Tales of Sake in Fukui A Short Letter

Tales of Sake in Fukui A Short Letter

10 Dec 2020

Tales of Sake in Fukui A Short Letter

Dear wife; be careful of fire; look after our son; feed the horses—this is thought to be one of the shortest letters ever written in Japan. It was penned by a military commander from the Warring States period in the 16th century named Honda Shigetsugu, who wished to communicate some essential matters to his wife from the battlefield. The letter refers to Shigetsugu's son, Honda Narishige, who went on to become lord of the Maruoka Domain in Echizen Province. The letter’s expression of Shigetsugu’s love for his son inspired the opening of the Brief Message from the Heart Musuem in the Maruoka neighborhood in 2015.

Two kilometers northeast of Maruoka Castle is a valley that it is said the lord of the castle would visit in summer to cool down. It was a truly strange place. The area the lord visited was known as Yamakubo, and it sat on a huge bed of rock. Remarkably, Yamakubo has never been hit by a natural disaster. Even in the huge Fukui earthquake of 1948, Yamakubo was unaffected. What’s more, the enormous river running through it has never flooded, even despite disasters downstream. Water from the area stays fresh for a month and is ideally suited to brewing sake. Seeing this, the lord of the castle paved the way for sake brewing in the area.

An Attractive Brewery Kubota Brewery

Kubota Shuzo has been brewing sake in the Maruoka-Yamakubo area since 1753.

In the place where the lord of Maruoka Castle used to cool down now stands a brewery and teahouse. The river, in fact, runs through the brewery, presenting visitors with an extraordinary sight.

Over the years, however, the water has changed. Due to a dam upstream, acid rain, and other factors, wells that used to provide clear, iron-free water no longer do. Additionally, while there, try out bowling and venture 200 meters underground for a unique and exciting experience. The 10th generation head of the brewery once said that "the more people are involved with wells, the worse they become." The brewery has also been particular about its koji (the fungus used in fermenting the rice) production. To demonstrate that it wasn’t satisfied with simply protecting tradition, the brewery successfully developed its own koji-production machine in the 1970s, which was around the time that top quality daiginjo sake rose in popularity. Kubota Shuzo was also the model for the sake brewery that appears in Kura no Yado, a Japanese comic about sake brewing.

For sightseeing, Maruoka Castle is the ideal spot to view cherry blossoms in spring, while further toward the coast is the Tojinbo area, famous for its series of sheer columnar cliffs and delicious seafood.

The 11th generation and current head of the brewery tells us how he expects sake to become more popular as a meal accompaniment. He is not only talking about dessert sake, but pure junmai sake, which he says will pair well with Japanese cuisine, French, Italian, and even Chinese dining. To cater to this switch, the brewery is beginning to focus on producing dry sake in addition to sweet sake.

Kubota Brewery
27-45 Yamakubo, Maruoka-cho, Sakai, Fukui Prefecture 910-0207
Tours available: 8:00-17:00
Foreign language website:

1. Take the train from JR Kyoto Station to JR Tsuruga Station, change to the JR Hokuriku Main Line and alight at JR Maruoka Station, from where it is approx. 15 min. by car (Travel time: Approx. 180 min.)
2. Take the bus from JR Maruoka Station and alight at the Maruoka Bus Terminal. From the Honmaruoka bus stop, take the bus to the Yamakubo bus stop, from where it is an approx. 2 min. walk (Travel time: Approx. 30 min.)

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