JAPAN BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: KANAGAWA

Izumibashi Sake Brewery: More than just ‘the closest brewery to the city’

By Alexandra Homma
1 Comment

“Where there is good water, there is good sake.”

For Izumibashi Sake Brewery, a 162-year-old Japanese liquor company based in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture, this saying couldn’t be more accurate. Surrounded by Mt. Oyama and the vast Sagami River, the brewery is based at the very heart of massive alluvial plains in the area, known and treasured by local settlers as some of the country’s most fertile soils. Thanks to that — and a lot of hard work — since its founding in 1857, the brewery has continued to proudly prove that “good sake begins in the rice fields”: one of the many slogans the family-run company has developed to describe its versatile business through the years.

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"Where there is good water, there is good sake": Surrounded by mountains and water, being located in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture, has always been a great adventure for Izumibashi Sake Brewery.

Saibai jozo kura: Growing the rice that makes the sakeBlessed by fertile land, a good climate and professional sake brewers with decades of experience, Izumibashi Sake Brewery has dedicated their entire business life to producing some of Kanagawa’s best-known sake labels. But it was in 1995 when the company experienced a drastically positive corporate change. Prior to that year, Japan’s post-war laws had required that agricultural landholders circulated their produce within agricultural unions, who were then in charge of distributing it to consumers and private owners. But the loosened regulations in 1995 began allowing farmers to take charge of their own distribution roots — in other words, they could decide what happened to their produce and whose hands it landed into.

“It really made a major difference in the way we approached our business,” says Izumibashi Sake Brewery president Yuichi Hashiba. “Prior to the reforms, farmers and sake makers were practically invisible. The changes, however, gave us the freedom to decide — and test our chances.”

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Yuichi Hashiba, Izumibashi Sake Brewery's president stands in front of several of the company-owned rice paddies where the brewery cultivates rice, the basic ingredient of their sake. Photo: Alexandra Homma

Starting from the following year, Izumibashi began using the several rice fields it owned to cultivate the rice that they would turn into their branded sake. This not only gave them more control over the quality of their rice (and therefore sake) but allowed them to expand their research to areas they had previously hadn’t had the need to: such as potential new sake brands and plausible cooperations with other local producers.

Where there is good water, there is good sake.

Furthermore, in 2009, a second Agricultural Land Act revision began allowing stock companies to get involved in farming and agriculture. This led Izumibashi to purchase even more paddies in its area, work with local farmers and take full control of every grain of rice that goes into their sake. They also had the freedom to make changes and get creative with their business.

The saibai jozo kura (literally, a brewery that cultivates its own sake) era for Izumibashi Sake Brewery had officially begun.

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The making of sake: Izumibashi Sake Brewery employees are pictured mixing the rice that's about to be turned into delicious sake.

From the fields to your table … and beyond

Having established itself as a fully-integrated sake producing company — something that is surprisingly very rare in Japan — and already owning nearly 20 junmai (rice and koji mold only) popular sake labels, following the law changes in 2009, Izumibashi gradually began also looking beyond its comfort rice field spectrum.

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Inside Izumibashi Sake Brewery's headquarters in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture. The red dragonfly (akatombo), left, represents the symbol and logo of the company and can often be viewed flying above the brewery's rice fields. Photo: Alexandra Homma

“We kept thinking of ways we could collaborate with other people and businesses and promote our brands in a win-win situation for all,” Hashiba says. “One of the things we immediately thought of was food — sake pairs very well with fine cuisine,” he assures.

In 2016, the company opened Kuramoto Kako Izumibashi, a Japanese izakaya-style diner located just outside Ebina station. Kako became the place where Izumibashi would offer the finest local ingredients and pair them with its sake labels for guests from all over the world. The restaurant offers a seasonal menu of everything from seafood to vegetables and meat paired with a glass (or two) of customers’ favorite sake. The purpose of the restaurant is to give visitors a special, intimate taste of what Izumibashi — and Kanagawa as a whole — have to offer.

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Sake and fine dining pairing at Kuramoto Kako Izumibashi, the company's restaurant in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture.

“We make our sake here so we thought of collaborating with other local producers by serving the finest of what we can all offer,” Hashiba says.

“We had created our third motto: ‘from the fields to your table’,” he says, unable to hide the pride in his smile.

The company, however, did not stop there in its mission to create more slogans — and more business opportunities.

“We also wanted to let people know and learn more about how rice is made and how sake companies operate,” Hashiba explains. Since the past several years, Izumibashi began hosting observation tours and sake-tasting events in a bid to promote the area and its sake. The tours, typically held every Saturday, involve a full guide of the brewery and the sake-making method, plus seasonal sake tasting and casual snacking.

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Four of Izumibashi Sake Brewery's most popular labels. The company specializes only in junmai sake.

“It’s typically limited to 24 people, but it gets full quite fast,” Hashiba says, as he takes a deep breath before — as expected — announcing the company’s newest slogan: “We’ve added ‘the closest brewery to the city’ to our catchphrases,” he says with another big smile.

English-guided tours are on his next agenda, he says, though he’s not sure when that’s coming up.

“I have to work a bit on that,” he says with a laugh, but something tells us he’s not far from getting there.

Izumibashi Sake Brewery is located at 5-5-1 Shimoimaizumi, Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture. To learn more about the company, visit their official website at http://izumibashi.com/english/  To join a tour, book online at https://coubic.com/izumibashi (Japanese only). To book a table at Kuramoto Kako Izumibashi, see here.

This is the seventh and last story in Japan Today’s new Japan Business Spotlight series, which brings the spotlight on Japanese domestic companies, from small-scale family-run businesses to now worldwide corporate giants. In this series, we trace the roots of their foundations, we look at the faces behind their stories and the concepts behind their most recent innovations. Our first series introduces seven businesses based in or operating in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Read more articles from our Japan Business Spotlight: Kanagawa:

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1 Comment
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Wow! Amazing getaway!

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