Visiting Tomita Shuzo – Shiga’s Shichihonyari

Tomita-san sprinkling Koji spores on freshly steamed rice at Tomita Shuzo

I first saw Tomita Shuzo in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture on a visit I took there in 2008. It’s interesting to note that it seems both a lot and nothing has changed. The brewery is still making small batches by hand with a small staff and achieving amazing results. But on the other hand, you can sense that Shichihonyari is now a more famous and sought after brand and even a destination for sake-loving tourists, whom I saw popping into the brewery sake shop with regularity on this most recent trip.

Hanging right above the entrance to the brewery is a wooden plaque carved with the name “Shichihonyari”. This plaque is famous as it was carved by Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883 – 1959), who is widely acknowledged as a creative genius in Japan and is most well known for his works in ceramics and as a master of calligraphy. It also doesn’t hurt that Shichihonyari was Rosanjin’s favorite sake.

Famous “Shichihonyari” sign carved by the creative genius Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959)

On the day we were there, we saw rice steaming in action. This was a hot, fast-paced maneuver. Rice was steamed and hoisted over to the cooling conveyor belt on which the warm rice, that was heading for the koji room, also got a sprinkling of koji spores. As Tomita-san supervised and regularly checked the rice temperature, the kurabito shuffled the rice into bins that were then whisked to the koji room. Speed was of the essence and everybody brought it – working together, sweating and working hard. So much goes on behind the scenes that translates into that bottle of sake on your table. It was amazing to watch.

I think the magic of Shichihonyari is that it is an ancient brewery – one of the oldest in Japan, still working on an artisanal scale, but powered by young people wanting to make a difference. If that doesn’t qualify as “craft sake”, nothing would. In the U.S., Shichihonyari is now selling 3 sakes which will give you an excellent idea of the taste and vision of this brewery. I hope you get a chance to try Shichihonyari soon, and experience for yourself everything that made Rosanjin such a big fan.