The Effects of the March 11, 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami on the Sake Industry

March 24 update here March 23 update here

NOTE AS OF MARCH 26: More than two full weeks have passed since the natural disasters hit Japan. Much of the information below was released immediately after the events, in an effort by those concerned to confirm the safety et al of the sake-brewing community. Things change fast, and there is in many instances what is below has changed significantly. For this reason, and also because much of what I gathered was from less than fully official sources, I cannot guaranteed the accuracy of the information below. Your understanding is appreciated.
Minor updates and corrections are noted in red.
John Gauntner

The March 11, 2011 earthquake in Northern Japan, and the subsequent tsunami were utterly devastating to that part of the country. The loss of life, property, future and livelihood are indescribable. The sake industry was not spared either.

Here, I will try to convey information about what breweries were hit and how it impacts them. However, the disclaimer here is that there is conflicting information coming to me. There are brewers I have heard were fine, then I have heard they were wiped out. The opposite has also been true: rumors of ruined brewers came to me, only to be later proven to be not true. And often, the web sites of those brewers do not offer much information.

Look for more information tomorrow, by the way.

March 21, 2011 Update
Note: the first section below is yesterday’s (March 20) report with some updates/corrections. This report is neither comprehensive nor complete. Most damage was in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki. Less occurred in Yamagata, Akita, Aomori. The general report from JSBA is followed by specific brewers.

JSBA Report

A report dated March 15 on the status of the industry from the Japan Sake Brewers’ Association conveyed the following information.

Miyagi Prefecture
Out of about 28 kura, the Miyagi Sake Brewers Association was able to get in touch with 18 by phone, 3 by another route, but 7 no contact as of yet. Of the kura with whom contact has been made, all the employees were OK. However, employees’ families suffered losses. Some business offices were completely destroyed, many brewing facilities were damaged, and other breweries were completely destroyed.

In the city of Sendai in Miyagi, distribution lines were down so food is not even getting to people that need it. Nor is fuel. Only one train line was working at the time of this report.

Iwate Prefecture
Of 26 breweries, 11 breweries reported damage, out the report did not specify human loss or injury. As of March 15, one-third of the employees of the breweries had not been accounted for by the date of this report. Damage to breweries includes kura buildings totally washed away, collapsed buildings, knocked-over and broken tanks, broken chimneys, and collapsed roofs.

Fukushima Prefecture
This is a wide prefecture, with 73 breweries. About 20 of them reported damage, breakage, complete destruction of facilities, cracks, and damaged product. Aftershocks have made gathering information difficult.

The other prefectures in the Tohoku region, the northeast part of Japan, include Akita, Aomori and Yamagata. All reported only minor damage or injury from 19, 3 and 24 breweries respectively.

Chiba Prefecture
Damage was reported from 18 companies, mostly broken roofs, broken walls, and knocked-over tanks.

Saitama Prefecture
Seven companies reported damage that included broken chimneys, spilled tanks and broken bottled product.

Ibaraki Prefecture
Still gathering information at the time of the JSBA report, but surprisingly extensive damage is expected to have occurred. Update March 28: Almost every single kura in the prefecture reported at least some damage.

Tochigi Prefecture
Seventeen companies reported damages that included broken bottling lines, broken walls, broken chimneys and damaged bottled product.

Niigata Prefecture
Although far away, two companies reported damage that included leaks and broken pipes, and unfortunately, one death. Correction as of March 28: There was no death; my notice was based on misinformation.

Nagano Prefecture
One company reported a large crack in a wall.

The other prefectures in the country had no damage to report.

Specific Kuramoto (Breweries)
Urakasumi (Miyagi) – I confirmed reports that the original brewery in Shiokama was flooded above the first floor, but all employees escaped to higher ground. The waters receded, they returned, electric power was restored but the plumbing is still out. It is an old earthen building (and was already visibly cracked from another recent earthquake there) and part of it collapsed. Some tanks were tilted or knocked over, but other than that no major damage. The main, large brewery in the hills had broken bottles both full and empty but other than both people and equipment were OK.

Hamachidori (Iwate) – I first heard they were totally wiped out but later in an email from them it was related that they are not so bad off, no human loss, but cannot make sake or ship due to infrastructure and energy problems.

Hakurakusei (Miyagi) – This kura collapsed from the earthquake. The are far inland and were not hit by the tsunami, but the building was totally ruined. March 23 update: A pillar or two remained n the kura, but all batches (moromi) were ruined. No injuries.

Suisen (Iwate) – All of Japan saw this kura get hit by the tsunami on TV. The president later was interviewed, saying he could only find a handful of his employees. Very tragic.

Hitakami (Miyagi) – No injuries. The kura flooded “enough to get your shoes wet,” but there was lots of damage to sake in storage and fermenting mash. They are trying their best to pick up where they left off and recover.

