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Returning to family roots: Rumiko Obata on leading her family sake brewery

By Chiara Terzuolo

“Reputation before ratings”: fifth generation sake brewery owner Rumiko Obata talks about the importance of family businesses and using her smooth sake to promote Sado through titillating drinkers’ tastebuds.

Rumiko grew up in the sake world, watching her parents manage the laborious process of creating sake from Niigata and Sado’s famously prized rice. And like many young Sadoans she dreamed of leaving the island to explore the world. While she was able to make her dream come true, spending her 20s in a high-flying career that took her all the way to Hollywood, a family illness reminded her of the importance of family and carrying on tradition.

From Sado to the world

Rumiko says that she was inspired by Kaoru Kanetaka, a popular travel reporter during her childhood. She dreamed of becoming a journalist and seeing the world for herself. This way, she could share of other countries and cultures with audiences back in Japan. She moved to Tokyo to study political science at Keio University, but then found another way of sharing different worlds with audiences by entering the movie industry with Nippon Herald Films. 

For years she lived the high-paced life of a publicist, promoting new movies every three months, meeting actors and directors, traveling to Los Angeles for business, and making the most of big city life in Tokyo.

Returning to the roots of Sado

Rumiko says that at the time she had no plans to take over the family business. However, this changed at the age of 28, when her father became seriously ill. While he later recovered and is still involved with the business today, it was a watershed moment for her. “It got me thinking: how would I want to spend my last moments? How do I want to be remembered?” she says pensively, “I then realized that all I wanted to do was sip sake in my family kura (traditional Japanese storehouse). I needed to return to my roots.”

The following year she packed up her life in Tokyo and, with husband Ken in tow, headed back to her native island.

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© Savvy Tokyo

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Good for her. Japan needs more people like her who will carry on family businesses and farms for the future of Japan

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The government also needs to improve the quality of life in rural areas or people like her will just disappear to Tokyo and Osaka

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In Nagano there is a sake brewery run by a western woman. In Obuse Town where Hokusai lived and worked. SARAH MARIE CUMMINGS the first Western sake sommelier in Japan.

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