Japanese Sake Series: Tenzan Sake Brewery
Tenzan Shuzo’s sake
Japanese sake brewery Tenzan Shuzo has gone through many changes and innovations since its founding in the 1870s. We introduce its history and philosophy.
About the brewery
The story of Tenzan Shuzo began In 1861, when a milling and noodle business was established at its current location of Iwakura in Saga prefecture (Gion riverbank). Using the stream of clear water from the Gion river, the milling business was established first, and then the milling and noodle business came in 1861. The Shichida family, who owned the business, regularly worked with local sake brewers to mill their sake rice.
In 1875, Toshizo Shichida and his wife Tsuki were asked by a local brewery owner to purchase not only all of his brewing equipment, but also his brewery that was about to close down. As a result, Toshizo became the first brewery Kuramoto (brewery owner) of what is now Tenzan Shuzo.
Noodle factory entrance
In 1936, the second Kuramoto, Hideichi Shichida, established a general partnership, Shichida Honten. He was also extremely knowledgeable about architecture, and had his own non-profit lumbermill and hired carpenters, plasterers and tinners. He built not only the brewery but also Ganzoji temple and schools in the local area. The brewery’s Meiji cellar, Taisho cellar, Showa cellar, and vertical water wheel with water channels have been designated as Registered National Tangible Cultural Properties and also acknowledged as Saga Prefectural Heritage items. The impressive cellars are also still in use.
In 1959, the third Kuramoto, Hideichi Shichida, reorganised the company as Tenzan Sake Brewery, Inc. He had great knowledge of agriculture. Not only did he study sake rice, but he also dreamed about the restoration of regional agriculture after World War II. He aimed to cultivate farmers with leadership, and established an agricultural university at his own expense in 1946.
His passion for agriculture, with his agricultural management and establishment of a university, was shown through in sake brewing. He managed the business, selecting ingredients of his choice. In his own field, he cultivated one of the most suitable sake rice types of that period, called “Omachi”.
The fourth Kuramoto, Tadao Shichida, was able to maintain the rice milling equipment, changed the size of the preparation tanks, and modernised the bottling process. He was also ahead of the times and brewed Junmai sake (additive-free sake), which was unknown at that time. He also worked to promote Junmai sake as a member of the Japan Junmaishu Association.
This attention to detail has been passed down from generation to generation as part of the Tenzan DNA. The brewery’s cultivation of sake rice and study groups with contracted farmers have helped to improve its quality-first sake over the years. “Brewing starts from the rice.” This was the belief of the fifth Kuramoto (owner from 1976 – November 2009), Toshihide Shichida, whose management philosophy was “to integrate new things whilst being timeless”.
The sixth and current Kuramoto is Kensuke Shichida. For further quality improvement, he introduced modern filling machines in November 2015. These Italian monoblock filling machines can prevent oxidation by injecting nitrogen gas, which reduces oxygen inside the bottles during the filling and capping process. He also propelled the development of sparkling sake. In the Japan Awasake Association, Kensuke Shichida acts as director and has been working on new product development and promotions.
Tenzan brewery’s essential ingredients
The Gion River is a clear stream flowing by the sake brewery from the Tenzan mountain ranges. It is one of Japan’s prominent rivers for Genji fireflies. Moreover, Kiyomizu waterfall, the clear waterfall, has been selected as one of the 100 most exquisite waters in Japan and is the essential water used for brewing at Tenzan Sake Brewery.
This is a medium-hard water and contains no iron, but has lots of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. It is the ideal water for sake brewing.
90% of the rice used for brewing sake at Tenzan Sake Brewery is produced in Saga Prefecture. The brewery mainly uses Yamadanishiki and Saga no Hana rice.
Since brewing good sake requires good rice, the brewery realised they needed to be involved in the production of rice. That is why it established the “Tenzan Sake Rice Cultivation Study Group”.
Tenzan Shuzo’s team
Tenzan Shuzo’s company motto is to take on contemporary challenges in the spirit of its predecessors, and believes that sake brewing involves the integration of new ideas while maintaining timelessness.