"The very first Daiginjo – a terrible taste"

What I realized while managing the stone company was that if the product quality was good, it would naturally sell. This may seem obvious, but the sake industry was very far from this back then. We never thought that it could sell just because it was of good quality. We just thought that if we could get the wholesalers to purchase as many bottles as possible, we would be successful in the long run. However, doing the stone business, I began to think that it would be easier if we make a sake that'd sell without trouble, rather than continue on having a hard time with sake that doesn’t sell.

As soon as I became president in 1984, I decided to try making daiginjo sake. Ginjo-shu is made by fermenting slowly and carefully at low temperatures, and the rice polishing ratio (the percentage of rice left over after polishing the outer shell) has to be less than 60%. Daiginjo is the type of sake with less than 50% polishing ratio. At the time, our company only made sake for the local people to drink on a daily basis. Based on our customer profile, we thought we couldn't sell daiginjo sake even if we made it. Almost all of our production was ordinary sake (i.e. futsû-shu). During my father's time, we had a toji who was nearly 80 years old, but when I took charge of the company, we decided that a younger toji would be better. The Industrial Technology Center of Yamaguchi Prefecture introduced us to an “Otsu toji” (a toji from the Nagato City area of Yamaguchi Prefecture), but he had never made daiginjo before. So we invited a toji from Kyushu who had experience in making daiginjo, and he taught us how to do it.

Our first daiginjo was awful. The rice was Gohyakuman-goku (a type of sake rice grown mainly in Niigata Prefecture) and the polishing ratio was 50%. It had no aromas and no smoothness, just plain sour. It was so bad that anyone could tell just by having a sip of it. I thought it would get a little better if I'd let it mature, so I consulted the Appraisal Office of the National Tax Agency, which provides technical guidance on sake, and they said it would actually get worse. I had no choice but to sell it as a freshly pressed sake (without heat treatment). We produced about 4,000 bottles (300ml bottles), and it actually sold out. It sold out despite the fact that it didn't taste good, just because freshly pressed unpasteurized sake was so rare at the time. We knew there was a market for it, and we continued to craft it the following year. The “Tajima toji” (a toji based in the northern part of Hyogo Prefecture), replaced the Otsu toji, and was far more skilled. But he had also never made a ginjo sake before. Soon after, I luckily found a report that described in detail how to make daiginjo.

At the time, Shizuoka Prefecture's ginjo-shu was booming, led by the craft of Kawamura Denbei. He wrote the report – it was a collection of daiginjo crafting know-how. I took it to my toji and told him to try making sake "by-the-book", based on this report. Back in those days, it was taboo for the owner of a sakagura, or in other words, the kuramoto, to interfere with the sake crafting. Sake was made by the toji and his workers under him (called kurabito), and the kuramoto is only in charge of selling it. That was the norm. But our toji accepted to make daiginjo as I asked. I don't think he liked it, but he did it anyway. Then finally, we made a daiginjo-like sake. I realized that if I followed the instructions of the report, by the book, we could actually make it.

To me, that's when my company was finally able to "stand on the starting line".

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