The Mainichi Shinbun reports on the village of Kawauchi in Fukushima, which was put under an evacuation order after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent incident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station in March 2011. The evacuation order was lifted 18 months ago, allowing residents to finally return to their homes.
As you’ll see if you visit anywhere in Japan, every little village has its own original product to entice visitors and provide a convenient souvenir to take away, and Kawauchi decided to brew sake as part of its recovery effort. Following appeals from the village and its association of commerce and industry, a team of volunteers including Fukushima University students kicked off the project by planting sake-specific rice in spring 2017.
Although the village produced sake before the earthquake, farms that grew the ancient species of rice used as the raw material and the shop in the nearby village of Futaba that ordered the finished product were destroyed during the disaster. Consumers initially avoided food and drink grown or produced in the area, fearing radioactive contamination, so many farmers switched to growing animal feed crops – but still wanted to produce something that people could taste and enjoy. The village of Kawauchi and its association of commerce and industry tried to make the farmers’ wish come true by teaming up with breweries in Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture, and non-profit organisations in Fukushima City to start producing sake.
The sake will be a junmai daiginjō made from the Fukushima Prefecture-brand sake-specific rice cultivar Yume no Kaori (夢の香, “fragrance of dreams”). 1,200 720 ml bottles will be produced for sale in the village from March 2018, priced at JPY 1,500. Production will then be ramped up to support sales throughout the prefecture and beyond.
The Fukushima University students came to the village last year to do fieldwork for their courses, and wanted to do more for the area. They transplanted rice seedlings in May, and assisted with the harvest in October. They also came up with six possible names for the sake. Some were based on a famous resident, poet Shinpei Kusano, and others on Hebusunuma, a breeding ground for a local species of frog (Moriao-gaeru, blue forest frog, Rhacophorus arboreus). The latter lines up another Japanese pun as the word for “frog” (カエル or 蛙) has the same reading as the verb “to return” (帰る) (both are read kaeru) – playing on the residents’ wish to return home.
The vote was open to anyone aged 20 or over (the legal age to drink in Japan) regardless of whether they are from Kawauchi or not. 19-year-old second year university student Yūdai Takeishi commented that he will be 20 in March 2018, and is already looking forward to his first drink being the village’s own sake.
The candidates for the new sake‘s name are:
- Shinpei (after Shinpei Kusano)
- Kaeru no Utage (The Frog Banquet)
- Jūsanya (Thirteenth Night, may be related to moon-viewing)
- Toki (Return to the Forest, using an ancient character for “return”)
- Kawauchi (name of the village)
- Kaeru (Return, using an ancient character for “return”)
- Original article (Japanese, Mainichi Shinbun, 7 December 2017)
Update: According to the Fukushima Minyu Shinbun, the name chosen was Kaeru no Utage (The Frog Banquet).
- Original article (Japanese, Fukushima Minyu Shinbun, 12 December 2017)