SHARAKU is brewed in Aizu Wakamatsu City, Fukushima.
“When we think of "Sharaku," what comes to everyone's mind are deformed ukiyoe paintings like this one. Hmm? Given a sake from Fukushima is named SHARAKU, you might think “is it something to do with Toshusai Sharaku*1?”, or “was Toshusai from Aizu?” Actually, he was an ukiyoe artist active in Edo.
However, it turned out through the interview that the sake SHARAKU is totally unrelated to Ukiyoe artist, Toshusai Sharaku. The brewery has created their own unique worldview of Japanese sake, SHARAKU.
Note 1: Toshusai Sharaku
Ukiyoe artist of the mid-Edo period. Date of birth and death unknown. He is known as a mysterious painter who disappeared without a trace after producing a series of yakusha-e (portrayals of actors) and other works in a short period of about 10 months.
Picture on the left: Sansei Otani Oniji no Yakko Edobeh, 1794. (Tokyo National Museum Collection）
Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery is a brewery run by the Miyamori family, a 400-year-old sake brewing family. Originally there was a head brewing family, but the Miyamori and another family, the Higashiyama, were branched out.
In the beginning, the Higashiyama used to brew SHARAKU overtaking the technology from the head family, but after the collapse of the bubble economy, the Higashiyama fell into financial difficulties and closed in 2009.
The brand name SHARAKU was then taken over by the Miyamori family.
Thoroughly aroused by this incident, the current president, Mr. Yoshihiro Miyamori, decided to rebuild the brewery's management and "brew a new sake".
He was originally a system engineer and his career had no connection to the world of sake brewing. Much owing to his personality of an absolute perfectionist, the challenge leads to the born of new SHARAKU.
That was when he was 26 years old.
The prototype of SHARAKU was completed in 2007. The following year, they participated in the "Sendai Sake Summit "*2 for the first time and came to high-ranking place. Not satisfied with the result, Mr. Miyamori was even more determined and finally won the first prize in 2011.
I am sure you have already noticed. There is no trace of Toshusai Sharaku anywhere.
The label of SHARAKU was once made with a Ukiyoe painting by Higashiyama Shuzo, but the ukiyoe does not appear on the label of the new SHARAKU brewed by Miyaizumi Meijo. There is only the reborn sake, SHARAKU. It can be said the world of SHARAKU has blossomed no longer being bound by history and culture.
The owner of the Higashiyama Brewery, the former brewer of SHARAKU, may have been a fan of Toshusai Sharaku. However, the reason why "Sharaku" was used as the brand name of the sake is unknown. Let's call it a mystery just like the life of Toshusai Sharaku.
Note 2: Sendai Nihon-shu Summit
The "Sendai Sake Summit" is a prestigious contest in the sake industry in which all participants (breweries and sake retailers from all over the country) blindly taste commercially available sake from each brewery and compete for prizes.
Ref: President Style, July 24, 2019
Two Major Brand
Needless to say, one is SHARAKU and the other is AIZU MIYAIZUMI that Miyaizumi Meijo has been making since its founding.
SHARAKU is brewed mainly by Mr. Yoshihiro Miyamori, the president of the company, and provides a steady supply to restaurants nationwide.
On the other hand, AIZU MIYAIZUMI is a sake brewed under the leadership of the president's younger brother, Mr. Yamato Miyamori, the managing director, who continues to challenge the technology. He, too, aims to expand its business nationwide, but because it is constantly taking on new challenges, it is difficult to ship large quantities. The shipments to the rest of the country occur only once every three months.
Aizu Miyaizumi is also said to be as good as SHARAKU in both taste and quality. In 2018, Aizu Miyaizumi won first place in the Junmai-shu category at the SAKE Competition and the top prize at the International Sake Challenge 2020, an international sake competition.
