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At the brewery, Mitobe Shuzo boss Toshinobu Mitobe explains his decision to cultivate rice themselves, and why he still chooses to use other rice varieties to make his quality small-batch sakes. “Growing our own rice means we can focus on quality over quantity, and since each rice paddy has its own unique characteristics – how much sunlight it receives, the temperature gap between the morning an night, the kind and purity of water that feeds it – we can control the process to produce the very best rice,” he says.
“We also use the minimum of chemicals, and we involve the local communities where the rice is grown”. This latter point is clearly of major importance to Mitobe and his colleagues.
He explains that historically, as much as ten percent of rice farmland was given over to sakamai rice for sake production. The kura breweries would commission the farmers to grow rice in advance.
“The farmers liked growing it, as sakamai is good for the paddies themselves. We hope to return to that revitalizing role for local farming communities by working with trusted and diligent farmers here in Tendo and all over Japan. Further down the line, we’d even like to see quality sake rice being cultivated overseas”.
Mitobe believes that Japan’s sake breweries can play a major role in the preservation of the nation’s natural resources, and the habitat that has sustained it for centuries: its farmland. “More and more rural communities are in danger nowadays [through depopulation and neglect]. Of course we cannot solve this problem on our own but we can be a part of the solution”.
The CEO’s vision is not confined solely to his own rather idyllic corner of Yamagata prefecture. Another way he bucks convention is in his insistence in using rice strains sourced from across Japan.
“Please forgive me for repeating myself,” Mitobe laughs, as he quotes from the company website,” but I like to take the same approach as that of the top-quality Ginza sushi chefs. That is to say, we should avail ourselves of the very finest local produce from all across the country, not just stick to our own district’s product. So we use Yamadanishiki rice from Hyogo and Omachi from Okayama alongside our local Yamagata variety, Dewasansan. It’s simply more interesting this way”