Scores of sake bottles and sake tasting cups are lined up in an orderly way on a long table in the large tatami room. This is “nomikiri” – a process in which the entire staff of the brewery, along with invited specialists, carefully evaluate sake from each tank brewed last winter. They engage in serious discussion at this critique and strengthen their unity for the next brewing season. Toji’s responsibilities include employing workers to cover each phase of the brewing process. During the first six months of the procedure, tension builds under circumstances which do not allow weekends off. Under such conditions, he can almost be seen as devil-like. He prioritizes tasks in seconds and engages in detailed recordkeeping. Producing koji (malted rice) is a critical process which demands full concentration over two days and nights. Temperature and humidity must be strictly controlled, with monitoring by the five senses and adjustments made by hand.
Insatiably studying brewing chemistry, evolving technology, and senior masters’ techniques since his youth, he made himself a master of the yamahai (a natural brewing technique), which had been on the brink of becoming a lost art. He feels a deep appreciation for the mentoring he received from the late chairman of the company for which he worked for many years as the toji. Noguchi says he also learned many important things from him aside from sake. A rich harvest from the rice field spread out behind the brewery pleased him this year. Sake brewing season is just starting. To respond to the expectations of his fans, including some of thirty years standing, he puts all his heart and soul into his work.

Naohiko Noguchi

Born in Suzu County, Ishikawa Prefecture, in 1932. Employed at a brewery in Shizuoka Prefecture at the age of 16. Became toji at Kikuhime Co., Ltd. in 1961 and retired in 1997. He has been active as toji at Kano Brewery since 1998. Won the gold prize 25 times in total at the Zenkoku Kanpyoukai (the National Research Institute of Brewing). Awarded the Ojuhosho (Medal with a Yellow Ribbon for industriousness) in 2008.
Cooperation: Kano Brewery Co., Ltd., Masakatsu Nakaura, Ishikawa Prefecture Rinri Corporation

This article originally appeared in “Shinsei” magazine,
November 2011 issue, published by RINRI Institute of Ethics.
Partially rewritten to update for this internet release.

In 2013, he finally started his own Noguchi Brewery.

Spirit and Spine
‘Kitohone’

created by
THE SPIRIT AND SPINE
CREATIVE FORCE,Tokyo

project direction
Gaku Okubo (ISUKE INC.)
photography
Yoshitomo Tanaka (Vivot)
site design
ISUKE INC. and ICA
title calligraphy
Kenryo Hara (Kikkokai)