The Sankei News site has an article on the former mayor of the small Niigata town of Shin-Onsen, who is taking up the challenge of brewing sake in his town in order to keep training new entrants to the profession in the Tajima tōji tradition.
Hideki Okamoto (67) announced on 18 September that he wanted to keep the traditional skills of the Tajima tōji alive by brewing sake. He took over as president of a Kyoto Prefecture brewing company, secured a location in Shin-onsen for brewing and plans to start in the new year in order to have sake on sale in March 2019.
The Tajima tōji, active in the Mikata region of Hyōgo (including Shin-onsen and neighbouring Kami) are one of Japan’s most famous brewmaster guilds. But membership peaked in 1965 at around 3,000 people and has been in decline ever since. As of 2017 there were only 88 members, many of them elderly.
Okamoto realised that if nothing was done, traditional skills would be lost and the town’s sake-making heritage would disappear with them. He first committed to having sake brewed Tajima-style in the town in 2009, the year he was first elected mayor.
He failed to gain the post for a third time when he went to the polls in October 2017, and decided take on the challenge of brewing sake himself. At the start of 2018 he took over as president of a company in Kyotango, Kyoto Prefecture that had ceased brewing sake, then took over a 300 square metre former dairy processing plant in Shin-onsen and transferred the Kyoto company to this new location.
Next he had the new location remodelled and put in brewing tanks. He brought anything usable from the old brewery and plans to use locally produced rice to start brewing in early 2019 with technical support from two Tajima tōji.
Okamoto still needs to decide on a company name and a name for the sake, and hopes to find something suitably linked to the town before the sake is ready to go on sale in March 2019. He also intends to use the new company and brewery to carry on the line of Tajima tōji.