After I had visited Osaka, Japan, my original plan was to take the Japan Rail (with a JR Pass) back to Tokyo, Japan. However, one of my followers asked me if I am going to visit any Japanese Whisky Distilleries coz she said Japanese Whisky supply is scarce in Canada and is in high demand everywhere around the world.
And for anyone who loves whisky, having a chance to visit a Japanese Whisky Distillery will be a good idea. So….I listened to her advice and started googling to see if there are any whisky distilleries located along the JR line between Osaka and Tokyo. And luckily, I found one. It’s called “Suntory Yamazaki Distillery” and it’s located along the JR line that goes from Osaka to Kyoto. The best part? Suntory is a well-known brand around the world. And of course, the classic movie “Lost in Translation” possibly played some role in giving this brand the exposure to the audience.
MoVernie BLOG: Are you debating if you should purchase a JR Pass? Check out my MoVernie BLOG about the benefits of purchasing a JR Pass.
Thus, I decided to make a detour and take a JR line to visit Suntory Yamazaki Distillery. At the Shin-Osaka Station (新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka-eki, literally New Osaka Station), I asked a friendly staff which JR line I could ride to get me to the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery. He told me to go downstairs, go to platform 4 (in this case, it was platform 4, but platform number varies for every ride, so make sure you check the train schedule at the station ). I hopped onto the train and 4 minutes later, the train left the Shin-Osaka Station, it was so convenient and not much waiting time needed, lucky me!
After 30 minutes on the JR train, I had arrived at the Yamazaki station. I took my belongings with me and the 1st sign I saw while walking down the stairs was a signage from Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, indicating it’s only a 10-12 minute walk. There were tons of signs along the way to guide me to the distillery, so they did a great job of giving out directions.
The walk was actually very enjoyable, I felt safe and the paved road was very even level, there was no steep or rough slopes. It was cool to see a flea market at a mini park near the train station. I got a chance to see the locals bringing their kids and families to hang out there, buying groceries and fresh produce.
Also, it was also really cool to check out some of the beautiful traditional Japanese houses along the way. After a 10 minute walk, I could see the distillery manufacturing building from across the railway tracks.
NOTE: This railroad crossing consists of at least 6 rail tracks. It’s very important that you follow the instructions very carefully. If the crossing bar is down and flashing, do not cross! Let the fast speed train goes first. When there are no flashing lights and the crossing bars are lifted up, when you look to your left and right, if it’s safe to do so, then walk across the rail way tracks towards the distillery.
Welcome to Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
Welcome to Suntory Yamazaki Distillery! You have arrived! First check in with the visitor office at the entrance. A friendly staff will welcome you and provide you with a “guest” pass. You need this pass in order to roam around on premise.
FYI: If you have time and is very interested to learn how the Japanese whisky is made, then I recommend you to sign up for its manufacturing tour. The manufacturing tour includes a guide that will tell you the history of this distillery plus some of the processes of how its whisky are being produced. It takes more than an hour or so. Due to high demand, they only allow certain number of visitors per day, so I suggest you to book online for this paid tour. Click here to find out more INFO on what’s included in this tour and booking instructions.
If you weren’t able to sign up for the paid manufacturing tour or you weren’t interested, that’s ok, you can visit the museum and learn the history of this distillery and other cool exhibits. Since it was a last minute decision for me to make a detour to take the JR line to visit this distillery, I didn’t book the tour. I went to check out the museum, which is free of charge and you don’t have to book in order to access the museum. The museum consists of exhibits, the timeline and the history of how this distillery was established. My favourite part? I got to see the evolution of the bottle packaging changes over time, from the shape, the size, the logo and design changes over time.
Quite honestly, I love whisky so the whisky tasting is my favourite part. After visiting your tour and checking out the museum, I highly recommend you to go for the whisky tasting located at the lower level of the building. You have to pay for it, but the price are reasonable and well worth it.
They have a long list of whisky for you to taste, but if you are no expert, not to worry, they have knowledgeable staff to assist you. Moreover, they have some tasting package where you just order, and they will serve you 3 different whisky that they think are good pairings. Since Japanese whisky are in short supply and in high demand around the world, it’s very difficult to order some of the rare whisky from bars. I highly recommend you to order some of the whiskies that are available here especially the tasting prices are relatively more reasonable than trying them at a bar elsewhere in the world. It’s very similar to the beer flights when you visit a brewery.
Due to the high demand of the whisky, there will be very limited supply and choices for purchase at the Suntory Yamazaki whisky at the distillery. I still encourage you to ask coz you never know, perhaps during your visit, they may have manufactured some new whisky products. However, the gift shop still offers a lot of souvenir items that you can buy. Items from whisky glasses to chopsticks to postcards to chocolates and many more. So, it’s still worth your time to check out the gift shop located at the upper level of the building.
Heading Home After Your Visit
After you have completed your visit, you take the same way back to the Yamazaki train station, so it’s about 10-12 minutes walk. You can take the regular (non-bullet) JR line back to Osaka or just as I did, I took this non-bullet JR line to Kyoto train station. Then I took the next JR bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo. That took about 2 hours of travel time, so it’s super convenient. By the way, you can purchase snack and beverages on the bullet train.
