Introducing Roles in the Sake Brewery

If you are a regular reader of sake-related articles, such as those published on the KURAND website, especially those that explain the production process and the artisan who make it, you may already have come across the term toji. This is the Japanese word for the master brewer, craftsman, the foreman of the brewery.

Toji is just one of a number of roles that a sake brewer or, kurabito as they are called in Japanese, can carry. In this article we look at a few others.

The Head of The Brewery – Toji

The toji’s main responsibility is to coördinate the complicated brewing process. They also have the last say over the flavour and quality of the sake. No sake is shipped until they give the okay.

Earning the role of toji requires years of experience and skill. Suffice to say, these are the masters of their craft.

 Toji’s Duty

When the process of sake brewing was established for the first time in Edo period, toji was not a member of the sake brewery. Toji was a person contracted by the sake brewery to brew the sake, a sort of seasonal worker.

The original toji were rice farmers for whom sake brewing provided a much needed source of income in the winter months. The toji were not members of the sake brewery per se, but on the brewing floor, their word was law. They were also responsible for giving directions to the other brewers just as a foreman does in a factory. To be a successful toji they had to earn the trust of everyone in the brewery and prove their ability to lead.

As the head of the brewery, the toji oversees every part of the process including the preparation of the raw materials, sake pressing (filtering), storage——even ageing.

The Divergence of Toji

While in the past, toji only visited the brewery in the winter, times are changing.

Brewers brew in the winter because this is the time when the brewery is the most sterile. Because brewing involves various microorganisms and microbes, maintaining such a sterile environment is vital.
These days, sake breweries are able to brew sake all year round simply by using cooling machines to recreate the cold conditions of the winter inside. Toji have evolved into jouningata toji (toji in regular employment). Jouningata toji are on the increase. This type of toji is usually more commonly found in the bigger sake breweries.

Another type of toji that is on the increase is the kuramoto toji (owner toji). As the term suggests, kuramoto toji is a toji who is also the owner of the sake brewery (kuramoto).

Many toji are reaching retirement age and with a lack of young people in Japan to take over the reins, sake brewery owners are left with very little choice but to get involved with the brewing themselves.

Not all sake brewery owners are experienced in sake brewing, but many have invented new innovative sake brewing methods.

The development of sake brewing technology is another driver of the changing toji. In the past, the role of toji was a male-dominated vocation, but these days you will also find Female toji as well.

Three Leadership Roles in Sake Brewery

Directly under the toji, their are three sub-management roles called sanyaku.

Each sanyaku is a leader of a different part of the brewing process.


Kashira is the deputy toji. Kashira literally means head. He delivers the directions and instructions from the toji to the other people in the brewery.

The kashira is also responsible for preparing the moromi, the fermentation mash itself. The moromi is the third most essential stage of sake brewing and it is also where all the hard work from the previous stages comes to fruition.


Koujiya is the person who prepares the koji. Koji is malted rice (similar to malted barley in beer brewing) which is used to turn the starch in the rice into glucose to be turned by the yeast into alcohol. It also imparts various flavours and aromas into the sake. There is a saying that good sake begins with good koji and koji is the first most essential stage of brewing.
Koji is made by inoculating rice with a mold of the same name that releases enzymes capable of cutting the starch up into glucose called amylase.

For more information about how koji is made see these past articles.

The room where the koji is made is called the kojimuro. It is there that you will find them giving directions to people who make the malted rice.


Motoya is the person who propagates the yeast used in sake fermentation. This stage of fermentation is called the moto or shubo (seed mash, starter or literally, mother of sake) and is basically a tiny version of the main mash. The main aim of the shubo is to grow a large population of healthy yeast and expel all unwanted wild bacteria. There are various of methods of building the shubo. The motoya needs to choose the right yeast to fit the quality and style of sake.

The room where the shubo is built is called the shuboshitsu, and it is here that you will most commonly find the motoya, giving directions to people who make the shubo. Sometimes you may also find them working together with the Kashira to prepare the sake.

Other Roles in a Sake Brewery

In addition to toji and sanyaku, there are a number of other roles in a Sake Brewery.


Kamaya is the person who manages the steaming of the rice. Kamaya washes and weighs the rice before soaking in water to bring the moisture up to the necessary level for steaming.

You might hear the phrase “1, koji; 2, moto; 3, moromi”. This lays out the three most important stages in sake brewing in order of importance. All three of these roles are carried out by the sanyaku. However, the importance of the steaming process must not be overlooked. The same goes for the person whose job it is to oversee that process, the kamaya.


Sumiya is name of the person who manages the filtration in sake brewing, the purpose of which is to remove leftover particles bitterness and unwanted colour figments. Because sometimes charcoal, which in Japanese is sumi, is used, they are referred to sumiya.

In recent years, the number of Sumiya is decreasing as the trend of unfiltered sake is rising.


As you can see, there are many different roles at sake brewery, and those roles sometimes are difficult to understand, so we decided to summarize the roles at sake brewery as follows:

The above roles are summed up in the table below.

Toji The head of sake brewery, who manages the process of sake brewing, which is very complicated and delicate.


The deputy toji, who delivers the directions given from toji, and who prepares the moromi.


The master of malted rice making, who manages the kojimuro and staff working in it.


The master of the shubo or yeast starter, who manages the shuboshitsu and the staff working in it.
Kamaya The person who manages the steamed rice.
Sumiya  The person who manages the filtration of sake


At smaller sake brewery, the above roles are juggled by one single person.

The purpose of this article was to show how many different roles there are in sake brewing. Perhaps you already knew a few of them. Knowing the work that goes into brewing makes it taste even better. Why not cast your mind back through this article the next time you are sipping sake at KURAND. We look forward to welcoming you soon.