Ichinokura (Miyagi) – Confirmed that the main brewery had no injuries, but yeast starter tanks were knocked over, bottled product and empty bottles were broken, a big crack in the parking lot. Their second (Kinryu) brewery saw no human injury nor massive damage but lots of small cracks etc., but they cannot assess it more fully for a while. Their site says they are OK and that the brewery is too, but I have heard they lost a massive amount of sake in bottles, and have no sake to sell.

UPDATE MARCH 26: I have been informed that Ichinokura is in fact shipping sake. They have no electricity and no water, but the employees are all working hard together to ship product out and to repair things and get going again.

Suminoe (Miyagi) – A favorite of mine, and the damage was worse than I feared. They are in Ishimaki, near the water. Damage was so bad they could not get in touch with anyone to report it. Miraculously, everyone was safe. But the shaking tilted and toppled tanks. As they were inspecting the kura for damage just after the earthquake, the tsunami came, and everyone in the small company ran for their lives and escaped onto the top of a refrigerated container behind the kura and waited it out. At first, the whole town was a pile of rubble, with little to eat or drink. However, they have insisted they will rise above it and brew again.

Okunomatsu (Fukushima) – No one was hurt, but there was a considerable amount of damage to the brewery, to sake being aged, and to sake ready for shipping, to equipment and to the production line.

The below is newly confirmed information as of 3/21

Miyagi Prefecture
Hagi no Tsuru, Hiwada- while they were hard to get in touch with, they are OK. They lost 1000 bottles of sake, tanks topped, power was out for a long time. March 23 update: lost several thousand bottles of sake but plans to continue and will resume shipping asap but not sure when that will be.

Hoyo – no injuries, but product was damaged and part of their home was damaged as well.

Aomori Prefecture
Mutsu Hassen There was plenty of damage up in Hachinohe in Aomori. However, by some miracle the tsunami stopped just a step away from the kura. But power is down and operations are impaired.

Ibaraki Prefecture
Tsukinoi (Tsukinoi Shuzo) – the tsunami came up to their front door – and stopped. No major damage.

Sato no Homare – all employees OK. Minor damage to the building and some product.

Raifuku – lost about 1000 bottles of product, and cannot ship now.

Fukushima Prefecture
Tenmei – All employees are safe but product was damaged. Sake stored in a pre -hab fridge unit got trashed. They have no idea when they can ship.

Aizu Chusho – the earthen kura seems ready to topple, but everyone is OK and working hard to keep things moving.

Yamagata Prefecture
Kudoki Jozu – all people, product and equipment are safe but shipping may not be possible due to road conditions, etc.

Hakurosuishu / Takenotsuyu – all people, product and equipment are safe. Cracks in the walls and a muddy well are the only damage. Not one drop of brewed sake was lost but shipping may not be possible due to road conditions, etc.

Yamabuki – all people, product and equipment are safe. They lost some aged sake product. Shipping may not be possible due to road conditions, etc.

Tochigi Prefecture
Senkin – all people, product and equipment are safe. A chimney cracked and there was other damage to the kura. Some product waiting to be shipped on the dock was damaged. The have no idea when they can ship.

Tsujizenbei – many broken bottles of product, fallen roof tiles, and the earthen kura building looks ready to collapse.

Iwate Prefecture
Senryo Okotoyama (not the well-known Otokoyama from Hokkaido, nor is it related to Fushimi in Kyoto) the brewery was reduced to rubble, and interviewed in the media, but the kuramoto (owner) vowed to rebuild and start again. Correction as of March 28: This had been previously reported as Fushimi Otokoyama.

Tsukinowa – the chimney topped onto the main kura building, but fortunately no one was hurt. Not much else was reported.

The below is from the Nanbubijin blog, from Kosuke Kuji, and is a very loose translation of a moving letter from him.
March 21

Thanks to all that expressed their concern after the 3/11 earthquake. Most of the damage in Iwate was near the sea. There was great damage, loss of life, and many are still missing. We are in Ninohe Village, one mountain in from the water, and were safe from the tsunami. But the strong earthquake crumbled part of our old kura and part of the old chimney tumbled too. Fortunately, no one was injured.

However, in order to repair the brewery, and since there is not much gasoline or oil, we have to stop brewing at times and it is difficult to predict how things will go. Having said that, we will not lose to even this unprecedented natural disaster, and we want to overcome it and recover.

For the time being, no one in this area feels like drinking sake. To avoid secondary economic damage, we want to earnestly ask everyone around the country and in other countries to eat and drink products from the Tohoku region. That is the most supportive thing you can do for us.

We of the Tohoku region will not lose to this. We absolutely will prevail. We will rise again like a phoenix, so please support us.

Kosuke Kuji


March 22 Update

Dewazakura (Yamagata) – Lost power, but no one was hurt and no big loss to product.

