For Heaven's Sake--Japanese Rice Wine Is No Longer Just A Boys' Game

Apparently, New York Sake Week starts June 1. What great timing because we've just met one of the sake world's most talked-about personalities: Miho Fujita, president of the Mioya Brewery Co. in Ishikawa, Japan.

She may be in charge, but Miho gets her hands dirty in the brewery everyday, working closely with her brewmaster, and even tending to the rice. As one of only a handful of women in the industry, she has become something of a media darling in her native Japan. (It doesn't hurt that she's freaking adorable.) A relative newcomer to the industry, she earned fast praise for reviving the 90-year-old brewery with Yuho, a brand she conceived whose name translates literally as "happy rice." The lavender label may look girly, but there's nothing tame about this sake. Sure, it's floral with strong lavender notes, but it's full-bodied and complex, able to stand up to grilled meats and tangy sauces.

Tell me about the Yuho sakes. What was your vision for the brand?

Yuho means "happy rice" in Japanese. I think that when the rice is happy, it makes a better sake. And that makes me happy and, I hope, the people who drink it happy.

Both the Junmai and Junmai Ginjo are intensely flavored. Have these more full-bodied sakes become more popular in Japan?

Just like in America, the trend in Japan is toward richer foods, like pork belly. I wanted to make a sake to pair with a pork dish I like called buta-no-shoga-yaki, which is sauteed pork with ginger. So, both my sakes pair with this type of more intensely flavored dish.

It seems like quite a--excuse the expression--ballsy move to create a sake to pair with just one dish. Is it a common practice to develop a sake in this way?

Well, I don't know. I didn't grow up in a brewery the way many of the other small, independent brewers did. So, I was allowed to be creative with the sake maybe because of that. I didn't have any preconceived ideas about how it should be made.

Is it difficult to be a woman in the sake business?

It doesn't matter whether I am a woman or a man. I still have to make a good sake. Being that there are not many women, people think my style will be feminine. But it's not really.

Do you ever find that you are not taken seriously be other brewers?

Maybe before, women had a hard time. But now, I am the president of the company, so I haven't faced any difficulties. We are still few, however. If before there were two women among 1,400, now there are maybe five.

In wine, many experts say that women have a better palate and may even be better at making wine. Does anyone say this in Japan?

Ah, no! I have not heard anyone speak of this in Japan. I don't think my sakes taste better because I am a woman. But, if I had to hire someone, I would prefer to hire a woman because I believe they are more efficient. Women are better at multitasking.

What did you do before you came to the brewery?

Do you know the toy company Mattel? I was in charge of marketing Hot Wheels.

So, boys' games are not really new to her, after all.


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