In his latest book "Yoichi Ochiai, 34, Facing Aging" (Chuohoki Publishers), Yoichi Ochiai, an associate professor at Tsukuba University and an active media artist, asks the following question: "How does digital technology change nature?".
To this question, his interlocutor, Professor Takeshi Yoro from the University of Tokyo, known for books such as "The Wall of Idiots”, said, "What has tremendously changed from the past is that we can now see details. CT scans in medicine are a typical example. The development of digital technology has made it possible to see the details of the body for the first time".
If we translate this story to sake, it means that the development of digital technology has dramatically improved our ability to understand various conditions in the sake crafting process.
Moreover, the price of digital thermometers and measuring instruments has dropped to about 1/50th of what they used to cost, making them usable even by a small sake crafting company deep in the mountains of Yamaguchi. By thoroughly utilizing this progress in technology and change in price, we have been able to pursue a unique sake crafting style, one that is specific to Dassai.
In concrete terms, this means this technological progress allowed for various data, which allowed to manage each crafting process with every detail, precisely.
Usually, changing crafting methods is not something welcomed on the field, but at this point our toji and his team had already left for another sake crafting company, saying “We won’t craft sake at your place from the next season”, so there was no one to stand in my way.
After the toji and his team left, there were just me and a few young employees – all were almost amateurs at sake crafting. But then we just went along and proceeded with the crafting process, making mistakes all the time, and this is when I realized how much progress had been made in digital technology and the importance of using it.
This makes it necessary to respond to each detail, each complex data one by one, much more than in the past. Unfortunately, it is impossible to mechanize this process in the pursuit of making good sake. Actually, it would rather be easier to mechanize old-fashion sake crafting.
In other words, this is why Dassai has come to require the largest number of production staff in Japan. Scientific development is 'giving people jobs'. Scientific development takes jobs away from people if they want the same level of production as before, but when you are aiming for something better, you need people more than ever. And they cannot just be workers. It has to be staff who work hard, devise their own ideas, and make minute adjustments on the field.
This is precisely where the concept of 'tema’ (i.e. Japanese word meaning taking the time and effort, even costly), which is so strongly embedded in the Japanese people, is needed, with a new angle of "pursuing high quality".
And this is also the reason for the recent media buzz about Asahi Shuzo’s 300,000 yen starting salary for university graduates (and overall doubling the salary of production staff in five years).
My shortcoming as a sake-crafter lies in the fact that when I talk about these things, I am tempted to say things like "handmade is not always better" or "is it right to sweat and toil without ingenuity?" in a sarcastic way that makes waves in the industry. I know that, but... I can't stop...!