Massachusetts Beverage Business



The final toll of the 9.O earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan on March 11 is impossible to pinpoint.  Massive life loss, towns destroyed, a nuclear threat, it goes on and on.  In addition to that devastation, the time-honored, ancient Japanese sake industry has been severely damaged – the earthquake wiped out some sake breweries and damaged many others.  Entire sake breweries disappeared in the wake of the multiple disasters.  While the destruction to the sake industry was by no means the worst that Japanese industries have suffered, there has been extensive damage and some loss of life.  The worst-hit breweries are located in Miyagi prefecture, the epicenter of the earthquake, as well as in Iwate and Fukushima – the location of the seriously-damaged nuclear power plant.  Among the list of badly-damaged breweries are Suisen from Iwate prefecture, which was entirely destroyed with the loss of some 11 employees, and Hakurakusei in Miyagi prefecture, which was not hit by the tsunami but was destroyed by the earthquake.  The number of sake breweries in the three prefectures, many of which produce some of Japan’s highest quality, aromatic, elegant sakes, total over 1OO.  Although reports and updates of are slowly coming in, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of these 1OO-plus sake breweries have been damaged in some way by the earthquake and tsunami – 3O breweries are already confirmed to have suffered some type of damage. The real extent is still unknown since electricity and telephone network coverage is currently minimal in these provinces.  According to Kenichi Ohashi, a Master of Sake based in Tokyo, the damage to the breweries is just one part of the challenges ahead for Japan’s sake industry.  In common with every Japanese industry, the real challenge to sake will be getting the businesses working again in the coming months, with lack of raw materials, fuel, transportation, and infrastructure, he said.  There is also the possible nuclear fallout.  It’s unknown if the radiation will move to the water but the tsunami also spread chemicals and raw sewage to water sources used for production.  Some of the sake producers simply will not be able to restrict pollutants.  The reality is, the Japanese sake industry may never be what it once was.

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