Questions about modern times posed by sake filled with the aesthetic sense of “Tono”


“Toonoya Kaname” Chef Yotaro Sasaki talks about the journey to the rice bran brewed sake “Gonka”

Japanese sake is changing. People who continue to take on challenges with new sensibilities and worldviews are emerging one after another, and among them, Yotaro Sasaki, who is based in Tono City, Iwate Prefecture, goes beyond being a challenger and is better described as a revolutionary. He works as a cook at Tonoya Kaname, an inn that caters to one group a day.He grows rice without pesticides or fertilizers, and even brews doburoku using it. Chefs and sommeliers from all over the world frequent Moto. Sasaki has created a completely new type of sake that is attracting attention.

Yotaro Sasaki planting rice Yotaro Sasaki planting rice

Yotaro Sasaki planting rice. Although he continues to use no pesticides or fertilizers, it took a long time for his fields to return to healthy soil. He says the remarkable transformation of the soil brings him joy every day.

The true face of Tono Cuisine, which is attracting worldwide attention



``Wine is a drink of terroir, whereas sake is a drink of people.'' When alcohol lovers get together, this kind of conversation often comes up. The real idea is that, compared to wine, where the quality of the grapes greatly influences the final product, the taste of sake can vary greatly depending on the maker, even if the same rice and method are used.


However, over the past few years, I have begun to wonder if that is really all there is to it. We do not deny that sake is a product that strongly reflects the character and ingenuity of the brewer, but even so, the importance of ``local production for local consumption'', the rediscovery of local value, and terroir is increasing as a global trend. Even in gastronomy, hotels, and craft alcoholic beverages, I feel that there is a growing tendency to respect things and things that reflect the spirit of the times. He also says that no matter how rare or gorgeous something is, if you can't feel the thoughts of the person who sent it, or what they hope for the future, it has little value, whether it's something or something.

I had heard for some time that an old folk house auberge called Tonoya Kaname in Tono, Iwate Prefecture, was attracting attention. The restaurant is led by a local chef named Yotaro Sasaki. Furthermore, he grows a rice called ``Tono Ichigo,'' which no one else grows anymore, without pesticides or fertilizers, and brews it to make doburoku. The dishes that make extensive use of fermentation, the farmers' skill in bringing out the full potential of the soil, and the sake they produce are all unique in their style. Therefore, a wide variety of people, including chefs, brewers, hotel managers, and start-up entrepreneurs, are interested in Sasaki's work and philosophy, and are happy to visit Tono.

"Toonoya Kaname"'s specialty, "Natto Sformato" "Toonoya Kaname"'s specialty, "Natto Sformato"

"Natto Sformato" is a specialty of "Toonoya Kaname". A deep and gentle taste that is an innovative sublimation of the local flavor that my grandmother used to make.

I want to create sake that uses all of the rice without wasting it.



Although Sasaki spends his days working outdoors on the farm and doing hard work in the warehouse, his appearance and pleasant way of speaking give him the air of a scholar or designer. In fact, he is an extremely talented person who speaks at workshops and lectures, and holds collaboration dinners with chefs from outside the prefecture. Sasaki talks about his latest sake as follows.


``As this is a type of alcohol that has never existed before, we have had many discussions with government officials before finally being able to release it. is"


To give you a rough explanation, sake is an alcoholic beverage made using ``rice, water, and rice malt.'' The outer skin is removed from the brown rice, the white rice inside is further "polished" (in short, it is a process of shaving), and the core of the rice is brewed to make sake. However, for Sasaki, who continues to struggle with growing rice without using pesticides or fertilizers, everything from the outer husk to the rice inside is a treasure. At some point, brewing sake without wasting the entire rice became a necessity for him, and he had been searching for a way to do so.


Making sake involves the process of melting rice. If you try to brew the whole brown rice, it will be too hard and it will not work, and the white rice part of ``Tono Ichigo'' is hard and difficult to dissolve. At that time, I saw the rice bran pickled rice bran bed made at the inn and the idea came to me. I thought it might work if we fermented the rice and bran separately.

