Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“Our skill and spirit stay alive,” a company president vows to rebuild his venerable sake brewery.

A long-established brewing company Suisen Shuzo, Co., Ltd. in Rikuzentakata, Iwate where the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami have caused significant damage is trying to rise from devastation. The tsunami claimed many victims among the company’s officers and employees and the company building and factory turned into rubble. However, Mr. Yasuhiko Konno (64), the president of the company says “Tangible things have disappeared, but our skill and spirit of sake brewing stay alive,” and vows to start from scratch.

Suisen Shuzo’s predessor “Kesen Shuzo” was formed as a result of the merger of eight breweries in both Rikuzentakata and Ofunato in 1944. Suisen Shuzo’s signature brand, which is called “Suisen,” made from the Kesen River’s subsoil water, won the 2007 & 2008 Gold Award in the All Japan New Sake Competition. The company had launched a new business to open a market in China due to the shift away from sake in the Japanese domestic market.

On March 11, “Koshikidaoshi,” the celebration to reward the company’s master brewers before shipment of sake brewed in the previous year was going to be held at four in the afternoon. “Tsunami has flown over the seawalls! Run!” A man cried out in the address over the community wireless system when the employees started going home after two big shakes.

Mr. Konno got into his car with his wife and hit the gas pedal. When he stopped the car and turned around, he found the ocean heaving with debris at the place where the company building and his home used to be. Four out of sixty company officers and employees were killed and three went missing.

Two days after the earthquake, Mr. Konno stood in the ruins of the company building where the sea water had receded. There was not a trace of the company building that had been registered as a tangible cultural asset. Only a few out of 100 cherry blossom trees survived, which the people in Rikuzentakata would feast their eyes on. He found most of the 150 sake brewing tanks he had owned lying on their side. His heart ached when he smelled sake in the air in the mass of rubble.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2011

Translated by Mikiko Yamashita

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