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Sunday, May 27, 2001

NIHONSHU

Worth jumping off the train for


With the proliferation of bars and restaurants serving decent nihonshu, there is no need to make a big deal out of searching for a "proper" sake pub. Dotted throughout the sprawling underground shopping areas that lie below many of the major stations in Japan are little sake havens. Take, for example, the easily accessible and oft-passed spots in Tokyo Station's immediate environs.

One recommended shop is Keyaki, which is inside the wickets, downstairs near the Yaesu Central Underground Exit, close to the Gin-no-suzu waiting areas. In a slightly upmarket setting, Keyaki serves fresh seafood-centered set meals and a good range of izakaya food. The draft beer comes in glasses with finger indents for proper gripping, which somehow makes the beer taste significantly better.

But the several selections of sake are what makes it worth stopping in for. Most notable are Goshun, Kubota, Denshu, Kokuryu and -- get this -- six types of Juyondai, ranging from 650 yen to 2,500 yen a glass (the 850 yen Funadare will do you just fine, but the Honmaru honjozo is great for 650 yen). Keyaki, (03) 3214-6161, has shops all over the Tokyo Station area, but this is the one you want -- and you won't even have to exit the wickets.

Once outside the wickets, however, your best bet is Jiman Honten, (03) 3275-2689, in the Yaesu underground shopping area. It was reviewed in this column a few years back. Great fish and at least 50 great sake.

If you leave Tokyo Station at the aforementioned Yaesu Central Underground Exit and take a right into the first corridor, signs will tell you that you will be heading for South Yaesu and Yurakucho. This corridor will dead-end into a shop called Kassen Ichiba. A small restaurant with lots of fresh fish and great lunch sets, it also handles about 15 sake, including all the usual suspects from mighty Niigata, including four Kubota and what are known as the prefecture's "three plums": Koshi no Kanbai, Mine no Fubai and Setchubai. (Unfortunately, they had no meishi, no address or phone number on the chopsticks' wrapper and seemed to think I was from the CIA when I asked for their phone number.)

Twenty meters before Kassen Ichiba on the right is the Keyaki Minami-guchi shop. While not as nice as the Keyaki establishment inside the wickets, this one also has sterling Gikyo and other permutations of the Niigata contingent.

Finally, inside the station building but outside the wickets, down near the Nihonbashi Exit, sits a noodle shop/izakaya called Sugi no Ie, (03) 3284-1768. Small but friendly, here you can try Kuroushi, a wonderful and very reasonably priced sake, as well as sturdily built Tengumai Yamahai. They also have the (yawn) Niigata trio of Shimahari-tsuru, Kubota and Hakkaisan.

This is only a smattering of what is out there. Such places are increasingly common not only in Tokyo but also near all big train stations throughout Japan. What they may lack in traditional atmosphere, they more than make up for in accessibility, variety and price.

Sign up for a free sake-related e-mail newsletter and learn anything and everything about sake at www.sake-world.com. Also, to be put on a contact list for information on sake-related tours, events and seminars, send an e-mail to sakeguy@gol.com, or fax your name and address to (0467) 23-6895.

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Maboroshi's ginjo-shu from Hiroshima.

Maboroshi (Hiroshima)
Ginjo-shu

Made by a brewery whose main brand is called Seikyo, this luscious ginjo has an almost creamy touch and a pleasant presence. A proper, slightly fruity nose melds into a flavor that, while not quite sweet, is decidedly not dry.



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