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Amazing Sake
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250 Years of Masuichi
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Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery 807 Obuse, Nagano 381-0294 TEL: 026-247-2011 FAX: 026-247-6369
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Joined Obusedo 15 years ago.
Transferred to Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery 5 years ago.

This year marks my sixth season of making sake. And yet I'm still struggling to learn the ropes. When it comes to making sake, there's the constant risk of ruining the whole batch in an instant, so we're always in a high state of alert.
I grew up in the town next door, called Suzaka, and joined Obusedo straight out of high school. Yes, I've got a bit of a sweet tooth!
Then, five years ago, they told me I'd be working in the brewery. I was of two minds about this. I didn't know anything about making confectionary, but sake-brewing? Now that was completely beyond my imagination. Heck, I didn't even know what questions to ask... on top of that, I'm not very good at holding my liquor...

@But my dad, who's a gardener, encouraged me. "Even those who want to learn how to make sake rarely get such a chance," he told me. My superiors were unstinting, but patient with me. I learned how to take the initiative. I'm the passive type, but they told me if I didn't do things on my own I wouldn't learn anything.
I took a 100-day training course in the brewery testing area. Breweries like Masuichi which make sake the old-fashioned way are few and far between. And here I had always assumed that it was just like any other brewery! Other factories are highly mechanized...
At our brewery, the brewmasters say you can't rely too much on the thermometer. The toji and other veterans know how to make sake by using touch, and all five senses, to gauge the koji. We're an important brewery. I really am anxious to learn the craft...
I've gotten pretty used to drinking many varieties of sake by now. But I still have a sweet tooth!
@It was back when I was sipping some ginjo-shu. It was like drinking stars! I was 20 when I first encountered Japanese sake, which changed my life. That sparkling aroma, the smooth feel on the palate, the sudden rush as the sake tingled down my throat. It was a very moving experience. I'm so glad I entered a university in Niigata, a center of the sake business!

Joined Masuichi 1 year ago.
Born in the neighboring town of Suzaka.

@Ever since I was a child I've wanted to work at a ranch, so at college I majored in animal husbandry, but later ended up changing my major. I became fascinated by research into the much-talked-about chitosan polysaccharide polymer, found in the exoskeletons of shrimp, crabs and other shellfish, which prevents spoilage. I was also interested in bacteria which manufacture proteins with anti-contaminant properties, for use in sake. The potential for microbiology and biodiversity is incredible...
But chitosan contains thousands of glucosamine units, and I had a hard time narrowing down the focus of my research. I went on to graduate school, and became immersed in basic research.

I started to look for work in the sake manufacturing field, but given my interest and the fact that I was a female from a graduate school, not many doors were open to me. Yet I heard that there was an interesting brewery in the town next to my hometown. And that's how I came here.
So your dream is to do applied research at a brewery? I was asked. Oh really? But making a product tailored to fit your research results is a recipe for bad-tasting sake, I was warned.
My sense is that the basic research at Masuichi is solid. But as for making and drinking good sake, as well as intellectually understanding the theory behind the practice, I'm still fumbling around...
So, what about my basic research? I still haven't found a topic, but am looking. Anyway, my immediate concern is joining this winter's sake-making.

@Came all the way from America to intern at Masuichi for a year.
His Japanized name reflects a Japanese-American heritage acquired via his grandparents.

@Rice and water, koji malt and yeast. From simple, plain ingredients, an extremely complex product emerges. Making Japanese sake is fascinating. That's the perspective gained from one winter working at Masuichi. I basically know how to make sake now. Heck, I could make some myself... ha, ha!
I didn't much care for sake when I was living in the U.S. I thought wine had individual character, but that when it came to sake, one brand was the same as another. That may be true for mass-produced sake, but after coming to Japan, I realized that sake can also have a rich and varied taste.

@I studied computer graphics and design at college, and went on to a job designing websites. But I got to thinking about finding some kind of work connected to my real passion, food. Then I heard about Sarah and Masuichi.
@I really love the stress of working in a chilly brewery! Rather than a stress-free existence working in a warm room in front of a computer, this "stressful" life suits me. I want to become a kurabito, a brewer. I feel alive -- like a bunch of moromi, bubbling away in the tank! I definitely want to take part in this year's pressing.

Managing director, Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery
Formerly employed in miso and soy sauce manufacturing at the old Masuni operation

@Working behind the counter of the Masuichi store, I am always interested in getting customers to enjoy the town of Obuse as well as our sake.
As you can tell I am a member of the founding family of this brewery. The president and I are cousins. We played like crazy when we were kids. Four of us boys were constant companions. We skulked around empty brewhouses, swinging on a rope like Tarzan and jumping into empty barrels. We dared each other, crossing the suspension bridge of the Nagano Railroad.. ah, that was the life!

@I'm two years older than the Masuichi president, but he jokes that I'm his expert on the low-level scuttlebutt! I ended up at Masuichi only ten years ago, having previously been with subsidiary Masuni. Masuichi was our family's main line of sake-making. My grandfather Etsuji branched off to run a subsidiary business making miso and soy sauce in the Taisho period (1912-26.) The company was dubbed Masuni.
There were eight vats of soy sauce, with lots of smaller drums of miso, in an old warehouse built during the Edo period for Masuichi's rapeseed oil business. I helped out a lot ladling the product, even while I was still a child. My father was always warning me, "Fall into one of those vats, and you'll die!"
@But Japanese food customs changed, and mass-produced soy sauce dropped drastically in price, making it difficult for local manufacturers to hang on. We exited the business of miso and soy sauce in the 1970s.
Masuni miso and Edo murasaki soy sauce. Those were our brand names, but any traces of these products have vanished. The warehouse used to make them has been completely remodeled and has been reborn as the Masuichi Kyakuden Boutique Hotel.
I feel a twinge of sadness. But then the land entrusted to me by my grandfather is being revitalized, to create a new attractive Obuse - perhaps I'm getting a little carried away with enthusiasm! But then, that's my job.