#18 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
“On the lookout for Yamada Nishiki rice”
I once had a big fight with the Economic Federation of Yamaguchi Prefecture (now part of Zen-Noh). It was when I was about to start growing Yamada Nishiki rice in my rice field with my employees. When I asked them to supply me with some rice seedlings, they said they couldn't get them in time. So I asked them earlier on the following year, but still, they would not supply me. They wouldn't supply me the third year, either. It seems as they didn't want to supply seedlings to anyone other than people in the agriculture industry. I was so pissed off that I told them I would never buy sake rice from them again. And I still don't.
I finally was able to get some rice seedlings from an acquaintance, but even after that, I would have to get a rice supply from outside Yamaguchi prefecture. When Dassai started to sell and its production couldn't keep up with the demand, we built a new sake-making facility. But we were facing a lack of Yamada Nishiki rice. During the economic bubble era, ginjo sake was trending and Yamada Nishiki was plentiful, but after when the trend was over, ginjo sake stopped selling and sake producers stopped buying the rice. And because of the Gentan policy, the Yamada Nishiki production was decreasing.
That was around 2006 or 2007. I first traveled around Hyogo Prefecture, asking farmers to grow Yamada Nishiki when I received a call from the local authorities, telling me to stop what I was doing. So I try to go and ask to many different places: I went to Okayama, Hiroshima, Shiga, Niigata, Tochigi, Ibaraki... Farmers told me that Yamada-Nishiki was too difficult to grow because it is too tall and is prone to fall over. Since its harvest was later than usual rice, they couldn't work it as well as the neighboring fields. So farmers didn't really want to grow this rice for me. The farmers also told me some stories of sake producers pulling the rug from under them. Sake producers had asked them to grow rice but ended up not buying it when their sake did not sell as well as planned out. According to the farmers, it happened to them many times.
Another thing I was told was that if the farmers grow rice specifically for cattle feed, they’d get subsidies from the authorities. So many were hesitant in what rice to grow. In the end, I promised them to buy their Yamada Nishiki rice, telling them it was better than to worry and try to calculate how much subsidies they’d get or how much their income tax would be. One day, when I held a get-together with farmers, a Niigata farmer told me he sincerely never thought that a time would come when in Niigata, a major producer of sake and rice, would grow Yamada-Nishiki, rice that had rarely been grown in the prefecture and sell it to a sake producer in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
As I was going around, some farmers even started to say that Dassai was buying all the Yamada Nishiki available and raised the market price. I remember replying to them that raising the market price was fine! They were the ones selling it anyway.