Natsuko no Sake & “Rumiko no Sake”

Perhaps you’ve heard of a manga called Natsuko no Sake?
A series by the manga artist Oze Akira that kicked off in 1988, it told the story of Natsuko, a copywriter in Tokyo, who gives up her career to go home to Niigata prefecture and take over the family sake brewery when her elder brother dies. Natsuko’s brother’s dream had been to revive a long-lost variety of brewing rice and make the ultimate junmaishu with it, and the manga follows Natsuko as she takes on the challenges of making that dream come true.

It was this manga series that led to the birth of our own flagship label, “Rumiko no Sake.” Not only that, this manga series was our introduction to junmaishu.

Our managing director, Moriki Rumiko, was born in 1960 as the eldest daughter of this sake brewery. After graduating from university, she took a job with a pharmaceutical company. But when her father suddenly collapsed from a stroke, Rumiko quit her job and hurriedly married her fiancé Hideki. The two of them—the two of us—started working at the Moriki brewery in 1989, learning the ropes by working under the guidance of the tōji.

Meanwhile we had two sons in quick succession, so we were raising toddlers and working in the brewery at the same time. Rumiko was pregnant with our third child when the large sake company which was the brewery’s main—almost sole—customer announced they would not be buying from us anymore. Moriki Shuzō faced an existential crisis.

It was in this dark time, when we were filled with anxiety about what to do, that we encountered Natsuko no Sake. The many similarities between Natsuko and Rumiko made Rumiko identify strongly with the manga’s protagonist. “As I read the first volume, I started crying and just couldn’t stop. It was like I was being told, ‘Make good sake. If you tackle it head on, you’ll find customers who understand.’ It was just the encouragement I needed.”

Overcome, Rumiko wrote a letter to the artist, Oze Sensei. A week later, an answer arrived, along with an introduction to Ogawahara Yoshimasa of Shinkame Shuzō in Saitama prefecture, which had made a name for itself as an all-junmai brewery.

The first time we drank Shinkame Shuzō’s junmaishu, we were won over by the smooth lightness of the sake when it was warmed up, and also by the capaciousness of junmaishu.

We decided to make our next season’s production junmai, starting with two tanks in 1992. But there was so much we didn’t know. And that’s when Ogawahara-san of Shinkame, as well as other brewery owners and sake shop owners, came to help and offer advice. The sake that resulted from these newfound friendships was given the name “Rumiko no Sake” by Oze Sensei, and he was kind enough to create the label design for us as well.

Our third child was born just after we pressed that first production, and she works with us in the brewery today.

Oze Akira, author of the manga. Natsuko no Sake

Oze Akira, author of the manga. Natsuko no Sake

Rumiko with the late Ogawahara. Yoshimasa of Shinkame Shuzō

Rumiko with the late Ogawahara
Yoshimasa of Shinkame Shuzō