Yahiko Aikoku Project
Entirely “Made in Yahiko”, from farm to brewery – Yahiko Aikoku Project
Sake made by people who live in Yahiko
Sake is created through connections between people. We want to make those connections even broader and deeper with our sake. Using rice grown in Yahiko, and yeast extracted from the Yahiko-zakura cherry tree, brewed at a brewery in Yahiko, and given a label created by a Yahiko calligrapher — With our aim to make a sake that is entirely “Made in Yahiko,” from farm to brewery, the people of Yahiko, including Yahiko Shuzo, the Echigo Central Agricultural Cooperative Yahiko Branch, Yayoi Sake Store, the calligrapher Rando Tanaka, and the local farmers, have come together to establish the Yahiko Aikoku Project.
Entirely “Made in Yahiko”
An ancient variety of rice, known as “Aikoku,” is grown with low chemical pesticides and no chemical fertilizers, the sake is brewed at Yahiko Shuzo, and finally, the calligrapher, Rando Tanaka, who lives in Yahiko, creates the label. The yeast used to brew the sake is Tokyo University of Agriculture Yahiko-zakura No. 5, a sake yeast that has been separated and cultured from the petals and bark of the only Yahiko-zakura cherry tree that grows wild at the peak of Mt. Yahiko.
The phantom sake rice, Aikoku
Aikoku was once one of the three great varieties of Japonica rice, alongside the Kame-no-o of the east and Shinriki of the west. First developed in the middle of the Meiji Era, the unpolished grain has a round shape and the rice increases considerably in volume when cooked. Because it is resistant to rice blight and yields large, stable harvests even under poor growing conditions, it was once grown widely, particularly in the Kanto region. It was grown for an extremely long time, reaching its peak of popularity in the early years of the Showa era before falling into decline after the war. Although it was suited to the conditions of the Meiji era, it is not suitable for the rice-growing environment of the modern day. The rice ears of the Meiji era grew very tall and were prone to falling over, which made for extra work for the farmers. Nevertheless, Aikoku has appeal as a modern sake rice that makes it worth taking on the challenge of growing it, despite these difficulties.
An ancient rice revived
The local agricultural cooperative received 10 grams of Aikoku seeds, which had been preserved at the Niigata Crop Research Center, and propagated them into rice seedlings. This seed rice was then planted in a small rice paddy in the foothills-second-section. New life was breathed into this ancient rice, Aikoku, bringing it back into the present.
The harvested rice was turned into an aged Junmai Ginjo sake by Yahiko Shuzo, and given the name Yahiko Aikoku after the name of the rice.
Label that links the sake with the land in which it was grown
The rice ears that ripen to a rich gold color are symbolized by the golden grid design that resembles rice paddies. The label has been created in that hopes that, by creating sake from the Aikoku sake rice that has been grown and harvested in this rice paddy, a spirit of affection for their home country of Yahiko will be nurtured in the hearts of the village’s residents. Further, when people from outside the village visit Yahiko and encounter Yahiko Aikoku, they too will sense the “heart” of this land of Yahiko, with its long, eternal history.
A dry sake, with a well-rounded, rich flavor and distinctive tart notes that will have anyone who drinks it wanting more
To allow drinkers to enjoy the pure taste of the ancient rice, Aikoku, the sake is brewed in the Junmai Ginjo style (rice is milled down to 40%-60%). It has well-rounded, rich flavor, with distinctive tart notes, and its dry finish will have drinkers coming back for more. Sake that has been hand-brewed takes on the characteristics of that year’s rice crop. Enjoy the new sake that is produced every year.
This project has been ongoing for more than ten years, and the circle of support for Yahiko Aikoku has widened little by little both in the village and beyond. In 2018, a growers’ association in the same district as Yahiko Shuzo decided to start cultivating Aikoku sake rice, and a new connection is about to be created.
Everyone grows older, and the people who launched this volunteer project will not be around forever. Now, we want to pass on the making of this sake to our children.
We want this sake to become more than just a sake for a group of local volunteers. We want to pass it on to our children as a part of the culture of the village. For example, when the children born this year come of age in 20 years time, we could toast them with locally-grown and brewed sake.
“Helping to harvest the sake rice as a child, then enjoying the sake made from that rice when they come of age.” This is the kind of custom we want to create.
With this in mind, we have embarked on the ultra-long aging of Yahiko Aikoku. Every year, we set aside a certain quantity of the sake for aging, and we have set up a crowd-funding project to seek the necessary funds to create a cycle in which the village can celebrate the children, who will lead the village into the future, when they come of age and pass the bonds of the villagers onto those children.
The crowd-funding campaign raised a total of ¥1,033,000, more than twice the initial target of ¥500,000. To meet the expectations of the many people who have pledged their support, we will use these funds with the utmost care so that this story of sake production can be passed onto the village.
We wish to extend our appreciation to the following for their generous support (no particular order; only those who consented are listed)
Shunpei Akai / Colorful Farm / Masaki Hidaka / Kota Sasaki / Yuta Sakagami / Koichiro Sato / Maho Okamatsu / Takeharu Yui / Soichiro Irizawa / Mitsuru Kitamura / Yusuke Katahira / Shiorin ♪ / Taka / Machi-no-ken / Kenji Tanaka / and 111 other supporters