Nav barEmail eSakeeSake Site MapJapanese Language eSakeSake Links - Other Web ResourceseSake HomepageStore Help, FAQ, Legal Issues
Sake Brewers Sake Knowledge Sake Store Sake-Food Sake Links About eSake

eSake Logo

Newsletter Archive 2009

Types of Sake
Making Sake
Pub Guide
Sake FAQ
Sake Glossary
Sake Tasting
Serving, Storage
Vital Statistics
Free Newsletter

   Newsletter Archive red check
 Japan Times Archive

Kanji for Sake




Sake World Newsletter


Jan. 2009


  • Rice Growing, Part III
  • Sake Events
  • Support Your Local Kura
  • Educational Products
  • Odds-n-Ends

Top Story

Rice Growing, Part III

The Kome Khronicles, Rice Growing, Part III
Welcome to the third installment of the Kome Khronicles. (pronounced koh-meh, and it means rice, as you likely recall). Last month we diverged a bit into the use of fertilizers, chemicals, or the lack thereof, and the attendant difficulties. Let us pick up this month with harvesting, "after care" of the rice, and a word about "post paddy processing." with of course a couple of tangents thrown in for good measure.

When last we left our beloved Yamada Nishiki rice it was mid-summer, having been planted in June. In Japan, rice can be planted from April to June, and harvested anywhere between August and October. Just when the seedlings are planted and when the rice is harvested depends on the strain or variety. (With a couple of regions excepted, there is only one growing season here in Japan.) Sake rice varieties are by and large planted later and harvested later.

There are, I am told, two types of rice, each with a different "internal clock" related to maturation and harvesting. One type, which includes Yamada Nishiki and other sake rice types, is ready when the number of daylight hours dwindle to a certain point. Another type relies on the total number of daylight hours logged from the time it was planted. However, I am admittedly venturing out of my realm of firm knowledge here, the above being hearsay (albeit from rice growers), so you may want refrain from quoting me.

As readers surely recall, we are speaking here of wet rice cultivation, in other words, the rice is grown in a field in which several inches of water are maintained, the purpose being to minimize weeds. In preparing to harvest the rice, the water is let out of the field and it is permitted to dry out about ten days in advance. By that time, the tall and grain-laden stalks have a huge head start and what few weeds might appear. More significantly, though, it is hard to walk around amongst the neatly arranged stalks when one is sinking eight inches in mud, and even harder to drive a several-ton combine through that muck. Letting the water out, then, greatly facilitates the harvesting work.

As alluded to above, with the exception of the edges and hard Harvesting by Combine to access corners et al, combines are used to save untold amounts of labor by driving along at a turtle's clip and cutting the rice stalks at the base, aligning them and conveying them between to belts, then stripping the rice grains from the ears on top. The seeds go into one hopper, the stripped stalks to another. While some do this by hand, machines are almost always preferred.

Harvesting by HandAfter this the rice must be dried fairly soon or it will begin to rot. So more machines are used to first strip the husks from the l'il puppies, and then it is gently warmed while being kept in motion for a short while do dry it down to about 15 percent moisture. Once this is done it can sit for months with no detrimental changes.

There is a more natural ways of cutting down and drying out Haze-boshi the rice. Known as "haze-boshi," the stalks are cut by hand and hung upside down for a couple of weeks to naturally dry out. And, most agree this way leads to better - at least tastier - rice. But the hassle factor is huge.

"That's where I draw the line; I just say 'no' to haze-boshi" stated Niichiro Marumoto, the sake brewer / rice farmer from whom I learned. "The minor increase in quality is not worth the monumental increase in time, effort and aggravation." For someone whose attention to detail knows no bounds, this is quite a statement.

Next, the rice is separated by size. Anything broken into shards or fragments, and grains that did not fully develop and are exceedingly small, are discarded. The remaining rice is further separated into groups of one of several sizes. Why? The answer to that is quite interesting.

