On March 11th, 2011, Japan was battered by a powerful tsunami which was quickly followed by a disastrous nuclear crisis. Tohoku, the northern region of Japan, was the most severely affected. The human and material losses were unprecedented, and the revival of the area seemed like an impossible challenge.
In this hardship rose the people of Tohoku. They showed the world how one community can get together, and as one rebuild their home, businesses and spirits.
One extraordinary example of such spirit is the revival of the sake industry in the area. Since the events of March 2011, the region has become a high-quality sake production centre. In fact, sake brewed in Tohoku is now considered by many experts as the best sake in Japan.
Led by a group of young workers, the region is now home to some of the most innovative, bold and motivated breweries in the country.
In the wake of the disaster, the new generation answered the call for help and injected new hope and ambitions into the region. One example is the Akabu Shuzo brewery. It relocated from the town of Otsuchi in Iwate to the prefectural capital of Morioka. While doing so, it hired eight young employees in their 20s and 30s who had no experience in sake production. A second example is Yujiro Ariga, 35, a member of the family running the Ariga Jozo sake brewery in Fukushima Prefecture. Yujiro quit graduate school to entirely devote himself to his family business.
The numbers speak for themselves. Tohoku has been piling up gold medals at the Annual Japan Sake Awards for several years now. In 2018, judges awarded 69 gold medals, out of a national total of 232, to breweries based in the region.
Sake from the region is characterised for having a light, clean and elegant style and will turn any wine drinkers into sake fans in a heartbeat.
Tohoku's unique geography is part of what makes its sakes so unique. Winters are long and severe with heavy snowfalls; rough for humans but perfect for sake. It allows brewers to produce and store their delicious nectar at low temperatures. This gives sake a lighter, more refined and elegant flavour profile compared to the rest of Japan.
The region is now uniquely positioned to become one of the top brewing locations not only in Japan but the entire world. Tohoku is already leading the way in bringing the concept of "terroir" to sake. Yamagata is the only prefecture in Japan to have received its own "geographical indication" — a nationally registered appellation, recognised by the World Trade Organisation, certifying the product's origin and quality; just like Champagne.
The Sorakami Team