NAGAI, Yamagata -- A local brewery intends to restart some of its sake making business in its hometown of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, in two years. Its storehouse there was swept away by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and forced the company to relocate to nearby Yamagata Prefecture.
The Suzuki Brewery is looking to hire up to two people to work in Fukushima, and will employ them first in Yamagata Prefecture from fall this year for training.
Although part of Namie is still under evacuation orders due to the effects of the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the company's head, Daisuke Suzuki, 46, says he wants to work to eradicate the rumors about rice cultivated in Namie by using it as the sole ingredient in its sake.
The Suzuki Brewery was a well-known business in the port town of the Ukedo district with a history stretching back to the Edo period. Its representative sake brew, "Iwaki Kotobuki," held a special place in the community as a drink used to celebrate big catches of fish.
Over 150 people, close to 10% of Ukedo district's population, were killed by the tsunami in March 2011. The hydrogen explosion that occurred in the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant some 5 kilometers south of the town meant that for around a month search and rescue activities could not proceed.
The wave also took the Suzuki Brewery and its storage out to sea. Although none of its staff were harmed, the nuclear disaster combined with the order to completely evacuate the town forced the company to give up on rebuilding the brewery in Namie.
While the town was left in a state of crisis regarding whether it would continue to operate or not, Suzuki was encouraged by acquaintances at a Fukushima Prefecture elementary school, where they were temporarily taking shelter, to continue making sake for the community. The experience made him realize that Iwaki Kotobuki sake is an indispensable part of the local community.
In October 2011, he took up ownership of a brewery marked for closure in Nagai, Yamagata Prefecture, and from November the following year he began brewing there.
Coincidentally, some of the yeast necessary to make the Iwaki Kotobuki sake had been left in the care of the Fukushima technology support center, who had been asked to analyze it before the disaster took place.
The company completed its first shipment within the year on time, and residents who bought the sake to welcome the New Year even made the news.
Evacuation orders were finally lifted for the Ukedo district and other primarily central parts of Namie in March 2017. Suzuki decided he would restart brewing activities in Namie while also keeping the business running in Nagai.
The new storehouse will be some kilometers inland from the location of the previous one, and the intention is for all of the sake's ingredients to come from produce made in Namie, including products for home consumption such as the locally grown Koshihikari rice. Since the nuclear disaster, food made in Fukushima has suffered from rumors about its safety, but local sake is appreciated all over the country.
Although it's considered difficult to make the necessary malted rice for sake from edible rice Suzuki is unfazed, "If we spend a lot of time and care on the work, we'll get it done," he said, aiming to become a beacon for the town's rice that could lead to greater sales of the region's products.
The company is seeking to hire one or two people up to around the age of 30. Experience or a specific gender is not required. The position will offer involvement in both sake production and the development of new products. The individuals hired will begin working at the company's location in Yamagata Prefecture to become experienced in sake making.
"It's low-profile work, but you get out of it what you put into it. I'm waiting to hear from people who feel they want to work together with us in Namie," said Suzuki. The brewery can be contacted by telephone on 0238-88-2224, in Japanese only.
(Japanese original by Ryusuke Takahashi, Fukushima Bureau)