That answer lies in the fact that rice is then inspected and graded. Not just sake rice, but all rice. Originally there were three grades, Ittoh, Nittoh and Santoh, i.e. Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3, with 1 being the best. But sake rice is grown with such care that there was general clamoring that even the Grade 3 stuff was superior to run of the mill rice, and since the grades were relative and not absolute assessments of quality, something had to be done.

The government listened and capitulated, (how's that for a concept!) and added two grades on top of Grade 1, Toku-toh (Special Grade) and, on top of that, Toku-joh (I dunno… uh… Higher Special Grade). Rules stipulate that "special designation sake" (premium sake) must be brewed with ri ce passing inspection for one of these five grades.

So back to our rice grain separator. One of the things inspected is size. The bigger, the better, at least as far as the grading is concerned. So the biggest stuff has the chance to be top-grade Toku-joh rice. Interestingly, to me anyway, is that within one harvested field you will have rice ending up in all five categories. So the field and its terroir are important, but even within that confine there are greater and lesser grains.

And thus, in preparation for said inspection, the rice will be separated into size-based peer groups in different hoppers  Also, another interesting point is that before the rice can be sold the moisture content must be brought to between 14 and 15 percent. Why? Because rice is sold by weight, and if the moisture content is higher than that, producers end up selling water rather than rice. It makes sense when you think abou t it.

More on the grades of rice can be read here.

Back to the field. After the rice is cut away, we have a field full Post-harvesting Rice Stalk Stumps of little stumps, so to speak. These are handled in one of several ways: burning, turning, churning or yearning.

Some growers will burn them out, others will turn them over roots and all. Others churn the earth thoroughly, and some yearn for machines, but having none, will just let the stumps sit there and let nature do her thing to them, Each method has its strength and weaknesses, pros and cons, applicable and inapplicable situations as well.

Readers may recall I grew six sets of several stalks each of Yamda Nishiki at home, having received them after helping plant 'em in June. I grew and subsequently harvested them myself. Of these, one was transplanted into its own space, where it flourished, but the others languished in the crowded space left to them. So in the end, just one group of stalks made the cut (no pun intended).

I am fairly certain the terroir of my home in Kamakura (about an hour south of Tokyo) is not optimum for growing Yamada Nishiki, but I followed through anyway. And I dried it out by the haze-boshi method in my office. I ended up with exactly 426 grains with which to begin next year. Something tells me it ain't Toku-joh, but it will serve my educational needs.

Next month we will talk about the birthplace of Yamada Nishiki, some amazing facts about that venerable strain of grain, a bit of dirty laundry, and more. Until then, enjoy your sake, regardless of which rice was used in its crafting.

For Japan-based readers:
Sake Events

The 2009 Sake Professional Course in Japan.
No More Available Seats
It is that time again: I am officially announcing the 2009 Sake Professional Course to be held in Tokyo (with a trip to Osaka, Kyoto, & Kobe) January 26 to 30, 2009. This is simply the most thorough and finest sake educational program on the planet. For more information, please go here. All  seats for this seminar are taken; however,  those interested in future courses can send me an email to ensure timely notification.

For Japan-based Readers:
Support Your Local Sakagura
There is still some time to participate in this offer for those that are interested. Should you live anywhere in Japan and be interested in hard-to-get sake, consider this special offer from Tensei in Kanagawa.

Tensei is a small kura with a great story behind them. In short, the current president was hitchhiking around the US about 15 years ago when he called home to say hi. "We're throwing in the towel," he was told. "Sake is not selling so we're going to shut the place down."

"Wait," he responded. "I'll come back; I'll take over."

"Be our guest!" came his family's response. "Knock yerself out."

Which he did. He made massive changes, including drastically cutting their production, streamlining the brewery itself, putting in several restaurants, a micro-brewed beer operation, and a bread shop. He then renamed the sake, from Shokou to Tensei. And, he hired a young, smart, able toji named Igarashi.

