By Ellery Smith
Reizan is an iconic sake brand in Kumamoto. Located in Takamori-machi at the bosom of Mt. Aso, it has been making sake since 1762, yet is continually evolving to make sake come alive for the next generation. Today I (JT) have the honour to talk with Yataro Yamamura (Yamamura), the Senior Managing Director and General Manager of Planning & Public Relations at Reizan.
Ever since Japanese cuisine or washoku was registered as UNESCO Cultural Heritage, sake has been growing in popularity over the world. The other day I took a Mexican friend to a Japanese restaurant in Sydney. She remarked that sake was "good but bitter."
JT: What kind of feedback have you heard from foreign visitors?
Yamamura: While sake has entered the popular lexicon, it was previously known as "rice wine". Wine lovers, in particular, have an interest in sake. I noticed that many foreign visitors say, "tasty" without any hesitation on their first visit and without any point of comparison, maybe it is because they have tried sake overseas. As its taste can vary widely even amongst different glass shapes and containers, as well as its temperature, so perhaps we should review how we present and serve sake.
JT: On the Japan Privilege Sake Association website, Reizan is described as dry but fruity& richness.
Yamamura: Our sakes in the Reizan range make the most of its location at Mt. Aso, being not too strong in fragrance, mild yet refreshing. Considering enjoying it with a meal, as our sake is created not kill the taste of food but to extract its flavour. I believe this is shown by the fact that most of our sales come from restaurants & bars. Of course, we'll continue to study and design various type of sake which attracts a wide range of people.
JT: I remember you mentioned before that the quality of water is vital for making sake and here in Takamori-machi is very fortunate in having an exceptionally good water source.
Yamamura: Nearly all our ingredients sourced locally, especially water which is the vital element. It's not like wine which is made from fruit juice and I am not overstating the case when I say that 80% of the final product is influenced by the quality of the water. Aso is blessed as our spring water comes from the top part of the Kyushu water table, enabling us to make this unique sake. Here we live in luxury as we use this groundwater for sake and daily life as well. When my wife moved here from Tokyo, she mentioned that her skin and hair got less damaged. We always believe it is very important to protect this water not only for sake but also to protect the environment.
JT: Now, would you please tell the most popular item from your range?
Yamamura: The chilled Reizan reishu shoukai is our most popular item. This is the lightest and the most refreshing sake in our range, as mentioned before, it goes well with food. Many bars and restaurants in Kumamoto stock it. Recently there is an increase in the number of people who drink higher quality sake such as daiginjou or junmai ginjou which means our stock is very low as we can’t produce a lot in that range due to supply restrictions. We appreciate that, but it’s also our headache.
JT: Can we purchase that outside Kumamoto as well?
Yamamura: This sake is hardly distributed outside Kumamoto or Kyushu as we can only produce so much, however we're aiming to introduce it to other markets. As it is very hard to find outside Kumamoto, I recommend you to come to Kumamoto and enjoy it at one of the local bars or restaurants. Of course, you could purchase it through our web site.
JT: What other plans do you have for the future?
Yamamura: We've been working on not only making better sake but also marketing the Reizan range. We want to create sake that inspires you of the stories and scenery of Aso together with local farmers. We want to increase the value of the Reizan brand as well as Kumamoto as a sake destination. It would be fantastic if Reizan and the sake of Kumamoto are loved all over the world.
JT: Lastly, would you please tell us about any events that you had lately?
Yamamura: Every year from the middle of February to middle of March, we have a festival called shinshu matsuri with the local bars and restaurants. Shinshu (fresh sake that had “just come out from barrow”) and you can enjoy sake that is only available here. On the last day, we provide barrow sake as well. This year almost 5,000 people came. We don’t have many big festivals in Aso, but you can enjoy the timeless beauty of nature anytime, as well as amazing Reizan sake. Please visit us in Aso, Kumamoto.
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Born & grew up in Kumamoto, Yui studied and worked in Osaka before immigrating to Australia. She lived in Adelaide and Sydney prior to moving to Brisbane. Her passion is reporting on the great things of Kumamoto and Japan to everyone around the world in a serious, interesting and funny way. Her favorite travel writer is Makoto Shina. 熊本生まれ、熊本育ち、大阪に学び職務経験を積み、オーストラリアに移住。アデレード、シドニーを経て、ブリズベン在住。熊本、また日本のすばらしいところを国内、海外にまじめに、面白、おかしく発信したいと思っています。好きなトラベルライターは椎名誠。