You could almost tell the history of Fushimi without mentioning the city that would later absorb it. It was here that Toyotomi Hideyoshi built his Momoyama Castle, transforming the area into a political center, home to samurai served by a community of artisans, merchants and, even more important to the history of Fushimi, sake brewers. The rivers met at Fushimi, the canals began there, and it served as a waypoint for travelers on their way into the capital and those headed down to Osaka or up to Edo.
Start your rediscovery of this riverside trading port with a trip out on one of the flat-bottomed riverboats that ply the Uji Canal through Fushimi. Although the tour doesn’t head that far west, boats like those used for cruises today could have run slipped onto routes headed to Osaka, and rice grown as far away as Niigata could be shipped down across Lake Biwa and into Fushimi.
The cruise takes about fifty minutes and provides a behind-the-scenes look at Fushimi, skimming along the infrastructure that built this town, and providing glimpses of sake breweries, warehouses and former merchant districts. Since this was a town built on the water, the canals are the best way to explore it. The Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum sits, of course, right alongside the canal.
The old brewery dates back to the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912) but the firm has been based in Fushimi since 1637. It’s been decades since sake was brewed at large-scale at this Gekkeikan operation, but all of the original equipment, including a well to draw up the region’s famous water, have been preserved and it feels as if workers could descend at any moment and have the place up and running within a matter of hours. End the tour with a tasting and then get back to touring the neighborhood.
Sake might not be brewed at the Okura Sake Museum anymore, but it still is at the nearby Gekkeikan’s Uchigura Sake Brewery. Reservations are required, but visitors can stop by the Gekkeikan Sakekobo at Uchigura to see the nitty-gritty of the brewing process. Also in the neighborhood, the Main House of the Okura Family, rebuilt on the site of the founding of the firm and dating back to the 1900s, as well as the Fushimi Yumehyakushu, former head office of Gekkeikan...
The Fushimi Tourism Association took possession of the former head office and preserved the Western-style interior, turning it into a cafe and museum. The center anchors the neighborhood of old breweries and warehouses, and is a good place to stop by to reorient yourself and sample some sake.
Make time to explore the shotengai arcades that stretch out from Fushimi Momoyama Station into the brewery district, and then make your way over to Fushimi Sakagura Kouji. Before getting back to sipping, pull up to Monsen Ramen for a bowl of their sake-infused broth.
Sakagura Kouji is famed for its tasting bar and the tasting trays which allow visitors to sample dozens of brews in a single go. The Fushimi Brewery Association supplies the bottles that patrons sip at the 75-foot long bar, with a menu stretching over a hundred individual brews.