They then began a club in which for 10,000 yen you could be a part of a group that would have made for them a tank of the best that toji could do. Yama da Nishiki rice at 35%, excellent water from the Tanzawa range, and shizuku (drip pressed) to ensure the best quality possible. That brought you three bottles you could enjoy over the course of the year. The club has long enjoyed great popularity, and a few loonies have even saved a bottle from each and every year.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the club's efforts, and the first time ever that they have raised the price. So, for a mere 11550 yen you get three 720ml bottles of Tensei Junmai Daiginjo made to the aforementioned spec, and this year, as a bonus, one is nama (unpasteurized). As another li'l bonus, you will receive a bag of sake kasu (lees) from the production as well. (Just don't put it in your rice field.)

The sake will be delivered to you in May of 2009, and participation is limited to 500 sets, and to domestic addresses. Those interested can email me for how to participate, or contact Yamadaya Honten in Japanese at 0467.22.0338. Every year I have tasted this sake, and every year it has been outstanding.

For the record, I am not at all involved in this effort, but I do feel an affinity of proximity for this brewery, as they are the closest to me. (So maybe the  subtitle above should read "Support my local sakagura.") While indeed good and indeed hard to get, there are many breweries around Japan doing special things like this, not just Tensei. So poke around  your local  sake world as well, should that interest you.

Stay Subscribed!
Are you not getting this newsletter? I realize that is like asking that "those not present please raise your hand," but for future reference, should you spontaneously stop receiving this newsletter, please go here and sign up again.

Email newsletter services are very careful not to be considered spam enablers, but the problem is that often very valid email addresses come back bounced as invalid. It is an unavoidable problem. So if you or someone you know is not getting this, or stop(s) receiving it inexplicably, please do take a moment to double check that you are still subscribed. In fact, to ensure that your email is considered valid,  please click here . It can't hurt.

Sincere apologies for the hassle, mixed with gratitude for reading this newsletter.

Educational Products from
Just a reminder to check out the Sake-World e-store, currently offering three educational products immediately downloadable for your education and further sake enjoyment. We offer three products, with more to come soon, including a full-blown, comprehensive self-study course covering all the material in the Sake Professional Course, and more.
First is The Sake Notebook, a 15-page pdf file guaranteed to jump-start your sake understanding and appreciation. It covers everything related to sake in a tight, concise and easily digestible presentation replete with plenty of photos and diagrams for at-a-glance enlightenment. Sake basics, history, grades and quality levels, aging, temperature, storage and more are all briefly touched upon to create a foundation upon which more sake learning can flourish. There is also a list of 250 (count 'em!) sake brands to look for and try. Finally, included with purchase is access to a password protected area on known as "The Goodstuff" a regularly updated list of good sake recommendations, replete with brief commentary on each, and some indication of John's personal recommendations and preferences. Available for $15.
Next is The Sake Production Slideshow, an executable file (Photojam) wherein resides a 15-minute slideshow of photos of the sake-brewing process from beginning to end, giving you a glimpse into the day-to-day brewing environment of sakagura in Japan. Available for $15. Also, access to "The Goodstuff" comes with this product as well.
Third is a bundled package of both The Sake Notebook and The Sake Production Slideshow for those that cannot make up their minds or simply have to have - or give - both as gifts. Available as a set for $25.
Surely these would make wonderful gifts for those close to you that are itching to get into good sake, and their easily downloadable digital format makes it all that much easier.
Links to Sake Book Info and Archives
More information on the following topics can be found at

  • Sake Homebrewing
  • Books on Sake
  • Information on the archives of this newsletter
  • General information related to this publication

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner. Email John from this link:
All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.

Copyright 1999 - 2009

Bottom NavbarHomeSake BrewersSake KnowledgeeSake eStoreSake and FoodAbout eSakeSake Workshop



Image 1

Image 2

Image 3







Extra Formatted Text

Extra Formatted Text 2