Shirataki (Akita) – Lost power, but no one was hurt and no big loss to product.

Kokken (Fukushima) – No one hurt but product and equipment suffered undisclosed damage.

Kiritsukuba (Ibaraki) – No one hurt but product and equipment suffered undisclosed damage.

Denshu (Aomori) – No one hurt, lost power, no major loss or damage to product or equipment.

Ippin, Hyakusai (Ibaraki, Yoshikubo Shuzo) – No one hurt, but damage to bottling line and kura itself but will not affect the sake we are currently brewing. Cannot ship now.

Kikuzakari (Ibaraki, Kiuchi Shuzo) – No one hurt, no major damage to product or equipment. Their web page has a simple statement at the top, “We are OK.” Way to go.

Ninki Shuzo (Fukushima) – No one hurt, lost power, no major loss or damage to product or equipment.

Kurikomayama (Miyagi) – No one hurt, lost tens of bottles of product, but no other big damage to product or person or property.

Asabiraki (Iwate) – No injuries, no damage to facilities at all, but ability to ship very much hampered.

Azumamine (Iwate) – No injuries, no damage, but the many power failures prevent them from drawing water from the well, so they have for now stopped starting any new batches.

Fushimi Otokoyama (Miyagi)- No injuries, no damage to the brewing kura, but the almost-100 year old business office in a lower lying area, a registered cultural asset, is about to fall over from the tsunami.

Daishichi (Fukushima) – No injuries, and only comparatively minor damage to the facilities.

Eisen (Fukushima) – No injuries, but part of a wall in the main kura (in Aizu Wakamatsu) collapsed.

Kinpou / Shizenshu (Niita Honke) (Fukushima) – No injuries, no damage beyond partially broken walls and fallen roofing tiles, and no impediments to continuing to brew. But they cannot ship until at least 3/21.

Hirai Izumi (Akita) – No major damage, but a bit of moromi spilled.

Chiyo Kotobui (Yamagata) – No injuries; but a bit of sake spilled.

Yonetsuru (Yamagata) – No injuries, some damage to sake in storage, as well as buildings. Water and electricity at first were not working but are OK now. Ended up losing about 120 liters of sake, part of the main residence was damaged and later repaired.

Hitori Musume (Ibaraki) – No injuries, buildings and tanks OK, a few roofing tiles fell.

Kaika (Ibaraki)- Slight damage to the buildings, but not in danger of collapse. No injuries.

March 23, 2011 Update

Gassanryu (Yamagata) – Earthen walls collapsed, sake in storage and sake ready to be shipped were lost (unclear if all or some), no injuries.

Miyakanbai (Miyagi) – The shikomi-kura (where all the tanks are) was destroyed, in fact half the brewery was destroyed. All the moromi waiting to be pressed was totally spilled. No human injuries. They were pressing sake at the time but managed to escape.

Katsuyama (Sendai city, Miyagi) – No injuries to the Izawa family, but the sake being fermented was lost. Details are fuzzy here, not sure if others were OK or if all moromi was lost. No gasoline, though, so hard to ship or act. This was a week ago, and the details are vague, but I can dig up little more at this time.

Iwaki Kotobuki (Fukushima) – Enough damage sustained that staying around was dangerous, so the entire family fled to relatives’ place in Yamagata. No further information at this time.

Shichifukujin – Basically OK. Some damage, no injuries.

Abekan (Fukushima) – OK. That is all the detail I could get. They are OK.

Kiku no Shiro (Iwate) – OK. That is all the detail I could get. They are OK.

Sakuragao (Iwate) – OK. That is all the detail I could get. They are OK.

Zao (Miyagi) – Unclear; scarily vague. They only stated they cannot take orders or ship.

Kenkonichi (Miyagi) – As of a week ago, no water and no electricity, the pressing machine was knocked over (that is a heavy machine, too), fermenting sake is ruined. But no injuries.

March 24, 2011 Update

Tenjo Mugen (Miyagi) No injuries, no big damage to the buildings, bottling line OK. But two tanks toppled, Shinshu (new sake) spilled, and all told about 1500 liters of sake were lost. They plan to put the tanks back up and put wire around the smokestack as it looks to be leaning a bit.

Manatzuru (Miyagi) “Kawara” roofing tiles fell. Some walls, or parts of some walls, broke. The compressor tank for pulling water from the well ruptured so they cannot wash bottles; it will need to be replaced. They pressed three tanks of moromi (mash) using a generator. 240 kg of washed rice had to be discarded. Shipping is possible provided they have gasoline.

Yuki no Matsushima
Water and power have come back, but a big tank (or more than one, not clear) have toppled. They will press the two remaining tanks of moromi and wrap it up for the season. After that they will just check the equipment and prepare for next year.