Preparations for this year's sake brewing season have begun at breweries in the disaster-hit Tohoku region. These sake breweries are stressing the safety of their products by voluntarily checking the radiation levels of ingredients and sharing the results with the public.
After the March 11 disaster, many consumers bought sake from the area to support businesses there. Such support has died down recently, and brewers are trying to alleviate radiation fears.
The sake making season kicked off at Ichinokura Co., a leading sake brewer in Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in mid-September. However, for the first 10 days or so, the maker had to use rice harvested last year.
Toyohiko Kadowaki, 48, a toji, or chief brewer, at the company, said in a tone of regret as he looked over the rice, "[It's a pity we can't use new rice], even though we've already harvested it."
At this time of year, the company usually starts to make sake using early-harvested rice grown in the company's rice paddies, and the finished sake is shipped in November.
However, the company was not able to use new rice this year until the safety of the rice was confirmed following radiation testing conducted by the prefectural government.
No radioactive substances have been detected so far, and the company has posted the results for the rice and water used in the brewing on its Web site. The company also plans to test products before shipping and those results will also be posted, according to a company official.