Having been established in 1487, the Izumiya brewery, as it was then called (now Hiraizumi Honpo Co.) is the oldest in Akita and the third oldest brewery in all of Japan. Its home, Nikaho city, lies between the ocean and Chōkai-san (Mount Chōkai), a mere 16 km (10 miles) from the beach, and is known for its strong, wintry cold wind. The original family business was a port wholesale shop, based in Hirazawa and Izumisano city in Osaka, with brewing as a side operation. 

The 16th generation of the Saito family were wealthy merchants who owned two kitamaebune – the commercial carrier ships used throughout the Edo and Meiji eras. The ships bought and sold goods at port towns along a trade route. Utilizing the seasonal winds and ocean currents, the ships on Akita’s coast, Japan’s prosperous rice producing region, sailed north from March to May and then sailed to the south from July to November. They shipped rice to important consumption areas (such as Osaka), while additionally carrying Hokkaido’s kelp and herring, Tohoku’s coastal seafood, sake, raw materials, tobacco, salt, paper, sugar and various other goods for trade. Today, Kyoto culture remains strong and the Kansai dialect is still used by the locals in the port towns that kitamae ships passed through. Many port wholesale shops not only bought and shipped rice, but as a side business used the rice in brewing sake, which they could sell as a high-value product to their customers.

Brewing became the main occupation for the Saito family in the early Meiji period (1868–1912). The shop’s name continues to be Izumiya to this day. The current family head is Masato Saito, who is of the 26th generation. After attending the famous Tokyo Kaisei Academy, his grandfather, Masao Saito, studied zymurgy (brewing) at Osaka University, and his father Shoichiro Saito followed suit, studying brewing under the renowned Kinichiro Sakaguchi of Tokyo University. Sakaguchi (1897–1994) was known as the “Sake Doctor” and was a worldwide authority on brewing techniques. His famous last words were in praise of the Koshinokanbai sake: “Beautiful sake is akin to water.” Masato’s father, Shoichiro, used what he learned from him to continue his own father’s work, polishing the tradition 

of “beautiful sake” by developing original yeast strands.

In 1964 the Niigata Earthquake hit in the northern part of the prefecture, around 70 km (43.5 miles) from the kura. The fact that in the wake of the earthquake there were only 26 deaths, after a 4m-high (13 ft) tsunami hit Niigata city, was regarded as a miracle, but the brewery sustained heavy damage. Shoichiro contemplated going out of business after losing his production facilities just when sake was set to reach its largest shipping volume ever and it was commonly said that “if you make sake, it will sell out”. Yet he was still determined to make top-shelf sake with the minimal equipment left to his disposal. In 1969–70 he released his junmai ginjo Akitaizumi at the highest price of the time – 1700 yen for a 720ml (24.3 fl oz.)bottle (1700 yen then would be roughly 7000 yen, or US$70, now). Afterwards a boom in popularity of local sake took place in Japan. The Koshinokanbai sake became nationally famous, along with Hiraizumi for its choice sake. Using the best rice and refined brewing techniques, Hiraizumi made an opportunity of the earthquake, as a chance to proceed in the opposite direction from mass production, gaining them fame and making a name for their sake.  

Masato entered into the Cuisine and Japanese Sake event put on by the world’s top Sommelier, Shinya Tasaki, and after Shinya was done tasting from various sake brewers, it was the Hiraizumi sake that was chosen as the perfect match for a Camembert cheese dish. Hiraizumi’s sake is also a perfect match for gratin, cream stew, any soy sauce-based grill, and simmered dishes.

establishment and key dates

1487 Established

1882 Current brewery built

Water source

Underflow water of Chokaisan (medium-hard water with a German rating of 6)

Rice varieties

Miyama-Nishiki (Akita), Yamada-Nishiki (Hyōgo), Akita Sake Komachi (Akita): rice grown by the master brewer

Koji type

Kuro-ban, Hishi-roku, Akita Konno Shoten

Yeast type

Sake Yeast Kyokai No. 1801, Sake Yeast Kyokai No. 7 type original cultured yeast, Hamaya Yeast (When the brewery was built in the 15th year of the Meiji era, the yeast was collected from the ridgepole raising ceremony Hama-bow.) 

No. 24 (Akita Konno Shoten) 

Aging process

1 year storage (bottled) etc.


The Annual Japan Sake Awards: Gold Award 

10 times (1990, 1994, 1996, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Specialty of brewery

Yamahai Junmai, Junmai Shochu using sake lees as an ingredient

annual production

1500 koku (270,000 liters)

Contact details

59 Hirasawa Aza Nakamachi Nikaho-shi, 

Akita 018 0402

T: +81 184 35 2031, F: +81 184 35 2030