EcoPro Awards

Received “Economy, Trade and Industry Minister's Prize” at the EcoPro Awards

Kobe Shushinkan Breweries recently entered the 2nd EcoPro Awards sponsored by the Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry, and was awarded the Economy, Trade and Industry Minister's Prize for “sustainable sake production through tradition and innovation.”

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Kobe Shushinkan Breweries’ Vision for Sustainable Sake Production

Our initiatives for sustainable sake production

We have been working on reducing our environmental impact for the last ten years, and as a result, even though our production volume has tripled in the seven years since 2010, we have been able to achieve an annual average energy saving of 10%.


In addition, we have been able to greatly reduce our impact for those brewing processes where production efficiency is greatly affected by the experience and instincts of craftsmen, such as temperature management or moisture management, through the use of our advanced technique of taraikoji (tub mold) system, the latest in IoT (temperature management system using smartphones), and other control technology. We have improved our working environment from a tough one with a lot of night work to one where people can work easily and efficiently.

In the traditional industry of sake, the work of people—the experience and skills of veterans—will continue to be important. However, we were also regarded highly thanks to how we have established advanced production processes that increase energy efficiency and the use of IoT.

 

We hope to continue to give back to the community based on local production, local consumption, through work that respects nature and people.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask for your continued support and encouragement.

 

Takenosuke Yasufuku

Representative Director and President,
Kobe Shushinkan Breweries, Ltd

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Introduction

We started brewing sake in 1751 in Mikagego, Nada, where we remain today. While our wooden breweries were all destroyed in the January 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, we were able to rebuild thanks to the support from all quarters, and on May 8, 1996, we founded Kobe Shushinkan Breweries, Ltd., and in addition to our brewing building, opened a number of facilities where customers could enjoy culture along with sake in December 1997.

 

Our Fukuju brand name comes from Fukurokuju, one of the Seven Lucky Gods. The name incorporates our wish those who drink our sake will be healthy, blessed with good fortune, and many descendants.

Fukujugura, our brewing building, combines sake production with a new equipment that recreates traditional hand-made principles with the skills of producing sake by hand. It covers a total floor area of 3,517 m2 and is 5 stories tall. Learning from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, we have ensured it is one of the few quake-proof sake breweries that can withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake.

Normally, to help them survive and expand, breweries will promote eco-friendly products (goods and services that try to reduce environmental impact) at places like overseas wineries, but in fact, much remains to discuss about the promotion of eco-friendly products in Japan. To deal with this issue, we consider it necessary to balance environment value (reducing environmental impact) with business value (increasing sales, reducing costs), and create the principles that will lead to our sake brewery surviving and expanding for generations.

 

Specifically, we need to prevent global warming, increase production, preserve water sources and use less water, reuse sake lees, recycle bottles, take care of biodiversity, and deal with hazardous substances or environmentally damaging substances. By carrying out all these, we shall expand our energy-saving and resource reusing activities, which should help us both reduce our environmental impact and our costs.

 

Our sake production has a long history dating back 270 years, with traditions and techniques being passed down. The people involved in sake production have played a major role in this history. Our sake production is both traditional yet continues to change as we seek the very best. Ueda-style koji production (tarai koji) and other innovations our employees have come up with enable us to improve our quality and achieve a high level of economic production.

 

From the perspective of the sake production industry, revitalizing the community through developing local industries will stimulate demand for sake, ensure the sustainability of industrial tourism, create agricultural brands, and lead to the sustainable development of agriculture. Stimulating demand for sake will increase sake sales, ensuring the sustainability of industrial tourism will increase tourists (brewery tourism), creating agricultural brands will provide added value (Yamada Nishiki, Japan’s top sake rice), and the sustainable development of agriculture will provide stable incomes. The results of all these should, provided there is a certain degree of local economic development, lead to ripple effects such as increased salaries.

 

We abolished the toji (brew-master) system in 2006, and have been brewing using our employees, under the guidance of Master Ueda from the Ueda Sake General Research Institute for 14 years now. Our goal is not sheer volume, but creating the finest taste, so we brew our sake carefully by hand. Our koji is still entirely handmade and we use traditional koshiki steaming vats for our rice, valuing the individuality of each batch with the goal of creating rich, strong, full-bodied sake that draws out the pure flavor of the rice. The style we seek is “richly full-bodied,” “dignified-elegance,” and “well-balanced.” These days, we are working on creating even higher quality sake with a focus on digitizing management process data. Our sake is created from all these conditions, including the traditional Nada techniques and the cold wind of the Rokko Oroshi, coming together as one.

