This year, we are celebrating Female Frontrunners in March to coincide with Girl's Day on March 3, and International Women's Day on March 8. Every year (when we are open), Kayoko, my mom, and I set up the traditional hinamatsuri doll display at the shop and invite the public to celebrate with us on Girl's Day. It is a jubilant event that inspires us every year, as young and old gather at the shop and celebrate the energy and wisdom of women. Although we won't be able to have the event this year, we'll be celebrating in other ways including through this interview, as part of this month's Sake Gumi theme, Female Frontrunners. Watch for our release of these interviews plus features on Asako Hostetter of Heavenly Soap Co. and Miyuki Takimoto of HAGU. Find all of the interviews as part of this special month here.
Rumiko Obata is the Vice President of Obata Shuzo, brewers of this month's Level 1 Sake Gumi bottle, Manotsuru Crane Junmai. Obata Shuzo is located in Niigata and first came to my attention for their tanrei karakuchi (clean and dry) style sakes.
Obata Shuzo Brewers
Please introduce yourself and your role at the brewery.
I was born the second daughter of the 5th generation sake owners at Obata Brewery. Prior to working at the brewery in 1995, I worked in the movie industry. I am currently the Vice President of Obata Sake Brewery and the mother of two daughters. I am proud to be named as one of Forbes Japan's “55 Local Innovators” in 2017 and a winner of Niigata Women’s Achievement Awards in 2019. I was also a part of the Japanese Women Empowerment Project sponsored by the Cabinet Office.
What would you say is unique about your brewery?
Obata Brewery is situated in Sado Island, a unique place, where you can find toki (crested ibis), an endangered species of bird. We have been brewing handcrafted sake for more than 127 years. We try to reflect the natural beauty of Sado Island in our sake. Our motto is Shi-ho-wa-jo (四宝和醸) – to make sake by harmonizing the four treasures of Sado Island: rice, water, brewers, and terroir.
We also have a second brewery, which was renovated from an old, closed school. It was rebuilt using renewable energy by using solar panels. Our goal at Obata Shuzo is to establish a sustainable system.
How did you get into the sake industry?
As a child, I loved to play in the family kura (brewery). After graduating college in Tokyo, I worked in the film industry. I had no plans to take over the family business. However, this changed at the age of 28, when my father became seriously ill. It was a watershed moment for me and I questioned how I would want to spend my last moments. I realized that all I wanted to do was sip sake in my family kura. That was the moment when I decided to return to my roots.
What do you like most about the sake industry?
Sake is not simply an alcoholic drink, but it has many aspects which include history, culture, agriculture, science, and art. At the same time, breweries have a crucial role to be storytellers. For us, it's a way to connect people to Sado Island.
Although the sake industry has been male-dominated, it seems like more women are entering the field. What has changed to allow more women to enter the industry?
Sake-making used to be barred to women. But I have never been rejected because I am female. Nowadays, there are more and more female toji in sake industries. One of the reasons for this might be the declining birthrate. Traditionally, males would most likely be the heir to the family business. But in fact, there are many kuras with only daughters.
Of course, we also owe tremendously to our female predecessors who accomplished their mission as great brewers or toji. They opened up the way for us. There are also more women drinkers who show interest in sake. These women’s opinions contribute a lot to cultivate the sake industry.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of sake-making?
We are grateful for being able to make sake that we really savor, and share our happiness with others. Our mission is simple: Brew Happiness by Brewing Sake.
What are some advantages of being a woman in sake-making?
Since there are so few women sake-makers, people remember us. But having a good temperament and personality is important and we can't just rely on the fact that we are different.
Pistachio, mushroom, and cacao. In this sake, we are balancing the umami of junmai with subtle acidity and a clean finish.
What are your favorite pairings with this sake?
Sukiyaki, steak, tofu, egg preparation.
Who is this sake most popular with?
Since it is mild and dry, this sake is agreeable with most everyone. We recommend this junmai to people who are new to sake, and during get togethers with family and friends.
What temperature do you recommend having this sake?
You can enjoy it at any temperature. We recommend you to start drinking it chilled, then room temperature, and finally warm to experience the difference.
Is this sake a nama?
This is not a namazake.
Ideally, finish it within two to three days. It's fun to enjoy the changes in taste as time goes by.
Thank you so much for introducing Manotsuru to people in California! Please don’t hesitate to ask us if you have any questions.
A special thank you to Kazuko Hayama for translation help.