October 17, 2018
On October 9th, 2018, Gekkeikan Sake Co., Ltd. (President: Haruhiko Okura) launched an English version of a 4-panel cartoon series “(Manga) Gekkeikan: The Life of Tsunekichi Okura” on the corporate website. The series is comprised of 10 easy-to-follow episodes (more episodes may be added in the future) that illustrate the life story of Tsunekichi Okura (1874-1950), the 11th head who restored Gekkeikan. The stories demonstrate how Japan pushed forward with modernization during the Meiji period, the introduction of scientific technology into sake making, the history of creativity and innovation including dramatic improvements in the quality of sake, and how sake made in Fushimi, Kyoto, spread all over the country. An English version of a detailed story outlining the accomplishments of Tsunekichi Okura is also publicized along with the manga series.
Tsunekichi Okura inherited his family business of sake making at the age of 13 in 1886, as the 11th successor of Gekkeikan, who expanded his business a hundred times over in his lifetime. The path to success had not been very smooth, as he had experienced numerous failures and hardships when he took over the business and began his career by working inside the sake brewery. It was before science was fully incorporated in sake making when Tsunekichi was striving to get his business back on track, and sake spoilages followed one after another (due to alcohol-resistant lactic acid bacteria that spoil sake). Sake spoilages were a serious issue in the eyes of Tsunekichi. This was when Chikashi Kanomata, an engineer from the Brewing Research Institute by the Ministry of Finance, happened to be staying in Fushimi to conduct surveys on sake manufacturing. Inspired by his teachings, Tsunekichi established the “Okura Sake Brewing Research Institute” in 1909, the first research laboratory among Japanese sake manufacturers. Shortly after, Gekkeikan produced the first “preservative-free sake” in Japan and thus became the pioneering company that dramatically elevated the quality of sake. The ability to produce good sake enabled the company to place a stronger emphasis on distributing their products to Tokyo and across the country, through a successful contract with the railway authorities. These numerous creative endeavors are what developed the town of Fushimi into a major sake producing region.
In the later years of his life, Tsunekichi started to reveal a new side of himself as a social entrepreneur. Tsunekichi did not forget all the support he received from his neighbors and fellow sake brewers when he inherited the family business at 13 and the fact that his business flourished because of their warm encouragement. As a way of reciprocating for their kindness, he donated land and the funds to build a municipal hospital, offered grants and scholarship funds to students, and donated land to establish a local fire station. Tsunekichi’s business achievements and social contributions exhibit how he was truly a great businessman as well as a benefactor.
The easily comprehensible manga series illustrate the establishment and history of Gekkeikan’s predecessor “Kasagiya,” Tsunekichi Okura’s childhood and young adulthood when he nurtured his aspiration, how he created the path to the future of Japanese sake through creativity and innovation, and his later years in life when his feeling of gratitude toward his community motivated him to become a social entrepreneur. Themed around Japanese sake, the series is also an educational material to learn about the challenges of the traditional industry, the demonstration of creativity, community building, and the kind of person who contributed to the modernization of Fushimi’s sake industry.
The aim of the recently released web content is to reintroduce the brand of Gekkeikan from Fushimi, Kyoto, in this world today where Japanese sake has been recognized with expanding consumer demands in the international market.