Sake became a part of my life whilst I was living in Tokyo. It was a unique way for me to explore Japan and gain a new appreciation for a drink and way of life I had little understanding of before.
One of my most memorable visits was to Murashige Sake Brewery in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. My dear friend Kyoko-san suggested I join her and a few others on a trip organised by Sake Lovers, where we had the rare opportunity to spend the night at a brewery, in the old koji muro no less (the room dedicated to the cultivation of the rice koji/mould).
The current brewery inherited the prestigious Morinoi Sake Brewery which was established in the early Meiji era in 1959. Murashige, like its predecessor, uses the water from a local spring to create their fine clean flavours. As part of the experience, we were taken to the well where the water is sourced and found a steady stream of locals filling containers with this pure water. We of course sampled the water as well – just as you would imagine fresh spring water to taste, but better.
We got up close to a few key sake brewing processes within the brewery. We were given an in-depth explanation of the different types of rice that are used and what makes the best sake rice. We saw the polishing machine in action, as the brewery does all the polishing in house (whereas some others purchase pre-polished rice). We also observed the team hand filtering a cloudy sake, no doubt a laborious process given the weight of the sake poured through the net. Last, but not least, we got hands on helping to collect the sake kasu (lees) which is a leftover by-product from sake brewing. Sake kasu is known to be highly nutritious and is used in cooking and even in some Japanese beauty products.
The hospitality I received at Murashige Sake Brewery was second to none. The team and the Toji (master brewer) made us feel like family, their pride and hard work shines through in the fantastic products they produce. I went home with multiple bottles of sake and a wonderful snapshot of me holding up the enormous sugidama* (cedar ball), which I believe must be one of the largest in the country (if not the world)!
Iwakuni is a city less frequented by travellers to Japan, although it is a stop on the Shinkansen (not far from the brewery at all!). If you do find yourself in this area of Japan I highly recommend a visit not only to the brewery but to the city as well. The famous Kintai Bridge, spanning the Nishiki River, is beautiful to stroll over as you head to Iwakuni Castle on top of Mt. Shiroyama, where stunning views await.
The many sake breweries and warm brewers who shared their passion with me will stay with me always. My love for sake grew so much that when it came to naming my new puppy Sake was high on the list of names.
*A sugidama（杉玉）or cedar ball is the recognized symbol of a Japanese sake brewery. The sugidama was originally put outside the brewery when new sake was brewed and the green leaves would gradually turn brown, thus showing the age of the sake on sale.
For a sake tour to Murashige sake brewery or if you would like to order engraved personalised sake bottles, please contact Sake Lovers for more detail at firstname.lastname@example.org