As delightful Tokyo shopping surprises go, Sennen Koujiya is as good as it gets – especially for anyone with any interest in Japanese sake. Until I was taken there five years ago by one of the judges at the International Sake Challenge, I would never have imagined that a retailer of this rice wine could offer so many unexpected extras.
Settling into an 11-seat bar or one of two cosy tables à deux, shoppers are offered one of three tasting sets, each made up of three different 60ml glasses of sake. I opted for Tasting Set B (¥1,500, about £11), which features the ginjo, junmai ginjo and daiginjo grades from the Hakkaisan Brewery, and can be paired with cold dishes such as tuna sashimi, sea bream and salmon, all marinated in koji – the magic mould that turns the starch in rice into fermentable sugars and forms the basis of soy sauce, miso and sake.
It is koji and the highly nutritional sake-kasu – another spin-off from the sake-making process that separates the fermented sake from the remaining rice solids – that are behind the less obvious of Sennen Koujiya’s stellar offerings. There is also a variety of seasonings incorporating koji rice (from about £2.50) as well as rice crackers (about £3) and amasake, a sweet, rich milky drink made only from koji rice.
Sake brewers’ hands are said to be smooth because they are treated with koji rice, so it’s no surprise that Sennen Koujiya is also popular for its nutrient-rich, sake-based cosmetics. The Cotte handcream (about £9) and face gel (about £18) I brought back to London have already found quite a fanbase in the form of my partner, my mother, my sister and two nieces. All are keenly awaiting my return to Japan. Indeed, such is the demand for these rich-textured creams, I could no doubt do rather nicely with my own UK branch of Sennen Koujiya.