With the upcoming Sake Matsuri in Melbourne we are introducing to Australia Maiko Tsuji from Gozenshu , Okayama. She is the toji (head brewer) of Tsuji Honten in Katsuyama, Okayama, and she brews the Gozenshu line of sake. Her brother Soichiro Tsuji is the kuramoto (president).
Gozenshu was the first shuzo to join SuperSake. I was put in contact with Tsuji san from a Japanese wine somm ‘Kayo’ who worked at Tsunami and after living in Margaret River returned to Yokohama where I used to live in Japan when I was young and still have many friends there.
From her introduction I visited them in Okayama and we hit it off. We were both young and aggressive in our desire to take sake to Australia. I was impressed by the progressiveness of their sake shuzo with its toji who was both young and female, a rare combination in traditional Japanese style. And yet in spite of being young they were intrigued by the old and made great inroads to reviving the ancient Japanese ‘bodaimoto’ method of craft sake making. Their flagship sake ‘Gozenshu Ho-o) impressed me immensely with both its taste and balance and it remains my favourite even to this day. I don’t drink it as much as I would like to because of its price, but every time I visit the picturesque village of Katsuyama (voted in the top 100 picturesque villages of Japan) I am always grateful to eat at the table of Tsuji and enjoy this magnificent drop.
To this day we enjoy visiting the brewery (and the restaurant they run) looking and tasting the new styles and methods they are coming up with. Some of them I’ve not seen anywhere else. I greatly respect their work and modern attitude. And it’s great when they have their annual festival with the carts and processions from each of the village factions (similar to the contradas in Siena Italy at the time of the Palio horse races). These monstrous carts do battle with each other, the male villagers piling behind them with the young girls shrilly chanting Oisa! Oisa! and then the men ramming the opposing villager’s carts with all their might. It’s a spectacular sight to behold. Tsuji san is one of the leaders of a faction and he inspires them to ‘do battle’.
Gozenshu is a place of history — they would have artists and poets in residence, and they were the official sake makers to the landed gentry of the region. Their sake is both delicious and noteworthy in history.