Sake Volunteer Project 2011: Suisen Brewery

Suisen President Mr. Konno in his temporary brewing facitilty in Ichinoseki, Iwate.

Our next stop with the volunteer group was to visit Suisen Brewery in Iwate Prefecture. Suisen, located in the coastal town of Rikusentakata was one of the sake breweries that was completely destroyed by the tsunami on March 11th, and it’s owner Mr. Yasuhiko Konno escaped the waves with just minutes to spare. A respected pillar of the local community, Mr. Konno was featured in several magazine and newspaper articles soon after the tsunami such as this one, where he pledged his desire to rebuild. I remember seeing these reports and feeling inspired by his spirit. I’m sure a lot of people everywhere feel the same.

On our first day of visiting Suisen brewery, we met with company President Mr. Konno in their new facility in Ichinoseki, Iwate. As outlined in this news report, a deal was worked out with another Iwate sake brewery, Iwate Meijo Corp., for Suisen to use one of their facilities for as long as needed until they get get rebuilt and back on their feet in Rikusentakata. Suisen was not yet shipping sake out of this new facility, but settling in and getting used to the new brewing set up in Ichinoseki.

My picture with Mr. Konno

I have to say, Mr. Konno impressed us all with his personable nature, courage and determination to carry on. Joining us on this trip, we also met Marketing professional and famous author Masanori Kanda. Mr. Kanda held a marketing brainstorming session with our group to come up with ideas to help Suisen in the future. It was a productive session using Mr. Kanda’s unique and fun association methods. Also, the Deputy Mayor of Rikuzentakata City, Takashi Kubota joined us as well.

The devastated site of Suisen Brewery in Rikusentakata, Iwate. Mr. Konno plans to rebuild and is dedicated to staying in Rikusentakata.

On day two at Suisen, we chartered a bus to tour the town of Rikuzentakata with Mr. Konno personally guiding us. Mr. Konno recounted the stories of survival as we drove around what remained of Rikuzentakata. Even 6 months on, the utter devastation of this area was overwhelming. Crews of workers dotted the town rehanging electrical cables or manning bulldozers that were still trying to clear land or move mountains of debris. Mr. Konno also drove us to the the site where his brewery once stood. It had been cleared of all debris and looked like a vast empty field except for the far end, that was being used by the city as a temporary staging area for the towering piles of crushed cars collected from the town. Not a stick of the brewery remained – and the same is true for Mr. Konno’s house, which stood just steps from the brewery complex. To see it first hand had an emotional impact on me and certainly made me more determined to help in whatever way I can.

When it was time to say goodbye, Mr. Konno thanked us for our support, but I felt it was really us with so much to be thankful for. As we pulled away in a steady rain, I watched Mr. Konno wave goodbye from under his umbrella. He continued waving for several minutes without pause, as did we from the bus, until he slipped out of sight.

There is no telling what the future will bring for Suisen or Rikuzentakata, but if Mr. Konno’s spirit is any indication, I plan on coming back to tour their rebuilt brewery in a few years.