Preserving the Kuwa no Miyako Tradition
When people think of a sake brewery, they often envision a place out in the countryside, surrounded by natural scenery. However, even Tokyo is home to its own breweries. I headed to nine different facilities including sake breweries, wholesaler shops and others in search of local Tokyo brews. Let's take a look at OZAWA SHUZOUJOU, the brewery that makes the sake "Kuwa no Miyako."
Welcome to Hachioji City, Tokyo. During the Sengoku Period (ca. 1467–1600), a time of social upheaval and bloody civil war, the Hojo Clan—the Kanto region's largest power based out of Odawara—conquered this area. Hojo Ujiteru, third son of the third family ruler Ujiyasu, built Hachioji Castle, and the town grew around this fortress. Later, during the Edo Period (1600–1868), Hachioji prospered as a post town along the Koshu Kaido highway.
In 1926, the sake brewery Ozawa Shuzoujou was founded here. According to the company's president Motomi Ozawa, "Hachioji was reduced to rubble by the allied firebombings of World War II, after which my father, the former brewery head, started making sake again from a temporary facility."
As hinted at by the brewery's name, Ozawa Shuzoujou has family ties with similarly named Ozawa Shuzou in Ome City, Tokyo. Ozawa himself decided to open his own brewery in 1958 and took charge as the second-generation president.
Ozawa Shuzoujou's most well-known brand was Kuwa no Miyako. Hachioji has prospered since long ago in various industries, including sericulture (silkworm cultivation and silk production) and textile production among others, and it is home to numerous mulberry fields, as mulberries (kuwa in Japanese) are used to feed silkworms. Even the Hojo Ujiteru, who built Hachioji's castle, left a poem behind that reads, Summer breezes rustle greenery in the city of mulberries / The local markets alive with activity.
According to President Ozawa, "We were making a locally based Hachioji sake, which is why we decided to use the city's nickname kuwa no miyako [City of Mulberries] as the brand name."
Dream for the Future: Making Their Own Sake Once Again
About 30 years ago, Ozawa Shuzoujou made the junmai-grade sake "Hachioji-jo" using locally grown rice. However, due to Hachioji's convenient location and transport links, it transformed into a Tokyo commuter town and urbanized rapidly in the process. Local groundwater Ozawa Shuzoujou had drawn up for use in sake production began to decline in quality as the town developed into a large city. The brewery tried everything they could think of, but on top of their current troubles, consumer demand for sake was exhibiting a steady decline. President Ozawa was forced to make a difficult call and give up on the idea of running his own sake brewery.
However, he wanted to keep Kuwa no Miyako alive, so he transferred a portion of its production to Ozawa Shuzou, with whom Ozawa Shuzojou had deep ties. President Ozawa explained his sake-making philosophy and approach to Ozawa Shuzou, and requested that they produce Kuwa no Miyako on his former brewery's behalf. Most of Ozawa Shuzoujou's land was sold off; only the office and shop remain today. Here they affix each bottle's label by hand, attached komo-maki bags to barreled sake destined for use in traditional kagami-biraki celebratory events, and ship the finished products off.
More than 15 years have passed since Kuwa no Miyako's production was transferred to Ozawa Shuzou. Motomi Ozawa's second daughter, who is in charge of sales and other operations, comments, "We want to brew sake again by our own hands." Her family longs to return to sake-making someday.
Ozawa dismisses the idea, saying it would be quite a challenge in reality, but I can detect a flicker of happiness behind his stern words. He keeps talking: "Using a lot of koji [malted rice] promotes highly active fermentation, but it also leads to a heavy, unrefined taste. Adding just the right amount of koji imparts a solid flavor while also giving it a refreshing and clean aftertaste. That's the ideal flavor for sake, and that's the sake I'd like to make."
I sampled some ginjo-grade Kuwa no Miyako as I listened to Ozawa talk. Although it had a dry-tasting first impression, its overall flavor was deep reaching and well balanced. As brewers around Japan increasingly market their sake based on individualistic flavor characteristics, Kuwa no Miyako preserves that good, old-fashioned flavor right down to its core.
Perhaps Ozawa himself will return to sake-making one day, or else his daughter may try her hand at brewing as a leader for the new generation. I sipped the Kuwa no Miyako in my cup, feeling excitement well up inside as I thought about what this brewery might do as it moves forward into the future.
(Author: Asako Nakatsumi)
A 12-minute walk (along the old Koshu Post Road) from Nishi Hachioji Station on the JR Chuo Line
2-15 Yagi-cho, Hachioji City, Tokyo 192-0055
No brewery tours