A Visit to Shintani Shuzo

Shintani Shuzo

  • Location: Tokuji, Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture
  • Open to the Public: No
  • Production: 50 Koku (9,000 liters), Shiki Jozo (year-round production)

On January 19th, I had the pleasure of visiting Wakamusume maker Shintani Shuzo, and talking with Toji Fumiko Shintani. It was mostly a business meeting, but I did get to see the kura and talk a lot about Shintani brewing, history, and, of course, sake!

The Shintani Shuzo sign, written on an old sake tank

Shintani is located in the very rural Tokuji area of Yamaguchi city, about 50 minutes’ drive from where I live. The brewery has been in business for over 200 years, but has taken some serious turns in the last few.

Tokuji Scenery

The current owner, Yoshinao Shintani, was away at university when his father passed and left the brewery to him. He’d not been an active part of the brewing business, but he was determined to keep it going–and then the aging Toji who had been in charge of brewing retired, and with him all the other elderly staff members who’d kept the business chugging along. Undaunted, Yoshinao decided to go it alone. His new wife, Fumiko, supported him as a nurse while he went back to Tokyo to study brewing science, and then returned to the brewery to downscale it to a one man operation.

The original 200-year old kura, now replaced by a more modern, smaller scale brewing room.

The brewery struggled, of course, but eventually Yoshinao and Fumiko developed a sake recipe and brewing process that worked, and Wakamusume was reborn from a humble local brew to one winning international awards and national adoration. Pretty impressive, for a brewery with only two employees. It’s one of the smallest in Japan!

International Awards won by Shintani Shuzo

Three years ago, Yoshinao passed the brewmaster job over to his wife Fumiko so he could concentrate on sales and administration, and now she is one of the few women in the role nationwide. Her inaugural brew, the first one made to her own recipe, is labelled Bunbun (a pun on the reading of her name’s kanji) and features a cute pink label with portraits of Toji Fumiko and her cat.

Bunbun Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu. Yamada Nishiki, Seimaibuai 60%

Wakamusume is now hard to keep on the shelves, and their modest production of 50 koku (9,000 liters) a year sells out all over. They’ve recently built a new kura and are trying to up production to meet increasing demand. I am convinced they’re on the way to bigger things, because their sake (all of it junmai muroka genshu, and most of it nama) is joy in a bottle!

The full lineup, including the brand-new label Cinderella (center box, far right bottle), a junmai daiginjo developed by Toji Fumiko Shintani as their premium label.

If you’re ever in the Tokuji area, you can drop by their direct sales shop (they don’t do kura tours, because they are too busy making sake!) and see what makes them great!

An assortnemtn of bottles and articles about Toji Fumiko Shintani
Award isplays in the window

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