“Thank you very much for coming,” said the owner of Fuse Brewery as I noticed the curious noren curtain hanging at the storefront.
The words “Fuse Brewery” were painted on it with a brush, stark white against a black background.
The previous owner, who has since passed away, wrote on this noren in the 80’s.
He used to teach his son, the current owner, penmanship, and when he tried to correct him, his son would say, “why don’t you just write it yourself?”. And so he did, beautifully.
Inside Fuse Brewery there are two noren that have hung for generations. Of the two, the newer one’s brushstrokes express the predecessor’s memory clearest.
“I like all kinds of antiques,” the owner says with conviction.
His father was an army captain during World War 2. After the war ended, so did that stage of his life. Sake sold well in those days, so he and the owner’s mother built a brewery from scratch. They desired to share sake with everyone in the country equally, and fervently dedicated themselves to their business. Their children witnessed the example they set, and learned to live as they did.
The brushwork on that noren also embodies that way of life.
We shouldn’t forget that the word ‘noren’ itself came about after the first hanayome noren exhibitions. There are other kinds of noren in Nanao besides the bridal variants.
They’re cherished because they’re the first thing a customer sees, and what they see is a storied tradition passed on through the generations.
Our journey through the noren is not over yet.
It could be three, five, or even seven years before a batch of Japanese sake has aged enough for its full body to emerge. You can’t picture it just from seeing that clear amber hue. When you drink it, you’ll experience a warm and satisfying aftertaste that’s been cherished since 1876. Fuse Brewery only has one suggestion for all their customers: If you drink a 180 milliliter bottle, chase it with 180 milliliters of water.
Fuse Brewery is around the corner from Ipponsugi Street, down a side street. A long time ago, it used to employ many workers and barmaids.
As you go further in, you’ll feel like you’re tracing the history of sake brewing from the Meiji Era to the Reiwa Era.
Twenty tanks are used for the aging process. They’re color-coded according to the aging time required.
And then there's the storehouse, which is off limits for anyone that’s not a worker.
It’s easiest to make sake at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The storehouse keeps the sake at exactly 41 degrees, no matter how much the weather changes outside.
Sake hates metal. That’s why the brewery is built out of wood.
The entire building was constructed with consideration for the sake brewed within.
At the top of the storehouse’s stairs is the koji production room, where koji is steamed for 40 days before being inserted into the tanks to start the fermentation process. It takes a month before the sake is ready.
From there, the sake is placed in “sakabukuro” sacks and fermented for another 50 days. Afterwards, the new batch will go inside a “sakabune” cask for 24 hours. Then, the workers will apply pressure through a “rikiban” plank, squeezing the sacks inside until the sake starts trickling out of the casket. At this point the sake is cloudy and has a light flavor, but at Fuse the aging process continues at this point in order to create a mellow, full-bodied sake.
Long ago, a white snake with bright red eyes appeared inside the storehouse.
The workers at Fuse believed for generations that it was protecting their brewery.
Because of that, they felt they should never remodel the interior of the storehouse. As a result, it has retained its configuration for around 100 years.
While sampling the sake to understand the flavor differences across different aging cycles, I spotted something interesting on the bottles’ label:
The image of a man with a strangely obstinate look on his face.
The owner’s older brother drew this image. He attended graduate school at the Tokyo University of the Arts and even opened an art gallery in Ginza. The image on the label turned out to be the artist’s self-portrait.
The current owner of Fuse is the younger sibling, and is also an artist. At 86 years old, he is the fifth-generation proprietor of Fuse Brewery.
He bears a genteel yet impressive figure. It must be hard to stand for long periods of time while explaining his business to visitors, yet he never shows so much as a hint of discomfort.
He may well be the symbol of every ancestor that’s inherited the brewery up to this point.
The third son and second daughter also work at the brewery, making and selling sake while presenting their business to customers. Normally the three siblings would manage everything, but their children and grandchildren come every winter break to help out around the brewery.
They’ve preserved the old-fashioned brewing methods to this day.
The “sakabune” pressing tank was right in front of the tank room.
It reminded me of the “fune” pressing machine at Torii Soy Sauce.
It’s quite uncanny, actually.
It only makes sense that handcrafting methods inherited through generations have some points in common.
As I left the brewery, I looked up at the clear blue sky. Then, the owner said to me, “What lovely weather, isn’t it? It seems like all is right with the world.”
He then stood inside the historic storefront for our photoshoot, his presence emanating throughout.
He cut a gentle and dignified figure; the kind that has protected the shops of Nanao for many long years.
It was the figure of a craftsman.
In the face of such greatness, all I could do was witness.