Women Sake Masters in Japan Brewing Up a Storm!

  • “Alcohol is a man’s thing” you might hear today. But what women say to that is “hold my beer”!

    by Zoria Petkoska

    According to the World Health Organization statistics men in Japan do drink more on average and are heavier drinkers, but that doesn’t mean they are the only alcohol consumers out there. What is more, this notion of alcohol being a man’s thing has taken over the alcohol making world, even though brewing alcohol has traditionally been women’s job in the community.

    Alcohol Brewing Traditions

    Brewing has been seen as a male job just in the last hundred of years or so, but women around the world have been alcohol masters since 7000 BC the least, as earliest records show. Archaeological studies have proven this, and anthropological research has also confirmed. This is because alcohol brewing goes together with cooking, gathering fruits and agriculture. In primitive hunter-gatherer societies women were predominantly the gatherers, and later the farmers, naturally developing cooking and brewing techniques.

    In Japan, the Ainu have a goddess of sake and protector of breweries in their mythology, and female deities connected to alcohol are present almost in every culture. Traditionally in Japanese Shinto shrines there are ceremonies where women chew the rice to start the fermentation process and make the shrine’s sake, called “kuchikamizake” 口噛み酒 meaning “mouth-chewed sake”. Outside of religion too, traditionally women in Japan brewed sake, and female brewing masters would even travel between breweries to help them through the sake-making process.

    The “Give a man a fish…” proverb can be expanded to: Give a man a bottle of sake and he will get drunk. Teach him to make sake and he will take over the industry.

    Only with industrialization at the end of 19th century were the women everywhere slowly phased out of the brewing world, but they have started re-entering the profession from the 60s on.

    Today in Japan there are about 20 women sake masters, called “toji” 杜氏 in Japanese. And the numbers are growing.

    Female Sake Brewers in Japan and their Kurajo Project

    In 2018, 12 female sake masters from all over Japan had enough of the sexism in the industry. They had been making excellent sake for years, many entrusted with family businesses hundreds of years old, but it was time more people learned that. Alcohol is brewed behind the closed doors of the distilleries, so by the time the sake hits the shelves and then later the glasses of customers, many have no idea who made it and just assume it was a man’s job.

    The 12 sake masters formed the “Kurajo” project, a crowdfunding campaign with a target of 1 200 000 yen, which was surpassed. People who pledged money to the campaign did it via pre-ordering a bottle of sake, or booking a course for the party which was held in Matsuo Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, considered to be the location of the god of sake breweries.

    All twelve sake varieties have illustrations depicting men and the women brewers say they correspond to the type of man each sake is recommended to. The brewers say this cheeky idea is great for women giving gifts to men in their life.

    These are the 12 breweries who participated in the Kurajo project.
    Watanabe Shuzo (Gifu), Yoshida Shuzo (Fukui), Hasegawa Shuzo (Niigata), Kinginka Shuzo (Aichi), Sawada Shuzo (Aichi), Asahi Shuzo (Shimane), Mukai Shuzo (Kyoto), Nadagiku Shuzo (Hyogo), Moriki Shuzo (Mie), Tabata Shuzo (Wakayama), Sato Shuzoten (Saitama), and Hirai Shoten (Shiga).

    More about the 2018 event https://jpninfo.com/105501

    Meet Some of the Brewers

    Women sake masters is Japan say fighting their way back to the sake brewing world hasn’t been smooth. Very often they say their employees would purposely disobey them and act out. Even some difficult customers who are picky about sake would hesitate about buying sake from a young and female master. However, attitudes are slowly changing, and these ladies have banded together in The Women’s Sake Industry Group. As of now there are around 20 female sake masters, and here are some of the more prominent ones.

    Emi Machida

    Emi Machida is a sake master running the Machida Brewery in Gunma, a family business more than 130 years old. She is the first female sake master in Gunma to re-enter the industry, and inherited the family business. She was not forced into it though, and she only became a sake master because she is truly dedicated to the craft. Emi Machida has won several prize for her sake.


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    Miho Imada

    Miho Imada runs Imada Brewery in Hiroshma and is known for her Hiroshima style sake. The Hiroshima born sake in question is called “junmai” and is an extra light sake with fruity notes. The brewing process is much slower and labour-intensive, but it results in a unique flavor that put Hiroshima in the sake-making map. Miho Imada is both the brewery owner and professional toji (sake master).

    Rumiko Moriki

    Rumiko Moriki is a fermentation specialist running a brewery in Mie prefecture, in Iga town that incidentally is famous for ninjas and Matsuo Basho. Together with her microbiologist husband they have been making creative sake varieties for years, making mostly junmai varieties and using indigenous yeasts.

    These are only some examples of women sake masters in Japan reclaiming the right to work in the brewing industry, and while doing that also raising the bar and creating excellent sake. The same is happening with female-run wineries and craft beer breweries abroad, in a wave that hopefully will just swell and rise.

    *Featured Image from AC photo
    : AC photo/