The Sake Brewery at the Foot of Koyasan

The Relationship Between Koyasan and Sake

Koyasan and sake have a deep and interesting connection between them. Buddhist monks are typically not allowed to drink alcohol for it will violate the precept against intoxication. However, Kukai (Kobo Daishi) who founded the Shingon had acknowledged the consuming of alcohol as medicine.

The monks-in-training in Koyasan consumed sake called “Hannya-tou”. “Hannya” is known well as a scary-looking mask representing a jealous woman, but the word has another meaning in Sanskrit – “wisdom”. The monks drank the “Hannya-tou” (medicine of wisdom) to gain wisdom and also to keep warm and survive through the harsh, cold winter in the mountains.

Documents are found from the Meiji period (1868-1912) saying that the sake brewed in Katsuragi-cho has been carried by horses into Mount Koya for the monks.

1700 years of Tradition. The Sake Brewery and Niutsuhime Jinja

The sake brewing history of Katsuragi-cho goes back to 1700 years. The deity of Niutsuhime Jinja (shrine) had descended on the land along the riverbank of Kino-kawa. Niusakadono Jinja shrine was built to offer sake to the goddess. The Hatsusakura-Shuzou brewery has been brewing the libation since then.

If you are visiting Koyasan, you must visit these two shrines as well, for the Goddess of Niu (Niutsuhime-no-okami) is deeply related to Koyasan before Kukai founded the temple. There is a saying that the Goddess of Niu had given Kukai a piece of land which was a part of the shrine territory. Kukai had built a shrine (Miyashiro) and enshrined the goddess upon Mount Koya as the guardian deity.

Niusakadono Jinja
Niutsuhime Jinja

The Sake History of Kawakami

Before we begin about the history, it is important to know the meaning of the Japanese word “Kawakami”. Kawakami means “the upper part of a river”. The sake brewed at the upper Kino-kawa is called Kishu Kawakami-shu.

The sake brewed in this area started being called Kawakami-shu around the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868). Tokugawa Yoshimune, the shogun of Kishu-han ordered a civil engineer to build a canal to increase the rice harvest. Along the canal people started to build water mills and the rice milling skills improved. These led to producing high-quality sake and contributed to the development of the Kishu Kawakami-shu.

The High-Quality Sake Called Kawakami-shu

Owing to the good quality rice grown in the region and the clear water from the subterranean river flowing through the Izumi-Katsuragi mountains, sake brewing began to thrive in this area.

The sake, Kawakami-shu, became popular among not just the castle town of Wakayama Castle, but in other areas such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo as well. The brand was shipped down the Kino-kawa river and delivered throughout Japan.

About Hatsu-sakura Sake Brewery

Passing Along the Tradition of Kawakami-shu

The Hatsu-sakura Sake Brewery is the only brewery left here in this area still brewing our brand, “Kishu Kawakami-shu”, inheriting and preserving the sake brewing culture.

Our sake brewing started on the purpose to offer the libation to the goddess, Niutsuhime-no-okami (a World Heritage).

The brewery is located in the northeast part of Wakayama prefecture, in a valley with the Izumi mountain range in the north, and the Kii mountains in the south. The Kino-kawa river flows through our town. The temperature difference of this area is perfect for brewing sake.

Rice, Water, and Folks

“Amano” rice which is the main ingredient of our brewery’s sake is grown in the cool climate caused by the altitude of 400 meters and the clear, brisk water. The well water we use for our sake is taken from the rich, fine water vein that flows through the Izumi mountain range.

Our Wakayama-born brewer and keeper sublimate the traditional techniques to continue brewing our proud history.

Touji (brewer)

Come Visit Us at Hatsu-sakura Sake Brewery

During the off-season of brewing, you can have a look around our 150-year-old brewery. You can also sample and purchase our famous Hannya-tou and other sake at our direct sales store.

Tours are available from the 2nd week of May through November.

If you wish to take a tour around the brewery, you must make a reservation by e-mail
( sakagura@hatsusakurashuzo.com ) beforehand.

At the tour, you can see these Registered Tangible Cultural Properties:
Igura … a storehouse for rice and sake that dates back to 1868.
Shikomigura … a fermentation chamber that dates back to 1868.
Shuoku … the main house that dates back to 1912.

The 4th generation owner will guide you around the inside of the buildings and tell the tales of our sake brewing and the history of our local culture.   Open  Monday thru Friday 10am-5pm

A Must-See for Koyasan Visitors

Visitors to Koyasan who want to really embrace the connection between Katsuragi-cho and Koyasan should take the Mitani-saka slope course on foot. The slope has been a pilgrimage route to Koyasan since the ancient times where you can visit Niusakadono Jinja and Niutsuhime Jinja on the way.

Recommended Route

Hatsu-sakura Sake Brewery Main House

Take a sip of our Hannya-tou (medicine of wisdom) to gain some wisdom before you enter the sacred mountain of Koyasan.

Niusakadono Jinja

Visit the shrine which is the most important factor of the beginning of Kawakami-shu. The history of sake brewing in this area all started from here.

Niutsuhime Jinja

The shrine is said to be the origin of the fusion between Buddhism and Shintoism for its history. The Goddess of Niu had given Kukai a piece of the shrine territory to let him open a holy ground for the esoteric Buddhism. Kukai had built the Miyashiro in Koyasan to worship the Goddess and the tradition of the monks paying visits to the shrine after their 100-day training still continues to this day.


From Kansai International Airport

Take the JR Kansai Airport Line
Kansai Airport Rapid Service 14 minutes

JR Hineno station

Take the JR Hanwa Line bound for Wakayama
Kishu-ji Rapid Service 34 minutes

JR Wakayama station

Take the JR Wakayama Line bound for Gojo(Nara)
Local 51 minutes

JR Nakaiburi station

3 minutes on foot

Hatsu-sakura Shuzou Sake Brewery

35 minutes on foot

Niusakadono Jinja

25 minutes on foot

JR Myoji station

Take the JR Wakayama Line bound for Gojo(Nara)
Local 5 minutes

JR Kaseda station

Katsuragi-cho Community Bus
Amano course 30 minutes

Niutsuhime Jinja

Ask the people at the shrine to call a taxi
40 minutes by taxi
Go back to JR Kaseda station by bus


Other Route from Niusakadono Jinja to Niutsuhime Jinja (STEP7-9)

Mitani-zaka Slope (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
2 hours on foot (walking gear recommended)

Walk along the same path where the imperial messenger had back in the ancient times. The slope takes you to Koyasan faster than the Chouishi-michi path which is also a World Heritage.


Address: 85 Nakaiguri, Katsuragi-cho, Ito-gun, Wakayama Prefecture

Tours are available from the 2nd week of May through November.
If you wish to take a tour around the brewery, you must make a reservation by e-mail
( sakagura@hatsusakurashuzo.com ) beforehand.

Open Monday thru Friday 10am–5pm