The Pure, Natural Flavor of Sake from Tokyo to the World
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 TAMURA SHUZOUJOU, the brewery that makes the sake "Kasen."
Imagine a place approximately 40 kilometers west from downtown Tokyo. In Fussa City in Tokyo, an abundant source of underground water springs up from the river terrace cliff-land stretching along the Tama River. And in the Edo period (1600–1868), the Tamagawa Aqueduct was constructed. It is in this city with an abundant natural water supply that the Tamura Shuzoujou has been brewing sake continuously from 1822 onward.
The Tamura family served as the village head for this area from days of old, and started sake brewing from the 9th generation onward.
"In the city of Edo in those days, the best sake was said to be sake from the Kansai area. Specifically, 'Kudari-zake from Nada' (sake shipped from Nada) dominated the era as the largest brand. In response to this, the shogunate encouraged the production of 'Edo jimawari-zake' (local Edo brewed sake) by wealthy merchants and farmers in provinces near the Kanto area. Apparently there was a belief that people in Edo could produce quality sake that could compete with areas like Fushimi and Nada."
These are the words of the 16th family head, Hanjuro Tamura. Inside the brewery grounds, the very same shikomi-gura (fermentation room) from when the brewery was first established is still used today, albeit with a few subtle patch-ups here and there. It emanates the beauty of olden days.
Sake Brewed from Famous Waters Dug Up from Underneath a Giant Tree
Another impressive feature is the water that runs through the brewery grounds. Supplied by the Tamagawa Aqueduct running right off to the side, it has even been christened "Tamura Bunsui" (Tamura Diversion Channel). This source has been essential as water for daily life in the region as well as irrigation water for rice fields and farmland.
However, for sake brewing, much more water was needed. The story goes that they dug up areas here and there within the grounds, but could not find a good water vein.
But when they dug up area under a massive Japanese zelkova tree said to be 800 or even 1000 years old, they found a water vein. The brand name "Kasen" was born from the joy at discovering water perfect for sake brewing ("ka" means joyous occasion and "sen" means water spring).
The Family Motto: "Brew with Love, Sell with Love"
The commitment this family business has held to for over two hundred years is their motto: "Brew with love, sell with love."
"Brewing with love is a given. But selling with love is actually a very difficult thing," says Tamura.
The Tamura Shuzoujou puts their entire heart and soul into producing sake, so they want to sell it in locations they can see with their own eyes, and always know who is handling it and in what way. This desire led them to forego mass production even when seishu sake consumption was in its peak period.
An absolute devotion to quality has been handed down through each generation. When sweet, low-quality sake was still popular on the market in 1973, the 15th Tamura family head, Hanjuro Tamura's father, sold as second class sake what would normally be classified as first-class honjozo sake made with highly polished rice buffed down to 60% of the original kernels.
That sake is the still popular "Tokubetsu Honjozo Maboroshi-no-sake-Kasen."
The initial full-bodied flavor gives way to an enjoyably light aftertaste. This is a pleasant sake that flows from serving to serving, and to the next serving, without overwhelming the palate. Still a sake fan favorite, it has become the flagship sake for this brewery.
The Pure, Natural Flavor of Sake
Moreover, in this past decade the Tamura Shuzoujou has put a great deal of emphasis on the pure, natural flavor of sake.
Sake from pressed moromi (sake mash) can be flavor-adjusted through filtration and water infusion. "The goal is to make it refreshing and light, but if you go too far you will lose the sweetness and full-bodied aroma of the rice, which is what makes sake so special," says Tamura.
"Sake that tastes delicious all on its own, without adding or subtracting anything. And this also comes from the spirit of 'Brewing with love'."
Sending Out "Sake Made in TOKYO" to the Entire World
In recent years, Japanese sake is garnering attention from the entire world under the name "SAKE." And "TOKYO" is one of the most famous cities on earth, known globally as a source of many different kinds of cultural treasures. However, "Tokyo sake" is not well known across the world, nor even much in Japan either.
"Tokyo has too strong of an urban image, and the assumption has been that no one could ever make good sake here. That's assumption is still around today of course, but fifty years or so ago it was even a higher hurdle. My father and predecessor even chose the name 'Tama Sake' over 'Tokyo Sake'." I believe he wanted to hide the fact that it is Tokyo sake."
However, the truth is that Tokyo has for ages been the "preeminent competitive market" of Japan where sake from all over the country has gathered, including Nada and Fushimi of the Edo period. "We were always among the first to be in the know about the trends and techniques of those times, and we have constantly put forth a level of dedication that is successfully competitive with all of those traditions. That is what it means to be a Tokyo sake brewery," says Tamura.
Tamura reports that Tokyo sake breweries were involved in ginjoshu (premium polished rice sake) in the early days, before it became common anywhere throughout Japan as it is now. And he feels that the time is finally ripe to spread the word about how great "Tokyo sake breweries" are.
"Next year's Tokyo Olympics are right around the corner, and because of this foreign sightseers are coming to Tokyo in larger and larger numbers. We boast the largest Michelin Guide star count in the world as a city. I want to firmly highlight the 'Made in TOKYO' aspect of sake brewed here in Tokyo, a cutting edge pioneer city in food and culture, and teach everyone about the local sake culture of Tokyo."
Tamura also says, "I want Japanese people to know about how great sake is as well." He goes on to say, "To the intellectually curious like young people and women, I want to communicate the deliciousness of sake and the fun of pairing it with cooking. Tokyo is amazing in that not only do we have great Japanese food here, you can also experience food from all over the world. And that means there is a unique way of enjoying sake for everyone."
(Author: Asako Nakatsumi)
A 10-minute walk from Fussa Station on the JR Ome Line
626 Fussa, Fussa City, Tokyo 197-0011
Brewery tours available. Reservation required（from 8:00 to 17:00）
No tours on Mondays, Sundays, and holidays