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It’s the tōji who makes or breaks the sake

 

At a brewery, the person who has the most influence on the quality of the sake is the tōji (chief brewer). The tōji has overall responsibility for the production of sake at the brewery. The manager of a brewery is not necessarily the tōji.

 

It’s said that the tōji is like a factory manager. The administrator of a brewery is the head of the company, but in general, the head of a company does not deal closely with workers on the site. The tōji, however, in the role of “factory manager” organizes the workers at the brewery site.

 

The role of the tōji in the past
In times past, the job of the tōji was seasonal, spanning late fall to early spring each year, because this was the period when sake was traditionally produced.

 

During the rest of the year, the tōji and other brewery workers would do farming or fishing work in their home towns. But as winter approached it would become impossible to do agricultural work. So they would leave their home towns and go to work in a brewery. Thus, a tōji was a master of brewing on the one hand, but also involved in farming or fishing on the other.

 

A village in which a number of tōjis lived was called a tōji no sato (village of master brewers). Over generations, these people polished their sake brewing skills.

 

Each year as winter approached, a tōji would come to the brewery along with the other brewery workers to live and work there. Then, when the brewing was finished for the year, they would go back to their home towns.

 

The tōji of today
All of the above relates to how things were in the past, however. Things are rather different nowadays. Now, there are permanently employed tōjis and there are also many people who have the dual role of head of the brewery and chief brewer.

 

Originally, the tōji system was part of a culture that was aligned with the rhythms of rice cultivation. The rice seedlings were planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn. There was no work on the farm in winter. But the winter was precisely the time when breweries needed workers. Of course, society has become much more diverse now, and traditions such as the tōji no sato are disappearing.

 

So now, many breweries are employing tōjis full-time, and some brewery heads are also chief brewers.

 

Because they had to start from the bottom and work their way up, virtually all tōjis were aged over 60. Things have changed, and now there are even young people in their twenties or thirties who have become tōjis after entering the family business and working there for a few years.

 

Of course, those who are head of the brewery as well as chief brewer have to do much more than organize the production of sake. For example, they need to procure ingredients, negotiate prices, expand sales channels, and so forth.

 

The quality of the sake depends on the judgment of the tōji
In sake brewing, the people who actually make the sake are considered to be an important factor. The tōji, in particular, is important. The tōji is responsible for all decisions in the brewing process.

 

Much of sake brewing today is mechanized, but the judgment of the tōji, based on years of experience, is very important.

 

The titles of the various workers in a brewery vary according to their jobs. The following is a list of job titles.

 

• Tōji
Responsible for brewing sake

 

• Kōjishi
Responsible for preparing kōji

 

• Dōgu-mawashi
Responsible for the implements needed for sake brewing

• Kashira
Assistant to the tōji

 

• Moto-mawari
Responsible for the preparation of the kōbo (yeast starter culture)

 

• Kamaya
In charge of the rice steaming operation


 

There are also others who work as assistants, making meals, preparing the bath, and so on. Because they work alongside the others, eventually they are able to be involved in brewing.


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