 

The survival and expansion of sake breweries are vital for an understanding of Japan’s histories, traditions, and culture. But at the same time, they can be seen as a foundation for the higher development of future culture. However, demand for sake has been on a long-term decline in Japan, so there are limits to how far sake breweries can survive and expand, leaving us are faced with the issues of declining sake shipments and fewer sake workers.

 

Domestic shipments of sake peaked in 1973 at over 1.7 million kiloliters, but by 2018 it had dropped about a third, to only 495,000 kiloliters.

 

For a long time now, we have been aiming to create value through the amalgamation of the sake production, tourism, and restaurant industries under the slogan “giving back to the community based on local production, local consumption, through production that respects nature and people.” All the rice we use in our sake production is grown right here in Hyogo Prefecture. We promote local production, local consumption through efforts such as providing rice from the “village rice” system arrangement we have with Ozo in Kita Ward, Kobe, as well as vegetables grown around Kobe and fish caught in the Inland Sea at our brewery restaurant “Sakabayashi.”

 

This is not just about the limited goal of pursuing quality: our eyes are turning towards sustainable production as well. Paying our respects to nature, including the Miyamizu water that is the bounty of the Rokko Mountains, and protecting the global environment will become, we feel, proactive strategies when seen from a longer-term perspective. Implementing these may well be vital for achieving our survival and expansion as a sake brewery. Drawing on the platform of Kobe Shushinkan, we have developed a sustainable tourism industry that helps revitalize local culture and promote product sales, with 150,000 people visiting us each year.

 

We are working on ways to solve the issues of survival and expansion by balancing environmental value and business value in a way that will lead to success.

 
 

Environment Aspects

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Preventing global warming and increasing production

We are able to achieve both a reduction in our environmental impact through saving energy and resources, and an improvement in the quality of Fukuju sake. This both increases the added value of the Fukuju brand and makes sustainable sake production possible through increasing production efficiency, thus helping us achieve impressive corporate growth.

The most important thing in a sake brewery is to control the temperature. In other words, precisely adding heat or cooling in each production process is vital in improving and ensuring quality. Cooling the water when washing the rice, heating the steam when cooking the rice, cooling the sake rice after it’s been steamed, controlling the temperature during the shikomi or moromi (mashing) process, and heating the sake to pasteurize it. Through all these processes and more, temperature management has a major effect on quality. The energy used in these processes also accounts for the bulk of the total energy we use.

 

For seven years starting in 2010, we enjoyed increased orders thanks to improvements to our quality and strengthened brand power. Without having to make drastic changes to our production process, we were able to increase our production volume threefold. The measures shown below allowed us to further reduce our environmental impact while increasing production capacity.

 

  1. Energy used: By bringing in freezers for temperature control and replacing boilers with devices that work efficiently and when needed like Daikin’s module chillers and Miura’s boilers with economizers, we have increased our energy efficiency. In the seven years since 2010, our production tripled but we actually were able to use 12% less total energy.
            

  2. Energy consumption rate: In accordance with the Energy Conservation Act, we set a goal of reducing our energy consumption rate to -1% of the previous year, and formulated and carried out plans for production and energy management and for updating equipment. This resulted in a 70% drop (10% yearly average) over the seven years since 2010, a stunning success story in achieving our energy-saving goal. This was greatly assisted by increasing the operational efficiency of our equipment in addition to the effects from boosting energy-saving performance and improving partial load characteristics for our heating equipment.
     

  3. Other energy-saving: In addition to our production processes, we have also been able to increase employee awareness of the important of saving energy through things like using LED lighting, day-to-day management of power usage through smart meters, and on-demand management.
     

  4. The results of all this have allowed our CO2 emissions to drop by 12% over the seven years since 2010, a huge drop even though our production volume increased greatly.

