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Wataribune - the Becoming of King of Sake Brewing Rice


When we become parents, we aim to raise children who surpass us, who achieve the goals we had always dreamed of achieving, who outshine us in all the ways that matter.   For many of us, we experience parenthood like passing the baton, we give our children everything we’ve got and then we fade off into the distance of history.  On occasion we, the aging parents, manage a comeback, find a way to achieve success later down the line.  

Well, this story isn’t just synonymous with humans, it is even a tale known to the world of Sake rice.  

Yamada-nishiki once became the medal winning, athletic, spelling bee champion, all around achieving child of its parents Wataribune (Tankan Wataribune, a variety native to Shiga Prefecture) and Yamadaho.  The union of Yamadaho and Tankan Wataribune was commenced in 1923 when the two were cross bred for the first time by researcher Shigeharu Nishiumi in Hyogo prefecture.  By 1936, the rice had been fully developed for cultivation and the golden child was named Yamada-nishiki.  

Sake Rice Genealogy of Yamadanishiki

What has ensued is a glorious life of successes since, Yamada-nishiki became the preferred and prized sake rice of the premium sake brewing industry making up 30 percent of all Tokutei Meishoushu(special designation sake).  

Wataribune, the hard-working father of Yamadanishiki was once a more widely used sake rice, known to produce rich and complex brews.  

Comparison of Rice Polishing Degree 

the Lineup of Sake brewed with Yamadanishiki 

Unfortunately, he was a little moody and fragile, too tall and top heavy, easily knocked over in extreme weather and typhoons, his growing season a touch longer than everyone else.  Ultimately he faded away, his offspring attracting all the limelight, and eventually, he was no longer cultivated. 

 Takaaki Yamauchi at the brewery

Wataribune’s fate was suddenly changed when a young and ambitious brewer, our very own Huchu Homare Shuzo’s Takaaki Yamauchi, the 6th generation brewer of his family legacy, took over the reigns in the late 1980’s.  Being a brewer in an agricultural prefecture like Ibaraki with ideal growing soil, Mt. Tsukuba to the west and Lake Kasumigawa in the east, he pondered why sake rice wasn’t being grown in his prefecture.  Being that he was heavily focused on brewing Jizake, or local sake, it just wouldn’t do to be brewing with rice cultivated in other prefectures.  Thus he began his quest for a rice which could be cultivated locally and eventually came across the fact that the father of Yamadanishiki, Wataribune, had once grown plentifully in his neck of the woods. 

With the help of a former professor of agriculture in Ibaraki, his search for seeds of Wataribune took him across the globe before he finally found a sample which had been preserved at the gene bank of the National Agriculture Institute of Tsukuba in 1989.  14 grams of Wataribune were collected and laboriously sprouted and cultivated over the next two growing years to finally make one small tank of Junmai Daiginjo.  

From that point onwards, Wataribune has been making a slow comeback and is now being grown in other prefectures like Shiga and used by a growing group of brewers.  

the lineup of Wataribune

A fun fact about the Wataribune rice strain is that it had actually been successfully cultivated in California in the early 1900’s but eventually lost favour due to its susceptibility to pests and disease.  The Calrose variety is a rice with its origins tracing back to Wataribune. 

Wataribune is an heirloom sake rice which develops sake with a lovely richness and complexity.  Despite its fickleness when it comes to cultivation, it has proven to many brewers such as Mr. Yamauchi of Huchu Homare, that the prized sake possible is well worth the efforts.

Visit us at Sakemama for the lineup of Wataribune