Kameno-o (a rice variety) (亀の尾)

"Kameno-o" is a variety of Japanese rice developed by a practical farmer, Kameji ABE, of Yamagata Prefecture in the early Meiji Period of the history of Japanese sake. In Japanese characters, "kameno-o" is generally written as "亀の尾", but originally it was written as "亀ノ尾". Accordingly, in this article, "Kameno-o" is described as "亀ノ尾" to indicate original cutivar and as "亀の尾" to indicate its descendant varieties in general.

Lineage and Summary:

The original kameno-o has a lot of descendant varieties, including a variety of the first generation, Riku-u No.132 (a hybrid between Riku-u No.20 and general Kameno-o No.4), a variety of the second generation, Norin No.1 (a hybrid between Moritawase and Riku-u No.132), a variety of the third generation, Koshihikari (a hybrid between Norin No.22 and Norin No.1) and a variety of the third or fourth generation, Sasanishiki (a hybrid between Hatsunishiki and Sasashigure). These cultivars are superior in eating quality, which Koshihikari and Sasanishiki are considered to have succeeded from original Kameno-o variety.

It is also used as a basic ingredient of sake rice wine, and the descendant varieties are brands including Sakamai-Niigataken, Sakamai-Naganoken, Sakamai-Aichiken, Kissui and so on.


Since the Meiji Restoration, people of Shonai Region in Yamagata Prefecture had an unparalled strong inquiring mind about rice cultivation, encouraged partly by their agricultural administration of previous governers of Shonai Domain. In such circumstances, Kameji ABE (1868-1928) was a practical farmer of Tachiyazawa Village (current Shonai Town) in Yamagata Prefecture, who studied agriculture all by himself except the education he had received at terakoya (small private school). He found three pieces of rice ears which were ripened in the cold weather while the other indeginous variety "Sobe-wase" were all damaged by cold weather in 1893.

Most probably, these ripe ears might have been the result of mutation. After having acquired the ripe ears from the rice field owner, he sowed the seeds and cultivated during the next year and after that. But, through these two years, he could not harvest reasonable quantity due to their culms grown too long and fallen down to the ground.

In 1896, he planted them at water inlets with lower temperature, then found one well-grown stump while others had insufficiently grown. This is "Kameno-o", which he took out this well-grown stump, selected good seeds to plant, and succeeded in increasing yields over about three years.

Initially, the ears were called "Shinho" (literally, new ears,) "Jinho" (literally, God's ears,) "Shinbo" (literally, new Busshist monk) and so on, but, at last, the name of "Kameno-o" (literally, a tail of tortoise) was adopted after one kanji letter Kame (tortoise) of his name Kameji, following the recommendation of his friends.
At one point, "Kameno-o" (literally, King of tortoise) was proposed, but Kameji ABE who felt timid with such grandiose name did not accept it but changed the name to "Kameno-o" (literally, a tail of tortoise.)

In 1925, crops of Kameno-o were sown in the area of 190 thousand hectares in and around Tohoku region as the representative variety of rice at that time. Kameno-o rice was highly appreciated for any use whether for boiled rice, brewed sake liquor or vinegared rice it might be.

The original Kameno-o into "Kameno-o No.1," "Kameno-o No.4" and others were developed through a pure-line separation method by a public institute. Furthermore, its genealogy was inherited to many descendant varities including Sasanishiki and Koshihikari through Riku-u No.132. At the time of development, it was eminently resistant against cool weather, but had a disadvantage of vulnerability to vermination. It was also found that chemical fertilizers would bring up extremely brittle rice out of this breed. Due to these reasons, original Kameno-o was considered as wrong fit in modern agriculture. In addition, it was disfavored in the age of the food control system, compared with other high-yielding varieties of rice.
Thus, the original Kameno-o has gradually given way to its descendant varieties


Although it has many descendant varieties of rice both for cooking and for brewing, the original Kameno-o breed became no more produced in 1970. Norimichi KUSUMI, a sake brewer at Kusumi Shuzo, a well-known brewery by its brand "Kiyo-izumi" (literally, clean fountain) in Washima Village, Santo County, together with Kiyoshi KAWAI, a master brewer, hit on the idea to restore the original Kameno-o rice when they were told about superiority of sake made from Kameno-o rice. In 1980, he was given 1500 grains of seeds of original Kameno-o variety from the Agricultural Experimental Station of Niigata Prefecture, and sowed them to cultivate and increase its crops during the following two years.
And in 1983 when he could harvest enough quantity of the rice to brew sake, he succeeded in manufacturing ginjoshu (high-quality Japanese sake brewed from finest milled rice) and junmai ginjoshu (ginjoshu with no added alcohol) made from original Kameno-o rice, and he has named it "Kameno-o" (literally, an aged man of tortoise.)

This fact became widely known among the people by the TV drama "Natsuko no Sake" (literally, sake of Natsuko) written in comic books and aired on TV. Even in 2008, the brewery Kusumi Shuzo is manufacturing several brands of sake from "Kameno-o" rice as ingredients. The other breweries than Kusumi Shuzo also began producing their brands using "Kameno-o" rice as their ingredients.

On the other hand, in 1979, concurrently with Kusumi Shuzo considering the revival of Kameno-o brand sake, another brewer Kazuyoshi SATO of Koikawa Shuzo, a brewery at Amarume-machi, Higashi-Tagawa County, Yamagata Prefecture, made up his mind to restore Kameno-o brand, since he believed that his predecessor Junichi SATO had kept an ardent wish to revive Kameno-o that was born in this Amarume-machi in the Meiji Period and to manufacture incomparable sake using the Kameno-o rice, although he has not seen the light of day yet because he had delayed one year before the debut of his newly brewed sake.

Hiroshi UEHARA, a former official appraiser of alcoholic beverage, has clearly said, "As far as I know, it was Koikawa Shuzo that had dedicated themselves most diligently to reviving the Kameno-o brand, though the brewery had no positive intention to take the advantage of Kameno-o brand as a topical subject."

Kazuyoshi SATO was given a bit of seed rice in the husk which were miraculously reserved by Kiichi ABE, the grandchild of grandchild of Kameji ABE. Sato managed to make a test growing of the seed rice, and then spent four years until he could brew a bottle of moromi (unrefined sake) using Kameno-o rice only. It was in 1983, one year after Kusumi Shuzo manufactured its ginjoshu (high-quality sake brewed from finest milled rice grains) named "Kameno-o" (literally, an aged tortoise).

Whichever it may be, Kusumi Shuzo or Koikawa Shuzo, their initially brewed sake out of Kameno-o rice is said to have tasted wild, unrefreshing and flat, which was the general tendedency to accompany any sake made from small-sized rice grains. Since then, master brewers have heaped up low-profile researching efforts, such as careful steaming of rice malt, and, from around 2000, they have eventually enabled to manufacture high quality sake that is in no manner inferior than those made from Yamada-nishiki but emphasizes its own flavor.

[Original Japanese]