The temperatures and changes in appearance caused by microorganisms at each process used to be managed through the finely-honed experience and skills of veteran toji, or brewmasters. But today, we can also use our own unique methods to ensure each process is precisely controlled. In particular, we have been able to reduce the workload considerably through our tarai-koji method that emphasizes a different form of moisture management to the old ideas, and control technology using the latest in IoT. The mashing process status is remotely monitored via smartphones. This allows us to consistently produce high quality products, improve our equipment operating rate by brewing year-round, and as a result, improving our energy efficiency and our sales. In addition, we have been able to eliminate the overtime and night work that used to be required for monitoring, reforming our working style and casting off the image of being a harsh place to work to help our employees find increased job satisfaction.

 

Moreover, we are working with Konica Minolta, which has a wealth of knowledge about environmental businesses, for analyzing data related to saving energy and providing know-how for saving energy in plants. By carrying out joint energy-saving diagnostics, we can continue to share information from the perspective of an environmentally-advanced production business.

Preservation of water resources, saving water, and reusing sake lees

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  1. We are working with the Nadagogo Brewers Association’s Water Resources Committee and Miyamizu Preservation Study Association and with the help of the local community to ensure that Miyamizu water, which is important for making sake, is minimally affected by civil engineering and construction.
     

  2. Use of water-saving technologies: In the rice washing process, we have brought in low-water rice washers that use jet foam technology that protects the rice from damage by the cushioning effect of foam. We are also moving ahead with saving water by, for example, using methods that reuse some of the used water in our bottle washing process. As a result, while we increased production three-fold over the seven years since 2010, we were able to keep our water usage to just a 35% increase.
                                                                                                                                  

  3. The sake lees left over in the production stages are sold in slab form in easy to handle, small sizes. We are also working on way to effectively use these as a resource, such as in cookies or ice cream, and by providing dishes made using lees in our own restaurant.

Recycling bottles

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Bottle design is an important factor in increasing brand value and affecting product purchases. Bottle materials do not only maintain product quality through allowing the sake to be kept well, but need care regarding the environmental impact of processing discarded bottles. We have long used blue cobalt bottles both for their design and the fact that they cut out UV rays. Clear bottles and brown bottles can be recycled into glass of the same color. However, blue cobalt and other colored glass bottles cannot be recycled, and have to be taken as non-burnable waste to landfills. So, by using an electrostatic coating on clear bottles, we can use clear glass bottles that retain the look of our classic blue cobalt bottles, and cut out UV rays to ensure good storage. About 450,000 bottles each year in our present lineup are electrostatic coated bottles. By making these recyclable, we can not only contribute to the environment, but save costs by reducing the amount we needed to pay for container recycling.

Protecting biodiversity

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Our sake production is based on the blessing of our local natural environment, including our local Hyogo Yamada-Nishiki rice, the Miyamizu water, and the Rokko Oroshi winds. So it is very important to preserve this environment, which is why we are actively working on ways to preserve the Rokko Mountains environment, donating to the Toyooka City Oriental White Stork Fund, and so on.

Dealing with hazardous substances and environmentally damaging substances

By changing our printing ink from organic solvents to ethanol-based, and our hoses to ones that avoid environmental hormones, we are constantly thinking about safety.

Environmental initiatives as independent actions

(Examples: Autonomously managed environmental actions, disclosure of environmental impact information, etc.)

Through energy-saving diagnoses from specialists at Konica Minolta, the results of hearings on site, and data analysis, we are able to understand our strengths and weaknesses and apply them to our independent action plans. When bringing in equipment, we emphasize environmental assessment items, making sure to only bring in those that have the optimal levels of efficiency, thus allowing us to continue to reduce CO2 by saving energy.

 

Economic aspects

Kobe Shushinkan is a composite facility that includes Fukujugura, where we make our Fukuju sake, Suimeigura, which houses our restaurant Sakabayashi, Tomyogura, our sales outlet, and Homeigura, our multi-purpose hall. By bringing together our sake production, tourism, and restaurant businesses, we aim to create value and form a local production, local consumption supply chain.

Increasing sales

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From 2006 we moved to employee-based sake production with year-round employment, and while still valuing the tradition of “ichi: koji; ni: moto; san :tsukuri” (first: the mold; second: the starter mash; third: make the sake) we continue to change to seek the very best.

