Sake is an in an indelible part of the Japanese imbibing culture. To be knowledgeable about said culture is something that those who “know what they’re talking about” wear upon their sleeves like a badge of unbridled honor. Admittedly, understanding the true nuance to sake and the idiosyncrasies held by each individual brand is no easy feat. Find me in my local izakaya knocking back cups on a Saturday night and I’ll feign all the sake knowledge in the world. But truthfully, I don’t really get it. Not yet.

If you’re like me and want to rectify your unwilful ignorance of sake, then consider checking out these tasting shops in Tokyo. Each one offers full English support by knowledgeable connoisseurs of Japan’s national drink and try-before-you-buy services.

Imadeya, Ginza

Sitting in the B2F floor of the upmarket Ginza Six shopping center is Imadeya Ginza, one of downtown Tokyo’s newer sake tasting stores. The shop interior oozes class, with a soft wooden finish and their vast array of artisanal sake bottles – organized by brewery location from north to south – sitting on refrigerated shelves around the store perimeter. It’s a snazzy aesthetic, befitting of its Ginza locale.

Imadeya’s speciality is Japanese nihonshu, but they also have a healthy selection of alcohol from local wineries, shochu breweries, whisky distilleries and craft gin makers – a drink which is, slowly but surely, starting to gain traction in Japanese drinking circles. It is a carefully-selected mix with the belief that quality should take precedence over quantity. They visit breweries all over the country to hand-pick their selection of nihonshu (et al), serving as the self-proclaimed “Liquor Beacon of Ginza”.

At Imadeya they typically have a limited selection of bottles available for tasting with their in-house experts. The price of the tasting experience is dependent on how much, and what variation of alcohol you wish to sample. The staff members can provide recommendations and information on the various liquors in English, Chinese, Spanish and other selected languages.

Find store details on our Concierge listing

Chill Labo, Kichijoji

Chill Labo in Kichijoji operates at a different end of the sake-tasting spectrum. As the shop proprietor informed me, their concept is to “find your chill.” Finding your chill can be explained in two ways. First of all, find a chilled sake to your liking. Secondly, it’s a relaxed environment, conducive to chilling out. A kind of sake tasting as therapy, if you will.

Chill Labo lacks any of the pretention that you sometimes come across in Tokyo’s sake stores. The interior is fitted with soft, comfortable furnishings, tables and chairs on the main floor area, bar stools along the shop counter and a décor that’s dressed in soothing, pastel colors.

They offer at least 50-70 different kinds of Japanese sake, all of which are available for tasting. Unless you have something particular in mind, what you sample will generally be based on your taste preferences. Sweet or dry, heavy or light, junmai or daiginjo, whatever tickles your fancy, they’ll try to accommodate. In true Goldilocks fashion, the idea is that after tasting a few different kinds of sake, you’ll find one that’s just right.

Find store details on our Concierge listing

Meishu Center, Hamamatsucho

The Meishu Center in Hamamatsucho is a nihonshu shop through and through. They recently moved to a new location, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the old store. But in spite of the (slightly) new environs, they have stuck with their tried and true tasting method.

The Meishu Center is a standing only store with several high tables placed around the small shop floor. The walls surrounding the tables are stacked high with Japanese sake from breweries all over the country. They have around 10 varieties of sake, spread over 45-plus individual brands.

The tasting process here is very much in the hands of the customer. The refrigerated bottles are plastered with illuminated, artistic labels, just begging to be plucked from the shelves. You can pick three different kinds of sake and bring them to your table where a member of staff will inform you of their relevant taste-properties and possibly offer some alternate recommendations.

They’ll place a wooden board with three indents of equal size on which your sake glasses will sit. After pouring a few generous helpings, you can gulp them down and decide if you’d like to purchase a bottle of the same variation. It’s a classic tasting method and a great introduction into the world of nihonshu for the uninitiated.

Find store details on our Concierge listing

*Imadeya and Meishu Center both have other stores in Kinshicho and Ochanomizu respectively. However, English support may not be as readily available as in their flagship stores.