Sakaya indicates an operator of the sake-producing/selling business that started in the Kamakura period.
Coming to own lots of capital gradually, sakaya also came to handle business in various areas, including financial business, such as doso (a pawnbroker and money lender), distribution business, such as packing and wrapping, and communications business. In this way, sakaya became wealthy merchants who had big stores at the center of Kyoto City and employed bodyguards in addition to store personnel, such as clerks and apprentices.
Sakaya were also provided with a factor of something like a general trading house in the present day, and in the towns other than Kyoto, the owner of sakaya played the role of a man of influence, like the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
For this, the small-scaled sakaya that is genuinely specialized in the business of manufacturing and selling sake alone is called tsukuri-zakaya (tsukuri indicates manufacturing) to differentiate it from sakaya. However, the boundary between sakaya and tsukuri-zakaya is not defined clearly.
When a tsukuri-zakaya accumulated wealth through sake business, it could happen that the sakaya started other types of business and became more wealthy, although the original sake business declined. Therefore, 'a sakaya not selling sake' exists. On the other hand, 'a tsukuri-zakaya not selling sake' don't really exist.
The origin of the term sakaya
Originally, a hut where villagers manufactured sake jointly was called sakaya (literally, sake house). Such a building for sakaya still exists in Hida, the place famous for Gassho-zukuri (a house built of wooden beams combined to form a steep thatched roof that resembles two hands together).
For how the 'sakaya' business started, refer to the section of 'In the medieval period or before.'
In the medieval period or before
In the Heian period or before it, miki no tsukasa or sake no tsukasa (written either 造酒司 or 造酒寮) (either indicating the office in charge of the imperial use of sake, sweet sake, or vinegar etc.) was placed in the Imperial Court, saka-dono (literally, a sake hall) was placed in shrines, and for private purposes, people manufactured sake by themselves. No record is available about sake-manufacturing/selling business operators.
Then sake brewers called sakashi, who were predecessors of toji (sake brewing experts), came to manufacture and sell sake privately by themselves, and the place where such sake was sold came to be called sakaya.
Of theses places, the stores specialized in manufacturing sake came to be called 'tsukuri-zakaya,' and those where emphasis was placed on financial business became 'sakaya.'
Many privately-operated sakaya appeared throughout the nation in the Kamakura period. Although the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) initially prohibited such operation of business, the Imperial Court in Kyoto permitted the sakaya business but collected sake-related tax called shuzo-yaku (or tsubo-sen) instead, to compensate for its financial shortage. In the Muromachi period, many sakaya flourished. A record shows that there were 342 sakaya inside and outside Kyoto in 1425. After Bunan no Koji Sodo (a riot caused by rice malt sellers in the Bunan era) in 1444, the rice malt-manufacturing business was merged into sakaya even in Kyoto.
For the Muromachi bakufu, sakaya-yaku, tax levied on sakaya, became an important financial source, together with kura-yaku, tax levied on doso. After the middle era of the Muromachi period when the power of the Muromachi bakufu became weak and the finance of the Imperial Court deteriorated, sakaya came to have a big political influence on the bakufu and the Imperial Court.
In the Azuchi-Momoyama period, some sakaya advanced into trade with Spain and Portugal through eastern Asian nations as well as various places in Japan, growing into wealthy merchants. From people in such a wealthy class, refined culture, such as sado (tea ceremony), was born.
In the early-modern times
Entering the Edo period, many sakaya selling the sake manufactured by others, not doing financial business operation nor manufacturing sake, (or business close to the image of the 'sakaya' in the present day), appeared centered on Edo that had become a big city. They were associated with each other strongly, and organized the wholesale sale of sake in Edo and Edo tokumidonya (a guild of wholesale merchants of ten products in Edo).
Although the political power sakaya had in the Muromachi period diminished superficially, it can be considered that they made considerable financial contribution to the cabinet officials of the Shogunate, magistrates and local governors, still retaining a significant political power behind the scenes. The power was so great that, in the Hoei era (1704 - 1711) and in the Bunka era (1804 - 1818), the bakufu withdrew a law presented for approval, when the sakaya opposed it jointly.
