Industrial Tourism in Japan
Ichinokura Brewery:Experience "the one" sake its source in Miyagi
Set deep in the forests of northern Miyagi, Ichinokura is a premium sake brewery steeped not only in rice wine, but also a long and and rich history. At the brewery, the visitor can watch the sake making process, from the freshly harvested unhulled rice grains to the refined beverage that is such an integral part of Japanese history and society.
Ichinokura makes use of the lavish natural resources abundant in northern Japan. Though it is less than an hour from the friendly metropolitan city of Sendai with its many attractions, the brewery is located in a lush green setting, surrounded by woods and mountains with sparkling clear water. The Matsushima area, one of Japan's top scenic spots with hundreds of tiny pine-covered islands, is just a few stops from Matsuyama. On the way to the site, you can gaze from the train window at the serene rice fields stretching out into the distance, the same rice that Miyagi prefecture is famed for and that is used to make this famed wine.
The company has a long sake brewing history. Ichinokura, which literally means "one brewery", was formed in 1973 when four area breweries joined together to make a stronger company. The oldest brewing house dated from the 1700s, while the youngest was still more than 100 years old. The four linked bars that form the company's emblem symbolize the four groups that came together as one.
The crafters of this handmade sake say it is a living thing, and they treat it as such in the brewing process. Using the pristine water from the underground streams of the Omatsuzawa Hills and rice grown from local farmers, the brewers have a deep connection to the land and to the area. These experts rely on touch, smell and sight to coax the rice and cultures along from raw materials into the elixir known domestically as nihonshu. It's a delicate operation but they know the process intimately.
At the brewery, visitors can observe the intricate process that goes into making sake, with the growing of the mold culture called koji, the development of yeast called shubo, or "mother of sake" as well as the fermentation process using mash, or moromi. The process is extremely temperature sensitive, with even a degree or two making a difference in the finished product. The master brewers, though, are diligent about maintaining proper conditions-running with steamed rice to ensure it doesn't cool down too much and even able to tell the temperature of the rice by hand. After the earthquake of 2011, the brewers were able to continue the process despite the breakage of instruments because of their finely tuned expertise and knowledge of the character of the rice.
After touring the facilities and learning about the process, visitors are invited to taste various brews, such as the Yukimai Shikomi Tokubetsu Junmaishu made with organic rice, and the Himezen line, a new low-alcohol sake more akin to wine, with crisp fruity flavors in different varieties to match the season. Visitors are also encouraged to visit the nearby sake museum and restaurant serving traditional foods. Experience sake at its source, with the people that create it in its natural setting at one of the premier breweries of Japan: Ichinokura.