Winter 2016 / 2017 – Sake production in Japan
Snow, 54cm, and in the midst of the white and blue morning landscape of Shimane, Japan, rises a huge steam cloud. It is the sake factory that produces the delicious beverage for 125 years now.
You can feel the origins of the factory, you can literally feel the 19th century everywhere in the unbelievably complicated building structure of the company, and when you speak to the people that run the business for many generations, you can sense the present as well as their ancestory.
When entering the production hall you can discover a number of quite fascinating machines and tools that helped produce the sake.
Then the sake production begins with the washing of rice. There are several types of rice. Different kinds of sake need certain kinds of rice.
After the rice has been washed thoroughly it is being put into big tanks where it is boiled, just like regular rice. Only we are dealing with up to 1 ton of rice per tank. And that is done mostly in the mornings. When people outside the factory see steam rising from the building structure it doesn’t mean that it is burning, but that rice is being boiled.
Immediatly after boiling the rice is being shoveled into the ‘houreki’, a machine that helps cool down the rice quickly.
Through big 20cm-pipes (the ‘shooter’) it is then transported into big tanks, mostly 300 liter tanks, and to the ‘kojimuro’.
The ‘kojimuro’ is the traditional japanese room where part of the warm rice is kept warm for some hours and days. This is basically the key for the development of sake.
Sake is composed of a variety of processed rice and the extremely complicated procedure requires precise planning. The ‘kojimuro’ room is the most important. Cleanliness is paramount. Each time the room is entered the hands must be desinfected and inside the room clean work is an absolute must.
After ‘kojimuro’ and mixing the various types of processed rice it is getting closer to the finished product as the mix ferments and sends bubbles to the surface. Because of the CO2 coming from the surface one is well-advised to not get too close with one’s nose!
The final stage for a certain kind of sake is the press.
In that press the rice/water-mix is being squeezed for hours, and in that time little by little drinkable sake exits the pipe into the sake-tank.
The leftover is ‘kasu’, something like dried leaves of rice, containing a high percentage of protein. And it is a popular additive to soup or drinks in Japan.
Other procedures are for example the pasteurization of the rice, another exciting event where everything has to be coordinated perfectly.
If everything worked out well the bottling is the final step for each type of sake. Here in this sake factory sake is bottled into bins mostly, but also into paper-packs and paper-cups for a number of outlets all over Japan, but also as far as Singapore and Australia.
When winter ends, the days are getting warmer and the snow slowly melts away, it is a sign that the sake production reached its end for a season.
What remains are a number of new friends and a variety of impressions …
Bye bye winter, and bye bye from Shimane, Japan!