The Water Voyage – Water Episode 3 – Uji-gawa river famous waters / Famous fine sake brewed from the waters of Fushimi. Lodge place: Momoyama Onsen Tsukimikan (桃山温泉 月見館)

Shinsei - Japanese sake

The river flowing from the lake Biwa (琵琶湖) in Shiga Prefecture changes its name from  Setagawa (瀬田川), Ujigawa (宇治川), and then to the merging location of Katsuragawa (桂川) and Kizugawa (木津川) where Yamazaki Distillery is located. A 20 minute drive from here to Ujigawa’s upper stream area lies a district called Kyoto Fushimi (京都府伏見). It is amongst the southernmost part of Kyoto.

In 1937, the same year that Suntory’s “Kakubin (角瓶)” was born, this time’s lodge, “Momoya Onsen Tsukimikan (桃山温泉 月見館)” was established right close to the “Kangetsukyo Bridge (観月橋)” of Ujigawa River. The architecture of 3 floors wooden building which this lodge has was banned after the world war 2 till 1987 in Japan. Hence, 3 or more floor of wooden architectural structures can be seen in either the building which remains from before the war or after the enactment of building standard act amendment in 1987. Therefore, such wooden buildings are highly valuable. Due to that fact, this place was designated as a “Nationally registered tangible cultural property”. It is a lodge with over 80 years of history.


It is rare to come across Onsen (温泉) in Kyoto and we chose this lodge being as it was unusual seeing an Onsen in Fushimi. The spring quality here is ‘sulfur spring’. Containing many metasilicic acid, the spring quality works effectively on skin diseases such as Atopic dermatitis or eczema, limb numbness, and blood circulation. It has a big bath and open air bath.

In the deluxe suite ‘Cherry Blossoms’, has a private semi-open bath where you could view the weeping cherry blossom tree while bathing in. This room is highly recommended for families and those who would like to enjoy privacy space.

We chose a Japanese style room on the ground floor where Ujigawa River could be seen. Wind carried by the river caresses the face, it feels pleasant. If you listen carefully you could hear the sound of stream. Kyoto has various aspects. The bustling metropolis area, shopping district of crowded narrow lanes, bamboo thickets, a town where geisha apprentices (maiko) stroll along the paths with small restaurants, and mountains and forests of breathtaking sceneries overflowing with nature. Fushimi in a sense, is a town where liveliness and serenity seem to coexist. This lodge by Ujigawa River is located a short distance away from the vibrancy of the city.

The history of a town called Fushimi

The Fushimi district of Kyoto has long before since the Nara period, maintained highway roads and flourished as an important land for water transportation. In ancient times, the area was mainly run by farming agriculture business. During the Heian period when Kyoto became capital, Fushimi was known as the location of villas and holiday home owned by the imperial family and aristocrats as well as a setting of scenic beauty. With plenty of shrines and temples, remnant traces of elegant high society are left. In more recent times, Hideyoshi Toyotomi built Fushimi castle and prospered as a castle town. Blooming the ‘Momoyama culture’ said to be luxurious and gorgeous. Furthermore, the regulator of society, Ieyasu Tokugawa, who began the military government (Bakufu) in Edo (Tokyo), opened Japan’s first ‘Ginza’ (the exchange counter issuing silver). He also built Takase river (高瀬川), which connects Tokyo, Fushimi and Osaka, and made Fushimi become Japan’s largest river port. In other words, it was one of the economic center metropolis. Later, a lot of famous Samurai in the late Edo period such as Ryoma Sakamoto gathered in this area, and it became the place of dawn for new era of Japan. It was the center of economy and culture filled with important figures. As you walk casually, it is evident that despite being deeply connected with the capital of Kyoto, Fushimi with its historical landmarks all over the place has formed its own original culture and history.

