Evolving with tradition and innovation – Sumikawa Sake Brewery, “Toyo Bijin”

Evolving with tradition and innovation – Sumikawa Sake Brewery, “Toyo Bijin”

Sumikawa Sake Brewery was founded in 1921 and is located in Hagi in Yamaguchi prefecture. The signature label “Toyo Bijin” has a sophisticated flavor with a touch of sweetness. It has become very popular nationwide with its stylish label and beautiful name, named by the first sake master in memory of his wife after she passed away.

When we asked the fourth generation brew master and president about his motto, he replied “high road of sake brewing”. While there are many varieties of sake available, and consumer preferences vary, “Toyo Bijin” must fully meet his standards in both taste and beauty in order to be put out on the market.

After returning to his hometown, the process to making Toyo Bijin the popular brand it is today was not smooth sailing for Mr. Sumikawa. While studying brewing at Tokyo University of Agriculture, he interned at Takagi Brewery which brews “Juyondai”. “Juyondai” was already popular as a new type of sake after Akitsuna Takagi, the brew master at Takagi Brewery and also a graduate of Tokyo University of Agriculture, introduced a light, fruity sake unlike the sharp sake which was the norm. Mr. Sumikawa became enthralled with sake brewing after observing Mr. Takagi tirelessly pursue the craft to create the most delicious sake while also trying to rebuild his business. Mr. Sumikawa returned to his hometown, dedicating himself to creating his own delicious sake, but he faced many hurdles as Sumikawa Sake Brewery did not have the best conditions for brewing sake.

Despite the many obstacles, Mr. Sumikawa continued to pursue the teachings of Mr. Takagi. He visited liquor stores himself to save expenses, taking the redeye bus to Tokyo with bottles of his sake in his overnight bag. His hard work eventually paid off, as word of his delicious sake spread, and the label grew to become a very popular brand.

Everything seemed to be going well when in 2013, heavy rains hit the Hagi area in Yamaguchi, and the first floor of the brewery was washed away. On the brink of closing his business after the rains ruined much of the equipment and washed away his stock, Mr. Sumikawa rededicated himself to his work when over 1500 volunteers including Toyo Bijin fans, liquor store owners and other brewers showed up to help him clean up after the disaster. He built a new building in 2014.

A new label “Toyo Bijin Genten (starting point)” was released, filled with appreciation for all who supported him and the joy of being able to brew sake once again. Since 2015, it has been renamed “Toyo Bijin ippo” and continues to be sold under that name meaning the “first step from the starting point”. In December 2016, three years after the disaster, when Russian President Putin met with then Prime Minister Abe in his hometown of Yamaguchi, “Toyo Bijin Junmai Daiginjo Ichiban Matoi” was served, earning high raves from President Putin. News of this commendation further energized not only the staff at Sumikawa Sake Brewery, but also supporters around the nation.

Mr. Sumikawa told us “I will continue to preserve traditional methods to create sake that has the royal road of both taste and quality.”

The brewery now makes almost 10 times the sake compared to when Mr. Sumikawa first returned to his hometown, brewing about 250,000 bottles annually. Toyo Bijin has been supported and loved by many, despite its many hurdles.
We recommend a reserved tour of the brewery to fully understand the dedication and hard work behind the delicious sake.


Sumikawa Sake Brewery Co., Ltd.
611 Nakaogawa, Hagi-shi, Yamaguchi
TEL 08387-4-0001 Brewery tours available with advance reservations (not available Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays)
URL https://toyobijin.jp/