 

In 2007, we started the trial use of making koji using plastic tubs, not the traditional wooden ones, and also changed from the traditional cloth to a Gore-Tex laminate (a laminate of nylon cloth and a Gore-Tex membrane) in order to thoroughly manage temperature and moisture with precise, detailed control. Moreover, we use high-temperature saccharification in order to grow the seed mash quicker and more safely. In 2010, we started full-scale production of sake using the tarai-koji or “tub mold” method. This enables us to create strong koji without letting the moisture through, thus improving the quality of our high added value products such as our daiginjo and junmai daiginjo sakes. Achieving quality improvements through employee innovations, we have been awarded multiple gold prizes at international alcohol competitions such as the Annual Japan Sake Awards and the International Wine Challenge. This led to our sales over the five years since 2010 increasing 263%, reaching a high level of economic productivity.

 

*Ueda-style koji production (tarai koji):

This is our unique method of using plastic tubs (tarai) for producing koji mold. We use tubs just big enough that three can fit perfectly in a koji box. As we start off by getting rid of as much of the rice moisture as possible, these tubs are perfect for keeping the rice at the right temperature, right moistness, and insulating. By using tubs from the mori (dividing the batch) process right through to the shimai shigoto (second mixing) we can retain the small amount of moisture and warmth left in the rice grains. In using the tarai koji method, we need to manage the moisture levels through a load cell (precision scales) and maintain the koji room temperature at 40°C and the humidity at a dry 30%. This allows the mycelia to grow over the surface of the hard rice grains and penetrate to their heart, a process known as haze-komi, or mold penetration, where we can reliably produce tsuki-haze, or speckled haze on the surface. This is the ideal sort of koji for making daiginjo, as its surface isn’t sticky and it doesn’t clump. It creates aromatic, well-rounded, sophisticated sake. By using tubs to carefully control moisture, we can get the same high levels of glucoamylase as veteran brew-masters, allowing us to create “ultra” tsuki-haze koji that has a good balance of enzymes.

Economic ripples effects on the community

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Under the slogan “giving back to the community based on local production, local consumption, through production that respects nature and people,” we aim to create value through the unification of our sake production, tourism, and restaurant businesses. All the rice we use to produce sake is grown here in Hyogo Prefecture. We work with farmers in Ozo, Kita Ward in Kobe, building a system to procure high quality Yamada Nishiki rice (village rice system), which we use in high added value products like daiginjo. We promote local production, local consumption by providing vegetables harvested from around Kobe and fish caught in the Inland Sea at our restaurant, Sakabayashi. This helps improve agricultural incomes and reduces our environmental impact from transporting ingredients. At our sales outlet, Tomyogura, we carry not just Fukuju sake but also Hyogo Prefecture products, including Certified Foods of Hyogo, and a range of sake nibbles as well as bottles and cups from small and medium companies around the country, increasing our synergistic effect.

 

Drawing on the platform of Kobe Shushinkan, we have developed a sustainable tourism industry that helps revitalize local culture and promote product sales, with 150,000 visitors touring our facilities each year.

Cost reductions

In recent years, we have been working on producing even higher quality sake by emphasizing digitization of our management processes. This allows us to place an emphasis on training people, passing on techniques from veteran brew-masters to young employees and working to improve our skills.

This has allowed us to abolish late night and early morning work as well as overnight work and night duties, and reduce the number of people needed for the New Year holiday period from two to just one. We have also set a target of moving to a 40 hour work week and two full days off each week by 2022, thus contributing to improving working styles during the brewing period.

 

Despite an increase in production thanks to our use of tarai koji (tub mold) and high-temperature saccharification, as well as balancing quality and innovation by our employees, we have been able to cut electricity usage to 85% of the previous year through the introduction of our Daikin module chillers. By changing our rice washing machinery to a jet foam type, we are now able to wash rice with about half the water we used to need. Our initiatives in improving energy efficiency and how well we use water have helped us cut costs.

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Social aspects

Contributing to the local circular economy

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In our brewing building we combine the very best raw ingredients from Hyogo Prefecture, including Yamada Nishiki rice from the Ozo district of Kita Ward, Kobe, with Miyamizu water from the Rokko Mountains subterranean river, thus also contributing the preservation of the local environment. We also donate part of the sales from our Fukuju Junmai-shu Mikagego sake to preserving the Rokko environment. Additionally, to let people know about the importance of protecting biodiversity, we donate part of the sales of products made with Konotori Rice (“Rice for Raising Storks”) from Tajima in Hyogo Prefecture to the Toyooka City Oriental White Stork Fund, doing our part to help the storks be reintroduced to the wild.

