaru. You can’t find at other places even if you want to buy it at Shin-Chitose Airport because sake bottles are heavy to carry around, you should not miss the store if you stop by Otaru. 
Their sake is also available for purchase at their official online shop except for Kikkoukura and other limited sake bottles sold only at the flagship store.  
Their smooth sake from Otaru matches great with hot pot dishes in winter!  
*1:  “Rice for sake” refers to “Sakamai” - special kinds of rice which are developed for brewing sake. 
*2: Abstract of “Quality Labeling Standards of Sake” by National Tax Agency 

Related Links

- Tanaka Sake Brewing Co., Ltd
- Tanaka Sake Brewing online shop
- Hokkaido Sake Brewery Association
  • Otaru’s local sake “Takaragawa” - Hokkaido sake brewery series (2)

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Takako Chiba