Sake brewing control (酒造統制)

Sake brewing control is the restriction (control) and promotion (relaxation of the control) policy adopted by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in Japan for the sake brewing industry.

Although concrete measures were different as the occasion demanded, the sake brewing restriction decrees were enforced 61 times and the sake brewing promotion decrees 6 times throughout the Edo period, which indicates basic direction was, as a whole, to impose restrictions.

The examples of measures include 'establishment of the sakekabu' (an official certificate of sake brewing), 'prohibition of sake other than sake made in the winter,' 'Tenmei revision of the sakekabu system,' 'introduction of business taxes on the sakekabu,' 'restrictions on port entry of sake shipped from Kyoto and Osaka to Edo' and so on as the restriction decrees and 'Horeki katte-zukuri decree (the deregulation policy to promote sake brewing),' 'permission of sake brewed by the domains' and so on as promotion decrees.

Mechanism of sake brewing control

Sake (rice wine) had an aspect of always competing against the food supply centering on rice because sake needed to use a large amount of rice. At the times of famine due to poor harvests, no rice was available for sake brewing, while on the contrary, during times of excess of rice due to good harvests and the subsequent reduced price of rice, there were no such advantages as processing rice into sake. It is because this practice made it easier to store and to make Okidashi, or to transport to other domains, Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area) and Edo. The bakufu controlled sake brewing based on the market price of rice and the food situation of the time, as current central banks control the economy by changing the official interest rate.

The bakufu never entirely prohibited sake brewing because tax yields from sake breweries were an important revenue for the bakufu and the existence of sake was not to be ignored due to its adjustment function of the price of rice, and also in domains in northern Japan such as Tohoku and Hokuriku regions, sake was no luxury item whatsoever but an essential good to warm the inhabitants.

On the other hand, Sakaya (liquor stores) and sake breweries were confused by the ever-changing bakufu's sake brewing control on each occasion.

On the merchant's part, many of stores foresaw the next possible measures by the bakufu to try not to be hindered in their business, for instance, they made a padded filing for the Sakekabu/Kokudaka (yield) of sake brewing preparing for a possibility that they were required to reduce their sake brewing Kokudaka. The bakufu then tried to enhance the effectiveness of the decree by imposing rates rather than Kokudaka. On the Sakaya's part, they took every measure to get around the decree and as a result, the sake brewing control of the bakufu produced aspects of a vicious circle.

Development of the sake brewing control (timeline)

1657 - 1735 Restriction period
Sake made in the winter in the Kanbun era, Enpo prohibition of sake other than sake made in the winter
Genroku revision of the Sakekabu system, Introduction of business taxes on the Sakekabu
The Great Famine of Kyoho
Bumper harvest in the final years of the Kyoho era => Reduced price of rice
1754 - 1786 Promotion period
Horeki katte-zukuri decree => The Great Famine of Tenmei
1788 - 1801 Restriction period
Bunka/Bunmei good harvest
1804 - 1829 Promotion period
Bunka katte-zukuri decree => The Great Famine of Tenpo
1830 - 1844 Restriction period

Exceptions to the sake brewing control

While the decrees of the bakufu at the time were today's national laws in Japan, there were many Hatto (law, ban) locally effective only in certain domains and regions in the Edo period as there are Jorei (ordinance) set forth by local governments today. Also regarding sake brewing, it was sometimes permitted as an exception even in the restriction period nationwide if it was for the purpose of industrial development in the domain, reconstruction of the economy or for planning to improve or expand the brewing industry based on the reasons accepted by the bakufu as in the Akita Domain and the Aizu Domain. It was like today's special economic zone and special deregulation zone.

While sake was basically produced by the merchants throughout the Edo period in all fields of brewing methods, distribution and sales, local governments or domains, due to the above reasons, started to brew Jizake (local sake) called, in later ages for convenience, Hanzoshu (sake brewed by the domains) by preparing brewing plans, inviting at no small expenses of the domain's technical experts such as Sakashi (sake brewer) (almost the same meaning as Toji [sake brewer]) and Kojishi (a person in charge of the koji-manufacturing) from the advanced regions in sake brewing like Itami sake, Nada gogo (five districts in Nada), Nara style sake and so on and making local wealthy merchants maintain brewing facilities.

Hanzoshu was not necessarily successful. Each domain had its own outcome.

It was the modern times of Japan when Tohoku and Hokuriku regions eventually earned the national reputation of their Jizake through the various trials and tribulations.

Scotch whisky

In England, after the annexation of the Kingdom of Scotland in 1707, various repressive restrictions were imposed on distillation of whisky in Scotland. The story of the people of the Highlands who stood against it forms a part of the history of Scotland and whisky.