The Renaissance of Sake in Okayama: Tsuji Honten and the Bodaimoto Revival

The Renaissance of Sake in Okayama: Tsuji Honten and the Bodaimoto Revival

The prefecture of Okayama, located in the Chugoku region of Japan, is renowned for its picturesque landscapes, historic sites, and vibrant cultural heritage. Among its celebrated contributions to Japanese culture is its illustrious tradition of brewing sake, known locally as nihonshu. This blog delves into the historical significance of sake in Okayama, spotlighting the venerable Tsuji Honten brewery and its innovative head brewer, Maiko Tsuji, who have played pivotal roles in reviving ancient brewing methods and championing regional rice varieties.

The Legacy of Sake in Okayama

Okayama's relationship with sake brewing dates back centuries, influenced by its favorable climate and access to pristine water sources. The region is particularly suited for cultivating rice, the staple ingredient in sake production. Among the rice varieties, the Omachi rice stands out. Omachi rice, originating from Okayama, is revered for its complexity and depth, making it a preferred choice for premium sake brews.

Tsuji Honten: A Beacon of Tradition and Innovation

Founded in 1804, Tsuji Honten brewery has been a cornerstone of Okayama’s sake scene for over two centuries. It has remarkably maintained its family-run status through generations, with the current head brewer, Maiko Tsuji, being a direct descendant of the founder. Under her stewardship, the brewery has not only upheld traditional brewing techniques but has also been at the forefront of reinvigorating forgotten methods.

Rediscovery of the Bodaimoto Process

One of Maiko Tsuji’s significant contributions to the sake industry is the revival of the ancient bodaimoto process. This traditional method, which dates back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), was primarily used by monks in the Shoryakuji Temple of Nara prefecture. The process involves creating a fermentation starter, known as "moto," using a unique method that promotes the natural lactic acid fermentation. This method was all but forgotten until Maiko, driven by her dedication to historical brewing techniques, embarked on a quest to rediscover and reintroduce it.

Her interest was sparked by historical texts and a desire to explore the roots of sake brewing. After extensive research and experimentation in collaboration with local universities and brewing experts, Tsuji Honten successfully reintroduced bodaimoto to modern sake production, bringing a piece of sake history back to life. This endeavor not only enriched the brewery’s product lineup but also ignited a renewed interest in traditional brewing methods across Japan.

Devotion to Omachi Rice

Another hallmark of Tsuji Honten under Maiko’s guidance is its unwavering commitment to using Omachi rice. This dedication stems from a belief in highlighting and preserving Okayama's indigenous resources. Omachi rice, known for its ability to impart a rich, deep flavor and slightly earthy undertones to sake, complements the bodaimoto process beautifully, resulting in sakes that are layered, expressive, and deeply tied to their terroir.

Maiko Tsuji’s efforts go beyond just brewing; they represent a broader commitment to the sustainability and promotion of local agriculture, encouraging the cultivation of traditional rice varieties that might otherwise be neglected in favoUr of more commercially viable strains.

Impact and Recognition

The innovative spirit and historical reverence of Tsuji Honten have not gone unnoticed. The brewery has garnered acclaim not only within Japan but internationally, serving as a testament to the quality and uniqueness of its sake. Moreover, Maiko Tsuji’s role as a female head brewer in a traditionally male-dominated industry adds an inspiring layer to the brewery's story, challenging norms and paving the way for future generations of brewers.


Through Tsuji Honten and the passionate work of Maiko Tsuji, Okayama continues to contribute richly to the world of sake. By marrying tradition with innovation and fostering a deep connection to local agriculture, they ensure that the cultural heritage of Okayama's sake brewing not only survives but thrives in the modern age. For sake enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike, the products of Tsuji Honten offer a delicious glimpse into the past and future of Japanese nihonshu.

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