Itami, the birthplace of sake
Itami City is located in the southeast part of Hyogo Prefecture. It has a flat terrain and two big north-south rivers in the city. The river in the east is Inagawa and the river in the west is Mukogawa.
The city is also well-known for its Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport), which makes this city very close to the sky.
In the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States), Itami City became prosperous as the oldest "sougamae (outer city)" which is the castle town (the town around the feudal lord's castle) of Arioka Castle. Besides the castle, Samurai-machi (the town for Samurai) and Machiya (shops) were also located around it. After the Arioka Castle was abandoned, this place was protected by the Konoe Family and became thriving with the brewing industry as the pillar industry.
Arioka Castle Ruins
You will feel the historical breath of the Warring States Period in Arioka Castle Ruins.
Today, some parts of the Arioka Castle remain on the west side of JR Itami Station.
It is designated as a National Historic Site.
In the Warring States Period (the late Muromachi period), Nobunaga Oda's subordinate warlord Murashige Araki banished the Itami clan, the ruler of the Itami Castle, and occupied the castle. Then he changed the name of the castle into the Arioka Castle.
The castle was built on the expansion of the eastern part of the Itami plateau, with steep cliffs on its east side.
There were field fortifications (clay walls to keep intruders out) and a moat on the west side of the castle, which encompassed the castle town (the Samurai towns and Chonin towns).
Outer castles (fortresses) were built at the northern edge, the center and the southern edge in order to ward off invaders.
Murashige betrayed his lord Nobunaga and was attacked by Nobunaga's troops.
During the war, Arioka Castle was surrounded by Nobunaga's troops. After a desperate one-year siege, the samurai towns were burned to the ground. Arioka Castle finally fell in 1579.
Today, we can still see the remains of the field fortifications and the stone walls.
Part of the excavations unearthed in Arioka Castle Ruins, Itami is exhibited at Itami City Museum of Art and Itami City Gochokan (The Former Residence of the Ishibashi Family).
The Japanese military commander, Murashige Araki
Nobunaga Oda gave Settsu Province to Murashige Araki and appointed him the lord of Arioka Castle.
He is a military commander during the Warring States Period (the late Muromachi period). And he also enjoyed a high reputation as a master of Japanese tea ceremony.
He liked drinking tea and made friends with Sakaishu (Merchants of the Sakai City) when he was a retainer of the Ikeda clan, the lord of Ikeda Castle.
Then he became the retainer of Nobunaga Oda and Settsu Province was given to him.
He won battles with his own army and expanded the territory of Settsu Province, most of which was divided into his own sphere of influence.
He came to Itami and became the lord of Arioka Castle in 1574.
And then he betrayed his lord Nobunaga and was defeated by Nobunaga's troops.
After that, he became a monk and called himself "Doukun".
He retired into Onomichi until Nobunaga died.
Then he went back to Settsu and started to serve for Hideyoshi Toyotomi. After he died, he was buried in Sakai City.
There is a nishiki-e print based on an anecdote about Murashige Araki (see the image published on the homepage) which was drawn in the Edo period.
When he presented himself before Nobunaga, Nobunaga gave him a manju with a knife stabbed in it.
Yet he remained calm and directly bit and ate the manju, which highlights Murashige's image as a great hero.
It is said that Yukimoto Shinroku, who is known as the son of the military commander Yukimori Yamanaka (also Shikanosuke Yamanaka) in Sengoku period (Period of Warring States), found the method of brewing sake in Konoike, Itami in about 1600. The purified "Sumizake (clear sake)" which is different from the previous "Nigorizake (unstrained sake)" gained popularity rapidly.
There is a monument which records the origin of the sake in the Former Residence of the Yamanaka Family in Konoike, Itami. "Brewing the Morohaku (a kind of sake made of white rice and distiller's yeast) for the first time, which was very popular" is recorded on the monument.
After the fall of Arioka Castle, the castle town of Arioka Castle which survived from the fire has developed into "Itami Gocho". During Edo period, most areas of Itami Gocho were protected by the aristocracies from the Gosekke (the five royal families) and Konoe family. And the sake brewed in Itami Gocho was sold to Edo, which led to the rise of the brewing industry. In 1697, altogether there were 36 breweries. In 1715, this number increased a lot to 72, and the output of the sake reached 60 thousand koku.
The Itami sake loved by the generals
The sake brewed in Itami was shipped to Edo. Due to its mellow taste, it became popular and was honored as "Morohaku in Itami" and "Tanjo". And it even became the tribute sake for the generals.
In the 5 volumes of "Nihon Sankai Meisan Zue (an illustrated book on the special food products in Japan)" which is considered to be published in 1799, the contents of the 1st volume are all about the brewing industry in Itami. The production processes of rice washing, making distiller's yeast and yeast mash, and squeezing are described exactly in this volume. "Itami can be said to be the earliest ancestor of Japanese high-class sake" is mentioned in the commentary.
The most popular sake
The "Oimatsu" which is still being brewed in this city ranked the first in the ranking of famous sake publicized in Edo period. Represented by "Oimatsu", 19 brands of sake ranked in the top 20 famous sake were brewed in Itami.
There are many sake cellars on both sides of the main street in the city center. The shape of this city is compared to "Kinnou (a money bag)" due to its wealth.
There were more than 200 brands in late Edo period. And now, only a few of them are still used in Itami. However, a lot of brands favored by many people are also inherited in other producing areas, such as Nada-ku and Hokkaido. Brands like "Kenbishi" and "Otokoyama" which ranked top in the west area are all from Itami.
The remaining features of Edo period
"The Former Residence & Sake Cellar of the Okada Family" (nationally designated Important Cultural Property) built in 1674 is the oldest existing sake caller. And it was repaired and opened to the public in 2001. Visitors can see the existing facilities for sake brewing in Edo period, such as the hearth and the main pillar.
On the south side of "the Former Residence & Sake Cellar of the Okada Family", there is a street of sake callers which extends in the east-west direction. The "Choujugura" which is a sake caller in late Edo period is repaired and rebuilt into a restaurant by Konishi Brewing Company which still brews sake in Itami now. The restaurant is on this street, and there is a "sake museum" on the second floor of the restaurant, where visitors can enjoy the exhibition about the history of sake brewing.