At the unveiling of "Gonka" At the unveiling of "Gonka"

At the unveiling event for the media and experts held in Toyosu, Tokyo. On that day, even food and drink experts kept asking Sasaki questions.


Rice bran sake that speaks boldly to modern Japan



For Sasaki, who spent a very long time repeating all kinds of experiments in order to make ``Tono Ichigo'' to his satisfaction, it was a long journey before he could even release his first ``Rice Bran Craft Sake.'' . In addition to perfecting the taste, as mentioned above, it was a completely new sake that did not meet the Liquor Tax Law, so it was said that negotiations with the government were quite difficult.



However, beyond wanting to release this sake into the world, Sasaki felt a sense of mission that he had to release it. Questions about Japanese agriculture, which has continued to strain precious land using easy methods such as pesticides; questions about Japanese sake, which is brewed by polishing the rice until it loses its character; The antithesis of the current situation where there is almost no chance of obtaining a liquor license and product prices being too low. In order to express these ideas, they created the world's first rice bran brewed liquor, ``Gonka''. What an epic story. I can't help but be surprised.

The slightly darker color poured into a large glass is ``Gonka PEAT.'' The slightly darker color poured into a large glass is ``Gonka PEAT.''

The slightly darker color poured into the large glass on the right is "Gonka PEAT." The two small glasses in the center are "Gonka MARO". Although it has a distinctive taste, it has the versatility to match everything from Japanese, Western, and Chinese to ethnic.

A total of three types of ``Gonhwa'' debuted. Their names are PEAT, MARO, and MO CHUISLE, and all ingredients are rice bran, white rice, koji, and water. It's difficult to describe the taste. When you put it in your mouth, you can feel the atmosphere of Japanese sake, Guijoshu, wine, Shaoxing wine, and Sherry, and each of the three varieties shows completely different directions. The peat is fermented with smoked rice bran, resulting in a flavor that brings to mind images of rural burning. Malo, on the other hand, has a sweet yet firm body, and a taste that warms your mouth. Mokshura is said to be an undiluted solution of peat and malo, giving it a taste of two sources.


Motohiro Okoshi, a sommelier and well-known wine taster, refers to ``Gonka'' as ``a new taste that I have never experienced before.''


``I felt a strong desire to use all the rice and not to waste it.I think it's a great way to use rice that can only be achieved without pesticides and fertilizers, and I think it's a great message.But it's not just new, it's delicious. Mr. Sasaki's sake is characterized by its pleasant acidity, and this sake also follows that style.'' (Okoshi Sommelier)

"Tono Cuisine (published by Shogakukan)" "Tono Cuisine (published by Shogakukan)"

At the same time as the release of the ``Gonka'' series, Sasaki published a book. Titled ``Tono Cuisine (published by Shogakukan),'' it is filled with everything from his thoughts to his approach to work.

Yukiko Hirano, a chef who is knowledgeable about wine and sake, can't hide her excitement.


``I was imagining a very natural taste, but that's not all. It's complex and clear, and it's wonderful that the will and intention are clear. It's a new concept for sake.'' (Hirano)


There is a limit to the amount that can be produced, and considering Sasaki's style as a rice farmer, it will probably be difficult to secure a constant production amount in the future. However, he declares that he will continue to engage in such efforts in the future as a result of this ``empowerment.'' The young standard-bearers of Tono Cuisine believe that this sake is not only delicious and pleasing to the public, but also raises big questions about Japan's stagnant agriculture and sake industry.




Chef Sasaki Chef Sasaki

Sasaki talked about his thoughts on Japanese agriculture and sake brewing through Tono Cuisine.

Toonoya Kaname
2-17 Zaimokucho, Tono City, Iwate Prefecture
Reservation inquiries: 0198-62-7557


◆“Gonka” series
Sales for the 2022 release have already ended (next year is undecided). Other doburoku made by ``Toonoya Kaname'' are on sale at ``Imadaya Online.''

Text by Mayuko Yamaguchi
Photography by Miho Kimura

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