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Kahoku Online News features a story about Niisawa Shuzōten in Miyagi, known for its label Hakurakusei. The brewery picked 22 year old Nanami Watanabe to take charge of production, an unusually young tōji. She got off to an auspicious start by winning the highest award in an international competition in November 2018, but humbly claims to be no more than another fan of her brewery’s sake.

Watanabe joined the company in April 2016, becoming tōji and manager for the ten or so older employees working in production in September 2018. She plays down her contribution, instead expressing gratitude for the support of those around her.

She enjoys a high level of trust from the brewery, with 41 year old colleague Kentarō Sugihara describing her as having excellent tasting abilities, being highly adaptable when it comes to brewing, and able to make level-headed decisions.

Watanabe is from the city of Yamato in Kanagawa Prefecture, and studied at the Junior College of Tokyo University of Agriculture. She chose to study brewing as she was interested in yogurt, but while at the junior college she developed a strong interest in sake and its wide variety of flavours generated by the balance between kōji and yeast.

She chose the Niisawa brewery after hearing about it while staffing a sake tasting in Tokyo, attracted by Hakurakusei’s concept of “the ultimate sake to have with food”. She found it interesting that sake was cast as a supporting actor instead of in the main role.

And the sake she made as tōji took the top award in the honjōzō division of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Watanabe attended the awards ceremony in Tokyo on 21 November 2018, delighted that everyone there recognised their hard work at the brewery.

After becoming tōji, Watanabe prioritised seeing their sake through the eyes of their fans. One example is her favourite Hakurakusei junmai, which retains lingering notes of rice.

She prioritises communication with co-workers, being able to talk – or even argue – about anything that strikes them. After all, they can’t talk with the microorganisms. Smiling, she says that she’s delighted that drinkers of Niisawa Shuzōten’s products were happy with them this year as well.