In our brewery restaurant, Sakabayashi, we actively use seasonal ingredients harvested in the Kobe region to enjoy with sake, promoting the revitalization of the local economy.

 

At our Tomyogura shop, in addition to sake we also sell things like Certified Foods of Hyogo, publicizing local resources and traditional culture to consumers. We also sell raw sake by volume (in a bottle swap system) to increase awareness of the value of sake and ways to be environmentally conscious.

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Revitalizing the community

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We hold events such as open days to increase our interactions with our local community. At these events, you can enjoy tasting sake as well as get health checks like “Find out your veins’ age,” “Measure your bone density,” and “Check your blood flow,” which we provide as a way to support local people’s health. These health checks are held twice a year. We also donate part of the sales of Fukuju Tokubetsu Junmai Konotori Rice Koshihikari to pink ribbon activities as part of our ongoing efforts to spread awareness about women. At the Shushinkan Hall, in the Homeigura building, we hold performances of dance, bunraku puppetry, noh, Japanese music, kyogen, rakugo, and other events as ways to promote interactions with locals. We were given the Mecenat Award in 2000 in recognition of our contributions to promoting traditional Japanese culture.

 

Our water tanks can hold 72,000 liters, so we can use them to supply drinking water for quite some time in the event of an earthquake or other disaster. Assuming 1.5 liters per person per day, we could supply water to 100 people for 480 days. We are prepared for both frequent natural disasters and any large-scale disasters that might occur in the future.

 

  • Hyogo Green Promotion Association
    Part of sales of Fukuju Junmai-shu Mikagego donated (2 yen per bottle sold)

     

  • Toyooka City Oriental White Stork Fund
    Part of sales of Fukuju Tokubetsu Junmai Konotori Rice Koshihikari and Fukuju Junmai Genshu Konotori Hiyaoroshi

     

  • Animal Supporter, Kobe Oji Zoo (Hondo Ural Owl)
    Part of sales of Fukuju Junmai-shu Fukuro [Owl] Bottle

     

  • Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University
    Part of sales of Fukuju Junmai Ginjo

Learning about the environment

At the Yamada Nishiki rice paddy in the Kobe Shushinkan, we get local elementary school children to come each year to transplant and harvest rice. Through this hands-on learning, we provide the community with opportunities to learn about the importance of rice (the bounty of nature) and how local agriculture can coexist with the local environment.

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Initiatives with local residents

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To preserve the Miyamizu water resource that plays such an important part in making sake, we are members of the Nadagogo Brewers Association’s Water Resources Committee and Miyamizu Preservation Study Association , helping manage water resources. We carry out surveys and research with the help of the local community to minimize the effects on groundwater of civil engineering and construction.

Initiative for employees

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Fukujugura, our five-story brewing building, is one of the few sake breweries able to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake. Putting to use the lessons we learned in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, we carry out regular evacuation drills to prepare for any upcoming major quakes. We are also engaged in tsunami evacuation measures to protect life and safety of residents from any tsunamis caused by a major quake in the Nankai Trough.

Afterword

Sake is the national drink of Japan, and the crystallization of “Japaneseness,” a symbol of the land and climate of Japan, and of its people’s patience, conscientiousness, and delicacy. However, looking at sake production numbers, only about 500,000 kiloliters (based on the taxable amount) were produced in 2018, a drop of about 30% from its peak. In addition, the number of places producing sake has plummeted to just 1,594 as of fiscal 2019.

To confront these issues, after considering the trends and issues faced by alcohol-related industries worldwide, especially the wine industry, we have become aware that rather than just the limited goal of pursuing quality, the key word of society will be looking towards “sustainable production.” Respecting nature and protecting the global environment are what will become our active strategies when seen from the long term. I feel that implementing these will be necessary in order to solve the issues of survival and expansion for sake breweries.

Takenosuke Yasufuku
Representative Director and President,
Kobe Shushinkan Breweries, Ltd