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Fushimi Region: a strategic locale

Fushimi Area

Since the 16th century, Fushimi region has been a political and an economical center. Combined with its good environment for sake production, Fushimi became one of the three major sake production areas in Japan (along with Nada in Kobe and Saijo in Hiroshima).

#1. Fushimi’s political power

Hideyoshi Toyotomi, having unified the whole of Japan, established Fushimi castle south of the heart of Kyoto, the capital city and home of the emperor since the 8th century. Of course, since then Kyoto has expanded and Fushimi is considered part of Kyoto city. However, in the 16th century, its location was strategic for river access to the commercial center of Osaka and access to the Tokaido, the major road between Tokyo to Kyoto.

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In the 17th century, Fushimi castle was destroyed by 3rd general of Iemitsu Tokugawa, who decided to relocate to Edo castle in Tokyo, leaving Fushimi less prosperous. However, after the destruction, General Tokugawa realized the importance of Fushimi and reestablished the magistrate’s office there.

The Edo Shogunate had just united the country, so they did not want to risk local feudal lords establishing relationships with the Emperor or influential court nobles. Locating the magistrate’s office in Fushimi doubled its efficacy, acting as a watchdog and deterrent for any unwanted local political activity.

#2. Fushimi’s economic power

The establishment of Fushimi castle brought commercial and industrial internal immigration and made a castle town. In Toyotomi’s later life, the Fushimi had become the 4th most populous city in Japan. It regained this economic bustle after the establishment of the magistrate office. In addition to that, implementation of “Sankin-koutai” increased Fushimi’s economic importance. Sankin-koutai required all local governors live in Tokyo and also return regularly to their home towns. The prohibitive cost of travel inherent in Sankin-koutai was intended to reduce the power of local governors and prevent rebellion through effectively holding governors hostage.) Local governors from the western part of Japan needed to travel through Fushimi so regularly that they had to establish secondary homes there to break the journey. This renewed property investment made Fushimi flourish again.

 

#3. Fushimi’s sake production position

Fushimi used to be called “Fushimizu” (“water is hidden”) because it has a lot of water. It is said that Kyoto Basin contains as much underground water as Lake Biwa, the largest in Japan, at 670 square km. This underground water is the water source for both Osaka and Kyoto. Kyoto draws from four different water systems: Higashiyama, Nishiyama, Kamogawa and Momoyama. Fushimi’s water (Momoyama) is valued for its lower amounts of iron, which means clearer sake. It also has adequate minerals to provide nutrition for yeast and helps fermentation. Because of this availability of plenty of suitable water for sake production, Fushimi has risen to become one of the best sake production areas in Japan.

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Fushimi is often considered to be a premium sake region purely because of its water, however the political, economic, geographic and logistic importance of the area were key contributors: thanks to its higher population and attractive market size, companies started taking advantage of the plentiful water and established new breweries in the region.

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