MoVernie TIPS at Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
MoVernie TIP #1: I highly recommend you to check out the whisky display along the entire tasting room. Those were bottles of whisky that they used to experiment and formulate the right whisky taste, it’s fascinating to see how they labelled the flavour and the ingredients to make the best whisky.
MoVernie TIP #2: I suggest you to start off with a whisky package that contains trio of different whisky samples. After you tasted the package, you will have a better idea of which whisky that you like the most and you can relay the INFO back to the staff and they will give you some more suggestions if you wish to order more.
MoVernie TIP #3: Japanese whisky, in recent years are getting more popular and are in high demand and distillery such as Suntory Yamazaki couldn’t keep up with its production. So, there will be limited supply and choices at the distillery (you can ask just to make sure, but when I was there, it was sold out).
However, they do offer a good list of Suntory whiskies (including the rare ones) for tasting. Thus, if you want to taste any rare whisky, as long as you are willing to pay for the sample, you will be able to try them at the tasting station.
MoVernie TIP #4: I paid $1800 yen (about $21 CDN) for the trio of the “Long Matured Whiskey Set“, it consists of 18 years and 21 years. During my visit, 2 nice acquaintances from New York City suggested me to order this set. They said 18 years and 21 years are super in high demand in North America and it’s hard to buy any or will cause you an arm and a leg for it. So, they said at $1800 yen, it’s a reasonable price to try them, so I listened to them and I did and it was worth it.
MoVernie TIP #5: Any whisky has a high alcohol content, so I suggest you to drink responsibly. I suggest you grab some food before you visit the distillery, especially the distillery doesn’t sell any food and since the distillery is located in the residential area, it’s not easy to purchase food. Also, drink water in between samples to rinse your palate (tasting station has iced water provided free of charge), so you can maximize the tasting experience of each whisky.
MoVernie TIP #6: There are standing tasting tables inside the distillery. And there are patio tables and chairs outside the distillery. If it’s not too cold, I recommend you to chill outside the patio and slowly sip the whisky samples while enjoying the view of the natural landscape of flowers, grass and trees. Make sure you don’t chug any whisky. It’s meant to sip slowly and relax and enjoy the taste, it’s not meant to drink quickly.
MoVernie TIP #7: If you are bringing luggage with you during this visit, no worries, there are lockers located beside the visitor office that you can use. I think I only put in $100 yen ($1.16 CDN) to get a locker, which is super cheap. The locker can fit in a carry on or 2 backpacks, but it surely can’t fit your full-size luggage.
Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
Address: 5 Chome-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto, Mishima District, Osaka Prefecture 618-0001, Japan
Phone: +81 75-962-1423
Address: 5 Nishinakajima, Yodogawa-ku, Osaka, Japan
JR Pass TIPS – When Travelling with a JR Pass
JR Pass Tip #1: If you have no interest to check out the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery and wanted to take the JR bullet train straight from Osaka to Tokyo, simply take the bullet train from Shin-Osaka Station 新大阪駅) to Tokyo.
JR Pass Tip #2: If you do want to visit the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, ask the friendly staff at the Shin-Osaka Station (新大阪駅) and take a regular non-bullet JR train, coz that’s what I did, the staff told me the non-bullet JR line will make a stop at the “Yamazaki” station, which is the station that I need to get off and walk about 10-12 minutes to the whisky distillery.
JR Pass Tip #3: If you don’t want to go to the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery but you do want to visit Kyoto, go to Shin-Osaka Station (新大阪駅) and take a bullet train to Kyoto. Another option is to take the non-bullet train ride that brought me to the Yamazaki station, you just simply don’t get off any station until this train stop at the Kyoto train station. It really depends on what your preference is and whether one train schedule is better than the other. So, you have options to choose from if you want to go to Osaka to Kyoto. Check the JR line website for its schedule and maps.
JR Pass Tip #4: If you are planning to take the JR bullet train, you can either make a reservation on the exact date, time and the JR line you would like to reserve your seats. The reservation is free of charge (with the app or in person in one of the JR centres) and you have the seats being reserved for you in the “reserved section” of the train.
However, if you haven’t decide when you want to leave Osaka and prefer more freestyle and with less restrictions, you can hop on any JR bullet train whenever you are ready to leave. You just have to go to a “non-reserved” section on the JR bullet train and find a seat. Depending on the time of the day, your chances of finding a seat is pretty high. Based on the schedule that I saw, there is a JR bullet train ride every hour. Don’t quote me for it, but you better check the schedule to verify.
For this Japan trip, our team used the Japan Rail Pass as our official mode of transportation, which these JR passes were provided by Japan National Tourism Organization (courtesy from the assistance from both Tokyo & Toronto branch locations). However, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.
I would also like to give a special thanks to Air Canada for providing the return Signature Class flights from Toronto, Canada to Tokyo, Japan. Without such hospitality and assistance by Air Canada, this Japan trip would not have been possible.
Japan Rail Pass
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) – HQ – Tokyo Location
Address: Headquarters 4-4-1 Yotsuya Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo 100-0006, Japan
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) – Toronto Location
Address: 481 University Ave, Toronto, ON M5G 2E9
Phone: (416) 366-7140
JR East Travel Service Center
Located in: Shinjuku Station
Address: 5 Chome-24-５５ Sendagaya, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan