The sixth-generation present head of the Endo Shuzojo, Hidezaburo Endo set out with a flexible approach to reform his family business. The previous fifth-generation head, Shinzaburo, passed away in the summer, when Hidezaburo was 21 years old. Having wanted to become an engineer, taking over the small Suzaka kura in northern Nagano prefecture hadn’t even crossed Hidezaburo’s mind but when his father died he and his mother, two older sisters and grandmother were left with the decision of whether they should continue in the sake business. At that time, the Endo Shuzojo was numbered 90th out of 100 kura in Nagano, in terms of production output, producing only 400 koku. 

Hidezaburo assumed the role of representative director of the Endo Shuzojo on his 22nd birthday. That year, 1982, he protected the legacy as their flagship brand sake, “Yoru-Masamune”, which according to tradition was presented to the feudal lord of the Suzaka Clan in the Edo era. Through its 120-year-long history, the value and flavor of the sake was firmly established. Although he was president, Hidezaburo went around in a truck delivering to small businesses himself, two or three bottles at a time. In those days, the selling of liquor was protected and licenses for small retail shops were not easily obtained. Later, from 2001, regulations of the Liquor Tax Act were gradually relaxed, and in 2003, it became comparatively easy to acquire a license to sell alcohol. Places such as grocery and convenience stores were then able to do so and the market rapidly expanded across different types of retail. Nevertheless, even with the widening of their sales, without a strong brand name it was difficult to sell; for a kura having a brand that customers want is most important.

In 1988 Hidezaburo, hired his high-school classmate Keizo Katsuyama as a full-time employee in distribution. Katsuyama had wanted to become a teacher but it was not to be. Knowing full well how reckless it was, Hidezaburo approached Katsuyama saying, “work for me as a toji!” His thinking, based on the idea that he would be unable to make a new brand with his former master brewer, turned out well. In Katsuyama’s second year as toji, he, together with four other brewers, strived to make a new kind of sake. The sake that Katsuyama made in his third year as toji, “Keiryu”, won the Nagano Prefectural SRA Gold Award, Regional SRA Gold Prize and even went on to win the Gold Award and the Excellence Award at the Annual Japan Sake Awards. As one might expect from someone who wanted be a teacher, Katsuyama had excellent leadership qualities, in addition to the stamina to go through painstaking work – abilities that blossomed in sake brewing. Hidezaburo humbly calls their sake the “layman’s sake”, but it was with this type of sake they found their opportunity.

One day, one of the customers on a tour of the kura asked why you couldn’t drink the freshly strained liquid. So Hidezaburo devised a new product called “Asa-shibori” and was going to start selling a fresh, unheated sake. In those days, under the strict jurisdiction of the Liquor Tax Act, their competitors were worried about the hiochi bacteria in the “Freshly Squeezed Sake” and made an appeal to the tax office asking if it should be allowed. As a former engineer, Hidezaburo’s unconventional thinking went against the customary practices of the industry. He downright opposed the inspection regulations and petitions for the sake to be inspected after bottling, and the no-room-for-error theoretical method has now become common practice. From the morning it was published in the Nikkei newspaper, the phones were ringing off the hook, and the freshly squeezed, direct-to-consumer sake, Asa-shibori, attained great popularity. 

In the category known as “doburoku” (unrefined) under the regulations of the Japanese Liquor Tax Act, this unfiltered, primitive sake can be made at home; but this type of sake’s sales volume and sales locations are regulated. Hidezaburo confronted the tax office on this matter as well. He acquired permission to sell the sake as refined sake instead of unrefined sake by filtering it through a 3-mm mesh net. If the sake is recognized as a refined sake, the sales area is no longer limited and it can be sold across the country. He went ahead with the acquisition of the trademark, “Domuroku” and persuaded the authorities to stop attempting to ban sales of the project.

Currently Endo Shuzojo has a production yield of 4800 koku and has 30,000 customers that they sell to directly. Through the business model of bypassing wholesale and retail stores and selling directly to customers, the brewers are able to profit way over their koku volume. Additionally, when some products were restricted to the direct-to-consumer sales, the brewery ended up receiving deals from businesses and specialty shops. 

Converting their long-standing flagship brand into his own has not been an easy task for Hidezaburo. He persevered in changing to direct sales and halted all of their retail-oriented business. In the narrow-minded sake industry it was the engineer, Hidezaburo, and his unconventional thinking that brought about reforms. A reputation cannot be deliberately made no matter how hard one tries, but reputation comes alongside sake made with conviction. In the past 16 years, Hidezaburo’s decision to make the “amateur sake” which brought about revenue growth, has proven to be the right one.

establishment and key dates

1864 Established

Water source

Sugadaira Nekodake subsoil water

Suzaka spring water, Nishi hara fountain head, soft water (Hardness: 70)

Rice varieties

Todoroki (Nagano), Shirakaba-Nishiki (Nagano), Miyama-Nishiki (Nagano), Yamada-Nishiki (Hyōgo)

Koji type

Hikami Ginjo

Yeast type

Kyokai No. 7, No. 1801

Aging process

High ice fermentation storage (stored at an elevation of 1536 meters in a snow room) 

Koshu: bottle storage


The Annual Japan Sake Awards: Gold award, 

10 times (1997, 1998, 2001–2003, 2006, 2009–2012)

Monde Selection: Grand Gold (2007), Gold (2004–2013), Silver (2009, 2011)

iTQi: Crystal Prestige Trophy (2013)

Crystal Taste Award (2009), 3 stars (2007–2013), 

2 stars (2010–2012)

IWC: Gold (2007, 2009, 2011)

Kanto Area National Tax Office Refined Sake Review Competition: Excellence Award 7 times (1999, 2001–2003, 2007, 2010, 2013)

Nagano Prefectural Governor award 16 times (1995, 1997, 1999–2004, 2006–2013)

Shikoku Refined Sake Review Competition: 1st Award 1999

Shikoku Refined Sake Review Competition: 1st Award, 2000 

Kochi Prefectural Master Brewers Union Review Competition 1st Award, 2000

Kochi Prefectural Brewing Union Review Competition 1st Award, 2000

Specialty of brewery

Keiryu, Doburoku, Asashibori

annual production

4800 koku (864,000 liters)

Contact details

29 Honkanmachi, Oaza Suzaka, Suzaka-shi, Nagano 382 0086

T: +81 26 245 0117, F: +81 26 245 1477