Terrie's Take 921 (Tourism Edition) -- Earthquakes and Brotherhood in Noto's Sake Community

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Nov 5 22:38:36 JST 2017

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Nov 05 2017, Issue No. 921

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+++ Earthquakes and Brotherhood in Noto's Sake Community

Two weeks ago, in TT-919, I related how our cycling group got caught in 
Typhoon 21 during our rounding of the Noto Peninsula. This is a 
wonderful part of the country, with dramatic cliff roads, forests, and 
fishing villages facing the crashing surf on the western side, and quiet 
bays, oysters farms, orchards, and retirement homes on the eastern side. 
The two scenic routes are so different that it's hard to imagine only 
20km (and one small mountain range) separate the coasts.

Because of the sheltered conditions, the eastern shoreline is more 
heavily populated, although given the remoteness of the area, this still 
really just means there is a row of cute wooden (creosote finished) 
houses lining either side of the wending narrow roads hugging each bay. 
Between the houses, you get glimpses of the sea beyond and the mountains 
of Nagano in the far distance. Persimmon trees and kitchen gardens fill 
in the gaps. In fact, the coastline between the small towns of Suzu and 
Anamizu is probably one of the best cycling experiences you can have in 
Japan: perfectly smooth roads, the cuteness factor, and almost no traffic.

About 18km south of Suzu, we visited one of the 15 remaining sake 
brewers on the Noto peninsula - Matsunami Shuzo. The head of the family, 
Kinshichi-san, is in his late 60's and is the 6th generation of the 
family operating the brewery (they got started in 1868). You can take 
tours of his factory, which we did, and he showed us relics like old 
wooden winches and rice cooking vessels which were over 100 years old 
and which were in use before there was electricity and fuel oil supplies 
in the area. Matsunami Shuzo makes 3 types of sake in their  Oeyama 
line: a Junmai, a Ginjo, and a very tasty if lesser-valued Honjozo.

http://bit.ly/2h6Rka6 [Matsunami Shuzo website]

Most craft sake breweries in Japan are under significant pressure to 
survive. On one hand they are suffering from a reduced number of 
consumers, as the nation's society ages and drinks less, and on the 
other hand, they have to deal with the rising costs of employing people 
to produce sake the traditional way. Matsunami Shuzo has decided to take 
the traditional route, keeping their workforce small (just 5 people) and 
keeping the business in the family and thus dedicated to the original 
founder's vision of a high-end product. They produce about 30,000 liters 
of sake a year, and these days export to the USA and Europe, where there 
is an upsurge of interest in such craft labels.

[Continued below...]

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There is one more threat to Matsunami Shuzo's existence, which has been 
with Japan's craft manufacturers such time immemorial - earthquakes. The 
Noto Peninsula was always considered to be a relatively quiet zone 
seismically, with only one major temblor in the last couple of hundred 
years. This despite the fact that the peninsula itself is the result of 
an upthrust of sediment to the west of where the Eurasia plate meets the 
North American one.

However, on March 25th, 2007, the "quiet zone" theory changed for good 
when the main town on the eastern side of Noto, Wajima Onsen, was struck 
by a magnitude 6.9 quake whose epicenter was only 11km down. As a 
result, the town was shaken at an intensity of Shindo 7, the top of the 
Japanese surface shaking scale and a record for Ishikawa Prefecture. 
Many readers will know that Shindo 6 is the point at which it becomes 
impossible to stand unaided, and at Shindo 7, you're basically being 
thrown around and unable to control body movements voluntarily.

http://bit.ly/2ix2SUd [Wikipedia definition of Shindo scale]

Amazingly, and perhaps a tribute to the quality of pre-war buildings 
still common on the Noto peninsula, only one person died in the 
earthquake, although another 81 were seriously injured. Of the 25,000 
buildings that partially collapsed, only 649 fell down completely. The 
post-and-beam structure of Japan's traditional minka houses flexes in 
the rolling waves of an earthquake and is designed to shake and even 
fall off its foundations, but not to completely collapse.

Unfortunately one of the buildings in Wajima port that did collapse, was 
one of the town's last major sake breweries, which not only lost its 
buildings but also almost the entire batch (30,000 liters) of 
2006-harvest sake which was still fermenting in the tanks when they 
toppled over. Kinshichi-san retold the story to us during our tour of 
his factory, and had an emotional moment as he recalled the quake and 
its aftermath. His is a small community and the sake masters (the "Toji" 
of Noto) all know each other. He offered to help out his stricken 
friend, but the damage was so extensive that the friend fell into a deep 
depression and declared his generations-old brewery would shut down for 

Coming from his own family's historical background, Kinshichi-san deeply 
felt his friend's pain and wanted to help however he could. He 
discovered that about 30% of the friend's tanks still held their 
contents, and he arranged for transfer of the still fermenting sake to 
his own factory. He then finished the fermentation, bottled and labeled 
the ill-fated lot, and sold it to the community. Of course it sold out 
quickly and the proceeds went to the stricken family. This willingness 
to stretch to help a friend is a strength in countryside Noto that is 
still alive and well. Kinshichi-san showed us some damaged and barely 
repaired walls in his own factory, and I got the feeling he keeps them 
that way to remind himself that fate draws a fine line between success 
and catastrophe.

Being on a bicycle around Noto really puts you in close contact with 
locals and the countryside that you're passing through. The Matsunami 
Brewery is not much to look at from the outside - a weather-beaten shop 
in the front and worn-out factory in the back. But if you are prepared 
to scratch the surface a bit, and let the locals tell their story, you 
can discover travel gems that will live with you for years to come.

The Matsunami Brewery staff don't speak English, so accessing their 
family history and experiences takes a bit more effort, but they were 
nonetheless friendly and open once they discovered we could communicate 
with them. After hearing their story of compassion and ingenuity in the 
face of a calamity, on returning to Tokyo with my prized bottles of 
Junmai, it made tasting them all that much more meaningful and memorable.

And that's exactly what the traveler's experience should be about.

...The information janitors/

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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