Takasegawa, Ujigawa unite with Katsuragawa and Kizugawa, integrating as Yodogawa. Then continues to flow into the Osaka bay. Even the bank where the Tsukimikan faces Ujigawa has once seen the arrivals and departures of ships. Utilizing this waterway, the passenger boat corresponding between Fushimi and Osaka was called the “Thirty Stone Ship (三十石船)” with a passenger capacity of around 28-30. Osaka at the time had wholesale rice and vegetable dealers in Japan’s biggest class market, “Kitchen of the world (天下の台所)”. All commerce and people come and go in this ship. It is said that there were about 100-200 ships going up and down for 24 hours a day. So to speak, it was the car and bullet train of the past where many traders and travelers used to commute back and forth. Following the Meiji era industrial revolution, ships operated by manpower became obsolete. Demands dwindled as railroads and steamships were developed. Service has ceased and now been revived as houseboats and cruises for tourism.

Town of abundant water, drinking sake at Fushimi, eating skewered chicken

At this town of abundant water, Fushimi is blessed with quality of underground water equivalent to that of Yamazaki. Sake brewing is said to begin in the Yayoi period when rice cultivation was introduced. Delicious water and rich topography are necessary for the making of sake. Similar to how whiskey is made in Yamazaki, the same is also true for Japanese sake. Sake brewing which had been continuously inherited flourished in the Momoyama period. The rapid increase in demand for sake was possibly due to increase of human traffic.

Fushimi was formerly remembered as “Fushimizu(伏水)”. As for its water quality, they do not contain iron but a medium-hard water with a good balance of potassium and calcium. Thanks to this, it produces a fine, mellow flavor to the brew and is exquisitely smooth. In Japan’s western area, sake brewers gather in this Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture and Nada (灘) in Hyogo Prefecture. Nationwide famous sake brewers such as “Gekkeikan (月桂冠)”, “Takara Shuzo (宝酒造)”, “Tamano Hikari (玉乃光)” and “Kizakura (黄桜)” are all based in Fushimi. There are even sake brewers that had operated for as long as 300 years since the Edo period!

We decided to visit “Torisei (鳥せい)” for dinner. Located about 15 minutes walk from the lodge. Along the way, there was a lineup of historical Japanese sake brewery as well as restaurant and shop renovations of old unused brewery. A simple walk in itself was plenty satisfying. “Torisei” is a place where you can enjoy skewered chicken and sake, remodelled by a brewery from the Taisho period, Yamamoto honke; the manufacturer of one of Fushimi’s sake “Shinsei (神聖)”. The store has gained popularity amongst tourists and locals for its atmosphere and the taste of fresh sake. Write a reservation name down and they will inform you your estimated waiting time. Walk around the neighborhood as you wait.

At the center of huge ground floor, there is a large tank. Poured into a cup, unprocessed sake is provided. There are various kinds of Japanese sake, “Genshu (原酒 / Unprocessed sake)”, “Namazake (生酒 / Unpasteurised sake)”, “Muroka (無濾過 / Unfiltered sake)” etc; to begin with, Japanese sake is liquor made by fermenting rice. Steaming the rice as main ingredient into a Koji (麹). While convert the steamed rice starch into sugar with Koji, the yeast is cultivated into what is called Shubo (酒母). With the power of this Shubo yeast, fermentation of the alcohol begins and the liquid squeezed from this mix state of Koji, steamed rice and Shubo then results in a Japanese sake. “Namazake” is  alcohol liquid that does not go through heating process. In other words pure alcohol. Most of Namazake is brewed and can only be consumed between winter and spring. Squeezed alcohol that are processed through heat, stored and bottled are “Namazume (生詰め)” and alcohol that are stored then heated are classified “Namachozo (生貯蔵酒)”. “Genshu (原酒)” are not heated and not go through water ratio adjustments. Squeezed sake are stored after heated, filtered and water ratio adjusted. The purpose of these water ratio adjustment, as the alcohol would be too condensed, is to regulate its percentage. To summarize, “Genshu (原酒)” do not have a water ratio adjustment, “Namazake (生酒)” do not undergo heating or water ratio adjustments and “Muroka (無濾過)” bitter components, miniscule grains are not filtered. Filtration method are usually by machines and/or along with activated charcoal. Muroka however, without any filtering is left as it is on purpose. Rough and sturdy, you can savour flavors that reflect the season of the moment.

