Sake (rice wine) Breweries (造り酒屋)

The trade of sake brewers in Japan involves; making Japanese rice wine (sake) in warehouses and selling sake in retail outlets. Sake breweries are identified by an orb made of trimmed Japanese cedar branches which hangs under the eaves out the front of a brewery.

Starting in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), they flourished in the Muromachi period (1333-1573).

Whilst they cannot be simply defined as liquor outlets, in general, liquor outlets were integrated merchants active in a range of sectors: the financial industry (acting as money lenders), logistics (forwarders), and communications etc. They set up substantial premises in the centre of major towns and being powerful entities employed shop staff such as sales clerks and assistants and furthermore, they also maintained security guards etc.

On the other hand, the overall concept of sake brewers was to brew and sell sake and, the scale was most often not large however, at some stage the brewers began to work alone and apart from the centers of large towns, they also became numerous in rural towns and mountain villages.

References to sake breweries being dotted along even rather deserted main roads can be found in travel journals of olden times.

Warehouses and shops were already owned but, for example, the Kanto region through to northern Japan was dotted with Goshu warehouses which were owned by entrepreneurs in distant places where brewery workers sent to the locales would be employed on a seasonal basis as required.

Brewers were at the mercy of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) sake brewing regulations and the Meiji government's increased sake tax and, fell into decline, recovered and new entities emerged.

Following the end of the bubble economy, the renaissance of boutique regional brewers has barely managed to carry on to the present day.

Amongst many sake brewers February is seen as the best time to open for business each year. Shin-shu (nouveau sake) brewed that year makes its debut, wine tastings take place and, sales of related products such as sake kasu (lees) and sake buns take place. Also, close at hand regional specialties are used as appetizers and sold etc and, whilst marking a specific juncture for the sake brewer, it is an important event for a region.

Sake Brewer Origins

Many sake brewers were originally wealthy and well-known personalities in a given region. In more recent times, they have come from a range of walks of life such as: politics, business and academia.

Summary of celebrity sake brewers

[Original Japanese]