Kuramoto Diary #539 -【Yamada Nishiki Project Beyond the Highest】
Next year, for the fifth time, the announcement ceremony and award ceremony
for the first place in the national contest for Yamada Nishiki will be held at the Tokyo
Imperial Hotel on January 12th. The purpose of this contest is to inspire Yamada Nishiki
farmers to have a dream. Despite being praised as the "emperor of sake rice" or the "best
sake rice," individual cultivation farmers did not seem to receive much attention in the
logic of the local agricultural environment. The contest focuses on farmers, especially
those with strength and enthusiasm, and aims to buy the Yamada Nishiki rice of the
winning farmer, 60 koku (60 kg), for 500,000 yen per koku, totaling 300 million yen.
The origin of the idea is similar to the initial tuna auction. The surprising prices at
the first tuna auction, surpassing billions, made me think, "This feeling is necessary for
rice cultivation too!" Despite discussions about protecting Japanese agriculture, the
current sense of stagnation in agriculture cannot be overcome. At the same time, in the
culture of equality that prevails over the current rural society, bureaucratically-led
agricultural cooperative organizations pursue standardization and overall efficiency.
In this environment, farmers who work hard to cultivate good Yamada Nishiki are not
rewarded, and the reality remains unchanged even if they do things casually. The desire
to break the vague sense of despair among everyone became the origin of this contest.
Started without seeking approval from the so-called "important people" in Japan's
agricultural society, the contest has been able to continue with the cooperation of
enthusiastic farmers nationwide, including Professor Hirokane. In the process, two
One is the change in the evaluation criteria of the contest. The criteria shifted
from the traditional "generally good conditions for Yamada Nishiki" to Asahi Shuzo's
unique criteria. It was a meaningful change, challenging the conventional selection
criteria based on the appearance and size of the shinpaku (white heart) in Yamada
For years, the selection criteria for Yamada Nishiki's grade focused on the
appearance and size of the shinpaku. This contest openly rebelled against that. The
argument was that "Yamada Nishiki doesn't need a shinpaku that is too large."
Yamada Nishiki, developed in the Taisho era at the Agricultural Experiment
Station in Hyogo Prefecture by crossing Tankan Wataribune and Yamada Ho as parents,
was initially valued for its ability to produce good koji without extensive polishing. It was
highly appreciated in Nada's sake breweries, and they supported farmers. Initially, the
journey of Yamada Nishiki began as a rice for cost reduction in ordinary sake.
However, during the bubble era(1980ʼs), the first ginjo sake boom arrived. At its
peak, the medal of the National New Sake Appraisal Competition was born. Whether
true or not, around that time, winning the gold medal meant that the brewery's phone
would not stop ringing, and the sake from that brewery sold out the next day.
In this context, the excellence of Yamada Nishiki was rediscovered. Using Yamada
Nishiki could produce excellent daiginjo. It became a perception that without using it,
you couldn't win gold medals. In fact, even now, over 80% of sake that wins gold medals
uses Yamada Nishiki as the raw material rice.
However, the character of ginjo sake gradually changed. Initially, most sake had
alcohol added (as mentioned in the previous Kuramoto Diary). The polishing ratio was
around 50%. It was common for ginjo sake to be packed in wooden boxes with a price tag
of 5000 yen. However, with the collapse of the bubble era (around 1990s), pure rice
became mainstream, and to make it cleanly, highly polished sake, namely pure rice
daiginjo, became essential.
When polishing exceeded about 50%, as in the case of Dassai 23, the large
shinpaku of Yamada Nishiki became a hindrance. When the shinpaku was involved in
polishing, it would break and become crushed rice. In other words, the more you
polished to make good sake, the more you ended up producing only rice bran. Therefore,
the large shinpaku, one of the major grading criteria for Yamada Nishiki, became an
obstacle when trying to make the pure rice daiginjo that Dassai aimed for.
Thus, the evaluation direction of the contest was changed. While evenness of the
grains is still an important criterion, microscopic cracks caused by excessively seeking
grain size are not allowed. The shinpaku is necessary but must be small and must be
small in the center.
However, challenging the traditional evaluation methods that align with these
grading criteria was like raising a rebellion against the agricultural industry led by the
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Some expressed concern, saying, "Is it
okay to do such a thing?" However, since sake rice exists to make good sake, when
making excellent pure rice daiginjo, rice with negative elements, no matter how well it is
considered superior by previous standards, is not suitable. Standards should change with
the changes in the world.
Well, I thought that only Dassai could do this.
Another topic is the development of "Beyond the Beyond." With a raw material
cost of 30 million yen, even if you set any price, it doesn't match the cost. So, I thought
about the reality that there are no high-priced Japanese sake compared to wine. Of
course, you can set any price if you just want to make it more expensive, but that doesn't
make sense unless it has a meaning in the market.
So, I decided to introduce Dassai, made from this outrageously expensive rice, as
an ultra-high-priced sake that competes with wine. Thanks to that, the first Dassai made
from the winning rice fetched 840,000 yen (720ml) at an auction at Sotheby's in Hong
Kong. Also, the sake of the third year fetched 1.15 million yen at an auction at Sotheby's
in New York. This year, we also have a magnum, as we call it, with 2.3 liters, and it seems
to have a price exceeding 5 million yen in local restaurants. Already, 9 reservations have
been made, shipped, and are waiting in refrigerators of restaurants abroad.
Unfortunately, all of them are overseas, but there are still a few left in Japan.
I think this is a significant achievement for Yamada Nishiki farmers. Yamada
Nishiki farmers are producing such amazing rice. Oh, and even if it becomes rice bran, as
mentioned in the last diary, it is said to be an "absolute" necessity for some sake
breweries to win gold awards at competitions.
Yamada Nishiki! Banzai!