Those no listed are generally ‘heated’. Heating also mean sterilized so “Genshu” “Namagenshu” and “Namazake” are typically limited seasonally. Although beside “Torisei”, the wine cellar of Yamamoto Honke is active and Namagenshu arriving from the warehouse are available year long. By November, you can relish the new Genshu made from the rice of fall harvest.

There’s a surprising amount of chicken cuisine menu suitable with sake which are all made accordingly to complement all the different brands of sake. It may also be interesting to ask sake and food recommendation from the sake sommelier “Kikizakeshi (唎酒師)” staff.

Torisei main store: store information (As of November 2019)

English site

Tel & Fax: +81-75-622-5533
Please note that inquiry by phone may only be available in Japanese.


Tuesday – Friday
11:30am – 11:00pm (Last Call at 10:30pm)

Saturday, Sunday & Holiday
11:00am – 11:00pm (Last Call at 10:30pm)


Every Monday
(except for holidays on Monday and Mondays in December)

New Year closing dates as follows:
December 31st to January 3rd

Fushimi, becoming a dawn theater battle scene in present day Japan ~ the assasination of Sakamoto Ryoma ‘Teradaya Incident’ in 1866

Teradaya was a Japanese inn “Hadako (旅籠)” in Kyoto Fushimi. The inn’s service is discontinued but there are rumours of reopening from the Teradaya staff.

Kyoto and Osaka have a long history as the center of Japan till when the Edo period started in 1603 and it shifted to Tokyo. The Japan government had made imperial court center around the emperor, and that center was Kyoto for so long. However, in the Edo period the Bakufu or Edo shogunate was entrusted and in control of the government by the imperial court. Around this time, Japan was an isolated nation that has shutout contact and formalities with foreign countries. America’s perry expedition ship arrived in 1853 and coerced Japan to open its country in exchange of war. The Bakufu high executive, Ii Naosuke (井伊直弼) accepted foreign trade mostly by personal judgement. This acceptance would consequate to the dissatisfaction of the Bakufu. Due to the forced trade, the tranquility atmosphere of Japan worsened. Leading Japan into the era of opposition towards the Bakufu and a notion to expel foreigners in Japan. For that reason, movement to remove the Bakufu and create a new government intensified. The end of the Edo period around 1853 to 1868 would be called “Bakumatsu (幕末 / end of the Tokugawa Shogunate/ Edo period)”

Within such an era, the Teradaya incident happened in 1862 and 1866. The former was a suppression incident of a faction seeking to remove foreigners from Japan. The latter being an assassination plot by the Bakufu side of Sakamoto Ryoma who pursued the overthrowing of the Shogunate. Ryoma was born in Tosa city, Kochi Prefecture (高知県) but became a lordless samurai. He was a revolutionary who tried to create a new government body and was 30 at the time. The Teradaya incident ended in just an assassination attempt. To cure the injury received from the incident, he visited Kirishima Onsen (霧島温泉) in Satsuma (Kagoshima Prefecture / 鹿児島県) in which he was in good relations with for treatment. Ryoma’s wife Ryou also accompanied along, this was said to be Japan’s first ever ‘honeymoon’.

In 1867, Sakamoto Ryoma proposed a scheme with the samurais/lordless samurai to change the Japanese government. As a result, the Tokugawa shogunate (Bakufu) conducted a restoration of imperial rule and revived the monarchy system from feudal government. From this, Edo changed into Meiji. Nevertheless another confrontation from the old feudal government power who were dissatisfied with Sakamoto Ryoma & new government force and his supporters, Satsuma (薩摩), Choshu (長州), Tosa (土佐藩) aggravated, eventually developing into the Boshin war in 1868. The first battle of this national outbreak Boshin war, was the ‘Battle of Toba Fushimi’. This made Fushimi the battlefield center and was the reason why Teradaya was burnt down. This means the current building was reconstructed in the Meiji era. Be that as it may, it is an important building which allows us to take a glimpse at what was or used to be. A place used to converse plans regarding overthrowing the shogunate. When imagining that this was the place where Japan’s youth such as Sakamoto Ryoma thought through the country’s future, I cannot help but make comparisons to what we are being / doing today.

This is the history we live in. On the other hand, no matter the era; rivers, underground water and Onsen continues to flow on relentlessly.

To be continued in Episode 4.

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