As the name of traditional sakaya, 'Mikawaya' has been well known even in the Showa and later periods. This is due to the following reason: Towards the end of the 17th century, ten guilds called Edo tokumidonya, each for a different kind of business, were established, and in particular, many merchants from the Mikawa Province, who had supplied goods to the Matsudaira family since the era when Ieyasu TOKUGAWA was the daimyo (feudal lord) of the small Mikawa Province (or who said they were such persons), belonged to the 'sake store guild,' which handled sake, miso (fermented soybean paste) and soy sauce, and were prosperous. Use of the name of Mikawaya increased because a store separated from an original Mikawaya also used the name of Mikawaya and also because many independently established stores used the name of Mikawaya to share the luck of Mikawaya's prosperity.
Sakaya banryu (literally, many flows of sakaya)
As there is the term of sakaya banryu, sakaya established before long a strong private network by effectively using its general trading house-like features.
Sake itself was manufactured by sakaya mostly from Sessen-juni-go (the 12 districts in the Settsu Province and Izumi Province) in their own sake-factories, was transported to Edo as kudari-zake (sake transported from the Kyoto/Osaka area), and was sold in Edo.
Furthermore, in addition to sake factories in the production sector, sakaya also advanced into the transportation, distribution, and sale sections as well, as described below:
First, concerning the transportation sector, Kaisen donya (wholesaler in port), not sakaya, controlled cargo-vessels initially. However, having accumulated capital, sakaya took over kaisen donya one after another. Then sakaya itself came to operate kaisenfu, which corresponds to the present ferry terminal in Osaka, owning its own vessels as taru-kaisen-donya (a wholesaler handling cargo-vessels carrying sake barrels) and employing skilled sailors.
In Edo, there were kudari-zake-donya (wholesalers handling kudari-zake). These tonya were originally sales offices that sakaya in kamigata (the Kyoto/Osaka area) opened in Edo to sell their own sake, and important personnel, such as clerks, were sent to these tonya.
There was a furious selling competition even among sakaya in Sessen-juni-go. Therefore, in these 'sales offices,' sales activities to explain the superiority of sake manufactured by their own sake-factories were conducted actively. Considering these points, the stores handling jimarawi-zake, which were manufactured in the Kanto area and competed with kudari-zake, were no match for those handling kudari-zake.
In the era from the arrival of Kuro-fune (Japanese name for Perry's Fleet) to the end of the bakufu system, sakaya also advanced into information business by effectively using the information territory of these sales persons, human relations with trading company employees from western powers, and their own distribution routes. In this turbulent and critical era, the Choshu domain and Satsuma domain, belonging to the anti-bakufu group, and domains in the northern region and the Hakodate government, belonging to the old bakufu group, relied on sakaya for obtaining information and transporting cargoes on innumerably many occasions.
Goshugura (Omi-style sake factories) and retail shops
The sakaya style called Goshugura described in the following should be also remembered: Being minor unlike the sakaya that was major, Omi shonin (merchants in the Omi Province) deployed many small-sized sake-factories and tsukuri-zakaya throughout the Kanto to Tohoku regions using their own business management technology. This style has been handed down for a long period of time even after the Meiji period, although the business has not grown much, and still remains in local sake-factories, with the not-large-scaled but established system as its basis.
A sakaya as a retail shop in towns was called masu-zakaya (masu: indicates a wooden box for measuring an amount of sake) in Edo. In the kamigata (Kyoto/Osaka) area, a retail sake shop was called itakanban-sakaya (a sakaya with a sign board). However, such a place was only a 'sales office' that a major sakaya owned to sell its own sake. In any way, attention must be paid to the fact that, even though the same term of "retail shop" was used, the positioning of the shop in the kamigata area was different from that in Edo because the distribution system in Edo was not the same as that in the kamigata area.
