The 大山新酒まつり (Oyama Sake Festival) is an annual event that takes place in a small town in Tsuruoka where you get to drink sake to your heart’s content. Since Oyama has several local sake breweries, this festival attracts large crowds of sake lovers from all over Japan and more. For only ¥1,200 (~$10), you have the chance to taste a wide variety of sakes that the breweries offer. This event is so popular that tickets are sold out on the first day. Expect long lines to breweries because it can get extremely busy. There are limited train services and it will get packed before and after the event. Also, it’s best to arrive early, the event begins at noon.
However, the best part was waiting in lines. Time does go quickly if you come prepared. While I was waiting in line, a random guy offered some of his sake to me. I had no idea what kind of sake it was, but I had some because you know… that’s completely safe. There was one guy who had a bag full of snacks and he was giving them away to people waiting in line. He even gave me a shoulder massage, weird…but it was nice. It’s great to see strangers offer you snacks, sake, and small talk while you wait in line. Also, most of the wait will be outside, so the free sake will help you stay warm. Along with the sake tasting, you can purchase a bottle of any sakes if you like any. Some breweries offer snacks or warm sweet rice soup, called 甘酒 (amakaze).
At the event, there are a couple food stalls that sell hot and delicious traditional Japanese food. If you come early enough, they sell handmade sake cups in front of the train station. They sell quickly because they cost about ¥100 each. I arrived around 10:30 am and they sold the last one before I made it out of the station. Luckily, my friend took pity on me because I was so sad that I couldn’t get a sake cup, so she gave me one of hers. Fortunately, there was one stall that was selling 5 sake cups for ¥100, which was a great deal! I had 6 cups in total and gave them out to my friends.
Overall, I had a great time at the 大山新酒まつり. It was awesome to meet so many new people and they were so friendly to me. Despite my basic level of Japanese, I tried my best to converse with them. They even tried to speak English to me, but they defaulted back to Japanese and I managed to survive the conversations. At the end of the day, my friends and I waited outside in the cold, rain, snow, and hail in endless lines to be rewarded with warm and delicious sake. And it was worth it.