When I asked Mr. Yamato Miyamori about the future development of the brand, he replied, "We want to continue making the best sake that sells out in good condition, so we want to concentrate on these two brands. We are proud of our sake quality and product names," he replied.
I can’t wait to meet further evolved SHARAKU and AIZU MIYAIZUMI in the future.
About Label and Typeface
The typeface of SHARAKU was written by a member of the Miyamori family, and then the president himself made some changes to the design.
The gold and silver foil-stamped letters are eye-catching. In Japanese, there is an expression of “haku-ga-tsuku (cover with foil)” meaning “it increases prestige”. The foil-stamped labels are just right for SHARAKU and AIZU MIYAIZUMI which have won many awards. I’m sure they will make you feel a little rich when you look at the label and sip a cup of sake.
The color of the label and text are chosen to match the image of the sake.
About Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery
Established in 1955 as Miyamori Keiji Sake Brewery. Incorporated in 1964 as Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery. Normally, I would go into more detail about the brewery's history, but I think it’s not necessary if I write about the president, Yoshihiro Miyamori, the fourth generation of the brewery, and his younger brother, Yamato Miyamori, the managing director.
Both Mr. Yoshihiro (president) Miyamori and Mr. Yamato Miyamori (managing director) have unique backgrounds, having worked as system engineers (SE). As mentioned earlier, Yoshihiro quit his job as an SE and returned to Fukushima in order to rebuild the management of his family's brewery, Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery. And there was a big turning point.
In leaving the company, his colleagues at that time held a farewell party for him and there he drank sake from Fukushima. The taste of that sake was too delicious that it changed his perception of the value of sake.
After working as a SE, the younger brother Yamato became a secretary to a member of the Diet (another surprise), but one day he was suddenly called back by his older brother Yoshihiro, who had returned earlier, to work with him on sake brewing.
After his return, Yamato worked so hard that for the first five years he had no private time at all. But when he drank the prototype of SHARAKU made by the president (Yoshihiro) in 2007, he, for the first time, thought sake tasted good. And that was the moment Yamato felt that “we could brew a very good sake!”
In the beginning, there were times when they struggled with each other, the older brother who was strict and determined to go all the way and the younger brother who wanted to show his determination, but now they have a good relationship. Now Yamato says, "I think SHARAKU that the president makes is still the best." "The president must be happy to hear that," to which I replied, "No, my brother is not like that...he won’t be impressed.”
I was impressed by his denial feeling shy.
The number of brewers has increased from five when President, Mr. Yoshihiro Miyamori started making SHARAKU to 20 today, and the total number of production increased almost up to 2,000koku (approx. 360,000liters).
Lastly, a message from Mr. Yamato Miyamori, Managing Director.
“When asked what kind of sake I want to make, it’s quite simple: Sake I want to drink.
If your first drink is unpleasant, you probably won't drink sake for the rest of your life. But if you think your first sake tastes good, you will surely fall in love with sake. If SHARAKU could be your first loving sake, I couldn’t be happier than that.
For those who will drink SHARAKU for the first time:
For men, it would be Junmai-shu. It has a full-bodied body, beautiful acidity, a good balance of umami, and good sharpness.
If you're a woman, I'd say Junmai Ginjo. Maybe a little more relaxed.
Interview Date: March 3, 2022 (ZOOM)
Interviewee: Mr. Yamato Miyamori, Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery
Image Data Presented by: Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery
Interview Note: Although I had expected the interview to last only 30-40 minutes, it quickly turned out to be more than an hour. The talk by Mr. Miyamori was so interesting that it evoked a sense of enthusiasm. Before the interview, I expected that the relationship between the sake SHARAKU and the Ukiyoe artist, Toshusai Sharaku, would be revealed, but that was not the case.
The passion for sake brewing was so evident that I was naturally convinced, "This is not about the world of Ukiyoe or history anymore, but about the world of SHARAKU, the world of sake."
From now on, every time I encounter SHARAKU, I will be reminded of the passion of today's interview.