Recently, we sat down (via zoom) with the CEO and Chief Brewer of Tsukasabotan Sake Brewery to talk about the company, its history, wonderful sake and secret to its success.
Akihiko Takemura, current CEO of Tsukasabotan, has worked for this more than 400-year-old family business for the past 31 years, twenty-two of those years as CEO of the multi-award-winning brewery. The company has a deep connection to the history of Kochi prefecture and one of its heroes, Ryoma Sakamoto, an influential samurai who led Japan through a major transformation at the end of the Edo period. There is even a story about Sakamoto having close ties to Tsukasabotan Brewery, however, it was Takemura-san’s great grand-father, Genjuro Takemura, who provided one of the most inspiring and eerily relevant stories in the company’s history.
During WW2, the rice shortage in Japan made it extremely difficult to produce sake and a lot of breweries simply ceased to exist. In order to maintain production levels and survive, many breweries chose to water down their sake—to the point that sake at this time was known as kingyozake meaning the sake was so watered-down goldfish or Kingyo could thrive in it—but Genjuro Takemura refused to compromise on quality and never ever watered down the sake at Tsukasabotan!! In the current COVID-19 climate where successful companies have had to pivot their business model to survive, Genjuro Takemura was the original pivoter!!
During the war years, the company made ice candy, miso and other products to survive while they produced a small quantity of top-quality sake. Sales during the wartime years plummeted by 90% but Genjuro Takemura was proud that quality was not compromised and not one job was lost! When asked if COVID-19 had affected sales, Takemura san said, “Yes, sales have dropped anywhere from 20% to 50% during COVID, but when you look at what happened during WWII, the current situation is nothing in comparison, so we try to maintain a positive attitude and look back with pride at how the company survived in the past.” Takemura san also attributes the success and longevity of Tsukasabotan to their ideology of protecting and maintaining traditions while ensuring they meet the challenges of modern times including using farming methods for sake rice production that are both environmentally friendly and improve the quality of their sake. Flexibility and adaptability are also important according to Takemura san. In recent years, overseas sales have moved from deluxe high-quality sake such as Junmai shu or Junmai Daiginjo to liquors such as the Yuzu-flavoured liquor, which is a huge seller for the brewery! Kochi is well known for Yuzu and Tsukasabotan bases their yuzu liquor on their top quality JunmaiShu sake!! As a sake brewer, Takemura-san admits that it’s a little sad that their best seller in the overseas market is now a liquor rather than a sake, but he takes great pride in the fact that it’s based on their best Junmai shu sake!
We also talked with chief brewer, or Toji as the position is known in Japanese, Toru Asano, who has worked for the brewery for over 30 years. According to Asano-san, the most important part of the brewing process is also the most mundane—the washing, steaming and water absorbtion of the rice! “Once the rice has been washed and steamed, we know by the texture if we’ve done a good job. So even though there are many important parts of the brewing process, we need to get this part right in order to create a top-quality sake,” insisted Asano-san.
For sake novices, Asano-san suggests choosing a sake with a fruity aroma and flavour such a ginjo-shu as this type of sake is lighter and easier to drink than some of dryer types of sake.
If you’d like to tour the brewery, please get in touch with our consultants at Japan Holidays.
As part of our promotion of Kochi prefecture and Tsukasabotan Sake Brewery, we are giving away A bottle of Tsukasabotan Sake and a Bekuhai Game to two lucky subscribers!
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