Tenju Brewing

More than 140 years ago, the second-generation head of the family, Eikichi Ôi, established the saké brewery in 1874 at the foot of Mt. Chôkai. Each subsequent head has inherited the name Eikichi. The brewery has continued doing busi-ness in this area, skillfully using the natural climate and pure water. The saké rice has been studied and developed for many generations. Moreover, the traditional techniques used by the brewers and the history of the saké have been preserved since its establishment. Presently, the sev-enth-generation head (and president) is continuing this long-honored tradition.
The name of the saké brand TENJU means “life for 100 years,” which was rare in the old days. While it embodies the will to live a full and happy life of 100 years, the characters in the name are more than 2000 years old. They were taken from the Kongo Sutra carved into a cliff located on Mt. Taishan in Shandong Province, China. The desire for those drinking TENJU saké to live a full life is embodied in the characters, which were thus chosen for the name.
The Tenju brewery is located in a small town called Yashima within Yurihonjô City. It is located at the final stop of the Chôkai Sanroku line, which is 40 minutes from the Ugohonjô station. Akita is well known for its high-quality rice, and Yashima Town produces some of the finest rice in Akita.
The foundation of Yashima Town dates back to the Heian period (794–1185 C.E.) where it was established by practi-tioners of Shugendô. Historically, two families, the Ôi and Nei, were the largest, most powerful families in the area. In 1640, there was an internal conflict within the Ikoma family, which ruled Takamatsu Domain in Sanuki Province (pre-sent-day Kagawa Prefecture) and produced an annual reve-nue of 170,000 koku (volume of rice). The Ikoma family es-caped abolition, but it was relegated to Yashima to produce an annual revenue of only 10,000 koku. Due to this history, there is a taste of Kagawa in local festivals and events.
The Tenju brewery is surrounded by Mt. Chôkai and the Dewa Mountains, where it snows a significant amount. This location is well suited for the Akita-style, low-temperature, long-term fermentation process. The extremely soft water used in the fermentation process comes from the subsoil water beneath Mt. Chôkai. The rice used has been cultivated by contracted farmers. For generations, the mellow, distin-guished taste has captivated the taste buds of people in Akita. The unique flavor of TENJU is achieved thanks to the region’se natural environment, water, and rice. The mission of the Tenju brewery is to produce the best saké possible at Yashima.
Yôsuke Ichinoseki is currently the youngest Tôji (Head Brewer) in Akita. He graduated from the Tokyo Agricultural College where he majored in saké brewing. After graduation, he started working with the president and improved the brewing process by finding ways to make each step con-sistent. He is also challenging the traditional method of us-ing yeast made from rice, and he is investigating the use of artificial yeast made from flowers.
Rice for Tenju brewery is supplied by 15 farmers who belong to the Tenju Sake Rice Study Group. The group was estab-lished in 1983 under the leadership of the sixth-generation head of the brewery. The group holds study meetings and cultivates “Akita Saké Komachi” rice and “Miyamanishiki” saké rice on 22 hectares. All the rice used for TENJU is locally produced by the Tenju Sake Rice Study Group, except for a small portion of “Yamadanishiki rice” from Hyogo Prefec-ture.
When discussing the quality of TENJU, one person should never be overlooked. Masatsune Hanaoka developed the low-temperature, long-term fermentation method that be-came the Akita standard. The quality of TENJU had signifi-cantly improved under the guidance of Mr. Hanaoka. He guided saké brewers for 10 years until he passed away in February 1953. However, his knowledge has been passed on, and it continues to guide the brewers on a daily basis. The brewery’s signboard includes calligraphy created by Mr. Hanaoka himself, which continues to remind the brewers of his great teaching.