1662 – 1860Family history by President Naotaka Miyasaka

Masumi’s roots

Originally, the Miyasaka family served as retainers to the Suwa lords who ruled this area in ancient times. However, following years of strife between the Suwa clan and warlords Takeda Shingen and Oda Nobunaga during the Warring States period (16th century), my family gave up its swords and turned to sake making.

The brewery was firmly established by 1662 and had done well enough to gain the praise of several historical figures. It is said that Matsudaira Tadateru, sixth son of the first Tokugawa Shogun and part-time resident of Suwa, was so fond of our sake that he always kept it by his side. And Otaka Gengo, one of Japan’s famous 47 ronin warriors, praised its smooth taste. Our family still has several items from these men, such as a lacquer sake cup from Matsudaira and an embossed seal box from Otaka.

We began using the name “Masumi” for our sake at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867). Masumi, which means transparency or truth, is the name of a 8th century bronze mirror kept at the Suwa Taisha shinto shrine. My family had provided the shrine with sake for centuries, so it was only fitting that our sake took the name of the shrine’s “Masumi Mirror.”

Masumi Mirror
A lacquer sake cup
from Matsudaira
An embossed seal box
from Otaka

1860 – 1920

Hard times

From the end of the Edo period (1603-1867) through the Taisho period (1912-1926), Masumi was a very small sake maker with hardly any money. Family members had to take side jobs, such as selling tea, to make ends meet. Things got so dark during the Meiji period (1868-1911) that the brewery itself had to be put up as collateral for a loan to keep the family afloat.

In the middle of the Taisho period, my great grandfather worked and drank himself into an early grave trying to revive the family’s fortunes, leading his children to seriously consider closing the brewery for good. In the end, they held on to it and decided that if they were going to continue making sake, then they would make it well enough to contribute to the financial well-being of the family. Masumi’s new motto became “sweet and elegant sake,” and the aim was to make sake refined enough to appeal to “ladies as well as gentlemen.”

The untimely death of the family patriarch left my grandfather, Masaru Miyasaka, in charge of a family business that was nearly penniless. Facing ruin, he declared “the only way we can survive is to make the best damn sake in Japan,” and brashly appointed an unusually talented brewery worker still in his twenties as the new master brewer.

Thus begins the story of Masaru Miyasaka, the businessman, and Chisato Kubota, the brewer, and their crusade to revive Masumi.

1920 – 1950

The businessman & the brewer

The dream that my grandfather, Masaru Miyasaka, and the young brewer Chisato Kubota, had for Masumi was nothing less than “to make the best sake in Japan.”

To achieve such a bold dream, the two issued standing orders to everyone in the brewery: “if you hear about great sake in the east, then bring some back to taste; if you hear about great sake in the west, then take the night train over there and find out how they make it.”

Masumi learned a great deal from the sake makers in the Saijo area of Hiroshima, and especially from the maker of “Kamotsuru.” My grandfather used to warn us grandchildren “if any of you ever bad-mouth Kamotsuru, I’ll kick you out of the house.”

When I was just starting out, I had to visit many other sake breweries as part of my training. At nearly all of them the brewery elders greeted me warmly with comments like “your grandfather was a great rival and friend,” and “let’s keep this friendly rivalry going and see who makes the best sake!” I was really struck by how much of my grandfather’s legacy had remained.

(back row, 4th from left, master brewer Chisato Kubota; 3rd from right, Masumi president Masaru Miyasaka)