It's the middle of July. Two months have passed since Gohyakumangoku sake rice was planted in the fields of Adoso Jitoho. By now, nourished by the monsoon rains of early summer, the seedlings are growing well. They stretch their long green leaves as if enjoying their youthful vigor.
But with temperatures rising as they do every summer, the soil at the base of the plants is parched. At the height of their need for water, there is none. There is a reason for allowing these harsh conditions.
When rice is deprived of water, it grows in a desperate search for the nutrients it needs to survive. As a result, the roots grow deep and the stalks grow strong. Its foundation becomes sturdy enough to withstand typhoons. Coddling the plants deprives them of this strength.
Rice grown in this manner is essential to the flavor and aroma profiles of sake. The fundamentals of sake brewing, after all, are exceptional rice and the skill of the brewer.
The Aji no Sato Production Cooperative in Adoso Jitoho produces the best rice for the round, elegant flavors of Kokuryu sakes. This requires sound management of water and nutrients at each stage of growth. Farmers check weather and rice conditions daily and irrigate or drain the paddies accordingly. By controlling the water that gives rice its moisture content, they produce the ideal sake rice.
Once a rice plant puts down its roots, there's no need for human intervention. All farmers can do is continue the watering and keep pests and diseases from harming the rice. Beyond that, the plants are left to nature, with farmers paying close attention. From planting to harvest, whether natural conditions are harsh or gentle, they will spend most of their time with the rice.
“We can hear what the rice is saying,” says one farmer. “When we hear their voices, we let water flow to the fields.”
In the brewery, the toji, or master brewer, also listens to the moromi (fermenting mash) before he presses it. He uses his senses — smelling the fermenting moromi, studying its surface, touching the mash with his stirring rod — to understand when the timing is right for pressing. In the fields, farmers touch the sprouting plants and observe changes in weather and temperature before deciding how much to water.
Rice and sake. Grains and droplets. They are different, but the existence of both depends on nature.
Mothers know when their babies need milk before they open their mouths to cry. Is this a sixth sense special to women or a manifestation of their love? Farmers and brewers, listening to the voices of rice and moromi, are similarly driven by instinct and love.
In the bright summer sun, the rice grows without rest. The tips of the stalks grow heavy and begin to bow, swaying in the breezes of Ono. In this scene, one thing is evident: an untiring dedication to growing the best sake rice.