Ever-evolving Flavor—Kubota and Motoyoshi Yamaga

Mitsue “Mimi” Islas-Hosokawa

Table of Contents

    Many have heard of and tried Kubota sake, brewed by Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company in Niigata prefecture. This year marks the 35th anniversary of Motoyoshi Yamaga, one of the toji at the brewery. In this spotlight, he shares the story behind the establishment of Kubota as a global brand and their next goals.

    Kubota—sake that created a new sake standard with Tanrei Karakuchi

    Mimi: What brought you to the world of sake?

    Motoyoshi: As I’m from a farming family in Niigata, it was normal for us to join the local sake brewery during the cold seasons. Both my father and grandfather went to work for a local sake brewery during winter. So it was only natural for me to follow the tradition and I stepped into the sake-making world at the Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company. It was 35 years ago, which was the same time as when the Kubota brand was released.

    Mimi: 35 years! Does that mean you got to be involved in creating Kubota?

    Motoyoshi: I was only a rookie back then, so not really. Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company started in 1830 and they decided to create the Kubota brand in order to go back to their motto, “Quality first.” Also, back then, the way people worked was changing—less manual labor and more office work. To go along with that, the flavor of Kubota was designed to have a clean and dry finish known as “tanrei karakuchi”, which Niigata Prefecture eventually became known for.

    Mimi: How did Kubota become famous?

    Motoyoshi: Well, it was struggling to sell in the beginning. For the first five years of the brand launch, we did not use any sort of advertising. But we had an action plan called Kubota-Strategy. For example, we made a fan club in each area of Japan and expanded the community one by one. We relied heavily on our fans to spread the word about Kubota.

    Checking rice quality

    “Quality first.” Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company’s craftsmanship is carefully passed down from generation to generation | Courtesy of Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing Company Co., Ltd. (Kubota)

    The flavor that evolves with the times

    Mimi: Kubota has been enjoyed by many for a long time. Over the past 35 years, how did the brand change?

    Motoyoshi: Sake within the Kubota brand has been evolving over time. It started as tanrei karakuchi, and now we make sake with more aromatic characters which the younger generation prefers to drink. The new Kubota “Junmai Daiginjo,” for example, has a sweet aroma which is very different from our original Kubota flavor.

    Mimi: There are two brewing facilities at Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company. Are there any different roles that each facility assumes?

    Motoyoshi: The facility I take care of is the Asahi-Gura, which was established 25 years ago. This facility had the most advanced technology back then. We opened the new facility, Shorai-Gura in 2011, in order to enhance the quality of sake and respond to our fans’ requests which could not be handled by just one facility.

    Fermentation room at Asahi-Gura

    Fermentation room at Asahi-Gura where Yamaga toji oversees | Courtesy of Asahi-Shuzo Sake Brewing Company Co., Ltd. (Kubota)

    Kubota’s next challenge

    Mimi: Kubota has been renewing its brand theme towards the 35th anniversary. Are you also challenging something new with this renewal?

    Motoyoshi: “Always challenging” is Kubota’s spirit. Not just the outlook of sake, but also in terms of flavor, I want to make something that is specifically designed for the new generation of customers. I always challenge myself to make sake that is appreciated by our customers as we evolve with the times.

    Mimi: What does sake mean to you?

    Motoyoshi: I genuinely enjoy watching my sake grow. I find it very interesting to observe how koji is being made and checking the aroma of moromi. To me, it is truly a fun thing to do. Sake making is a profession that I love most, as it is a job where you can produce results as much as you put your effort.

    Mitsue “Mimi” Islas-Hosokawa

    Mitsue “Mimi” Islas-Hosokawa

    Mimi was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. She grew up seeing her dad enjoying a cup of sake every night as his “ritual,” and she believes in the mystical powers of sake to make any ordinary day a special one. As a sake beginner, she is passionate to learn about sake with her fellow Tippsy Community members.

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