In modern times and later
Selling sake by measure from a barrel
Issho-bin (sake bottles of 1.8 liters) were developed by Hakutsuru (a sake manufacturer) in the last year of the Meiji period. However, it took much time for such bottles to become used throughout the nation. Therefore, until the early Showa period (or during the period from 1945 to 1954 in local regions), sake was sold mostly by measure from a sake barrel, not in a bottle.
At that time, in a sakaya, sake barrels wrapped in a rush mat, which the shop bought from various sake factories, were placed, and for selling sake, the shop owner blended sake from these barrels so as to meet each customer's taste. Sake-factories and toji might not necessarily have been pleasant to hear that their sake was mixed with products from other sake-factories. However, it was even one of sakaya owner's abilities how to blend various sake products. Most of the customers coming to a sakaya were intimate with the shop owner for a long time, and the owner was well-informed about their tastes. In other words, the techniques required for present bartenders were necessary for sakaya in the early Showa period.
The units of sake to be sold were mostly two goes (180 milliliters/go), five goes or one sho (10 goes/sho) (refer to units of Japanese sake), but it is said that sake of one go was sold in rare local places. A customer of a sakaya went to the shop to buy sake with a sake bottle the shop leased the customer. It was essential to bring 'my sake bottle' like 'my bag' in the present day.
Then the Sino-Japanese war broke out, and when there was a shortage of Japanese sake supplies, some sakaya sold watered-down sake. Such sake was called goldfish sake, because the sake was so thin that no goldfish died in such sake.
(Refer to the section of the rampant state of goldfish sake business.)
Even the following incident occurred: A sakaya owner who was accused by a customer of 'serving goldfish sake' killed himself for clarifying that the owner served no goldfish sake to the customer.
In the Meiji period and later, it should be considered that sakaya came to take either of two major different business styles.
Seisho (merchants with political ties) or zaibatsu (company syndicates) as the major business style
The major sakaya having existed in the Edo period or before started expanding their business internationally as seisho, advancing into various trade fields. They came to reign the business world in Japan as zaibatsu. Although zaibatsu were dissolved and divided into banks, securities companies, trading companies, etc, they retained overwhelming economic power until around the bubble economy era.
After the bubble busted, foreign capital invaded rapidly into the Japanese economic world, and in this trend, they have now been groping for how to survive through M&A, beyond the goodwill of sakaya retained since the Edo period, or beyond the barrier of the capital-based relationships.
(As of January, 2006)
Retail shops as a minor business style
In the era from the Meiji period to the 1980s
In the Meiji period and later, these sake retail shops came to be provided with general store-like factors, becoming a place inseparable from lives of the general public.
The so-called goyokiki service was provided generally in which a young shop attendant at a sakaya circulated its customers' houses, receiving orders of food and daily necessities for the day, and delivered them to the customers' houses later.
In that sense, it can also be said that such sakaya were places that provided the services of supermarkets, convenience stores, and of delivery shops.
In the era from the 1980s to the 1990s
In the latter half of the Showa period and later, conditions unfavorable for traditional retail sakaya shops prevailed in the following ways: Companies with lots of capital started taking retail sake shops in towns into their franchise systems, converting many retail sakaya shops to convenience stores or supermarkets; also regarding the sale of liquor, large-scale mass sales stores took a big sales share and it became easier to sell sake due to the deregulation of liquor.
In the 1990s and later
Entering the Heisei period (1989 and later) after the bubble economy busted, many retail sake shops still exist in various areas that have continued healthy growth through the following efforts: Trying to survive as 'a shop specialized in liquor' that is the essential function of sakaya as a retail sake shop, and limiting the products to be sold but adding values to the products through accumulating information about the products.
Due to the deregulation of liquor, the emergency measure law concerning the business management of retail liquor shop owners and its improvement was abolished. Therefore, it is considered highly likely that many convenience stores and supermarkets selling liquor will advance into the places where it was regulated for liquor sellers to open new shops. It is likely that, for retail sake shops to survive in these situations, there would be no other means than confronting the competition through further providing additional values to their products to be sold.