[Top] [Prev] [Next] [Bottom]


It is probably impossible now to ascertain when the art of brewing first became known to the Japanese. Tradition ascribes its introduction to some emigrants from Korea about the end of the third century, who doubtless obtained the knowledge from China where it had long been practices. How improvements were introduced we can only surmise, but it is known that about the end of the 15th century, the two districts of Itami and Ikeda had established their superiority over all others, a position which, together with Nishinomiya, they hold to this day. About 300 years ago a very important improvement was effected relating to the preservation of the sake which, in the hot months of summer very quickly became undrinkable. This consisted in heating the sake to such a temperature that the hand could not bear it, but, although answering the purpose for a time, it did not suffice in the manner in which the heating was carried out to permit the liquid to be kept for any lengthened period. Nor has any important alteration in the process of manufacture been introduced since that time notwithstanding the trouble entrailed upon the brewer by the repeated heating of the sake which is necessary, but it is hoped that the suggestions made in this memoir may have the effect of directing attention to the important and efficient process introduced by M. Pasteur for preserving wine.

I am indebted to Mr. Shigetoshi Yoshiwara, Vice-Minister of Finance, for the following statement of the quantity of the various kinds of alcoholic liquids produced in the year ending September 30th, 1880.

Table 2: Alcohol Production for Year Ending September 30, 1880

Tax per koku
No. of koku
Revenue in yen
Ordinary sake (seishu)

1 yen



Turbid sake (nigorizake)

0.3 yen



White sake (shiro-zake)

2 yen



Sweet sake for cooking (mirin)

2 yen



Liquer (meishu)

3 yen



Spirit (shochu)

1.5 yen





Fees from sale of licences to brewers and retail dealers


Total revenue derived from alcoholic liquors

6,459,570 yen

The estimated amount of revenue from alcoholic liquers for the year ending September 30th, 1881 is 10,795,025 yen, the total estimated revenue being 56,616,907 yen. The former estimate is much greater than the actual yield of the past year, owing to the considerable changes which have been made both in the amounts and in the mode of collecting the taxes.1 The amount of the different kinds of sake given in the table above is 5,207,970 koku, or 206,756,409 gallons, but this number does not express the total quantity consumed, for without any doubt, much sake which is not taxes, is prepared in private houses in the country. Taking into consideration only the amount of ordinary sake used, say 5 million koku, or 198 million gallons, the consumption corresponds to 6 gallons per head per annum reckoning the population at 33 millions. If it were diluted twice so as to be about the same strength as beer, the consumption would be doubled, that is 12 gallons a head, whilst the consumption of beer in England averages 34 gallons per head, nearly three times as much as in Japan. The brewing of sake is, therefore, relatively of less importance than that of beer in England, and this is doubtless to be ascribed to the enormous consumption of tea, which serves at all times, in summer and in winter, as the national -beverage.

The study of the chemical reactions involved in the brewing process described in the following pages has brought to light a fact of some importance relating to the physiology of plants, vis. that the growth of a mold over the surface of perfectly dead rice grains causes a change in the character of the albumenoid matter of the grain resembling that which results from the germination of the embryo of similar grains. I cannot omit here to draw attention to the mutual advantage to be derived from an association of workers in industrial and in pure science; the cooperation cannot but be of the greatest utility on the one hand, by suggesting new subjects for research to the theoretical worker, and on the other, in aiding the practical man to attain the best results possible. The student of science in Japan has a wide field before him; that system of isolation which has prevented the introduction of Western knowledge till within the last quarter of a century has not been entirely fruitless, for it has resulted in the development of industrial processes which are as novel and interesting to the European as those of the latter are to Japanese. The scientific students of the university and colleges of Japan need not, therefore, look very far in order to find subjects that require investigation and explanation, and this search will, without doubt, add largely to the sum total of existing knowledge.

[Top] [Prev] [Next] [Bottom]

1 The estimated revenue derived from the production and sale of alcoholic liquors given above differs greatly from that which appears in the Estimates of the Minister of Finance for the year ending June 30th 1881. The number there given is 5,965,029 yen, or very little more than one-half the estimates for the year ending three months later. The explanation of the difference lies in the fact that since the Estimates of the Minister of Finance were published the taxes have been doubled.