Toshimaya, the oldest sake store in Tokyo, originated when its founder, Toshimaya Juemon, opened a sake store and tavern in 1596 at Kamakura Waterfront in central Edo (modern day Tokyo).
When Juemon began brewing shirozake (white sake), its reputation spread throughout Edo. Shirozake is a sweet rice liqueur that was popular with women at the time.
During the Edo era, Toshimaya sold “Kudari-zake”, or sake that had been transported from the Kansai region. Toshimaya sold sake at low prices, and also offered cheap grilled tofu (bean curd) topped with miso paste (“Dengaku” in Japanese), which was a popular snack eaten with sake, and the place is said to have been bustling with people. Toshimaya also sold empty sake barrels to miso paste shops and other customers, which allowed the business to sell sake at comparatively cheaper prices. (An interesting point of note: Toshimaya is said to have opened the first tavern in Japan.) As the business expanded, Toshimaya began trading with the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The company started their sake brewing business in the middle of the Meiji era when Masajiro Yoshimura, the 12th company president, was in control. At first, the brewery was built in the Nada area in the southern part of Hyogo prefecture. Later, at the beginning of the Showa era, Yoshimura moved the business to Higashi-Murayama City in west Tokyo.
However, Toshimaya’s building was destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and was subsequently re-built in Mitoshiro-cho in Kanda, near Kamakura Waterfront. But the company suffered more misfortune when the premises were burned down in the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 10th March, 1945. Toshimaya later tried to restart its business on the same site, however, this was not possible as the area had been taken over by Allied occupation forces. Therefore, Toshimaya had to move once again, this time to where it now operates: Sarugaku-cho in Kanda.
Later, Toshimaya span off the brewery into a separate company, Toshimaya Shuzou Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. After derequisition, Toshimaya built another building on the previous site at Mitoshiro-cho, and established Toshimaya Building Co., Ltd.
Our brewery brews sake, shirozake and mirin (sweet cooking sake). Our premium sake, Kinkon (Golden Wedding Anniversary in English), has been awarded numerous gold prizes at the Annual Japan Sake Awards, and is used as the sacred sake at the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine as well as Kanda Myojin Shrine.
At present, Toshimaya is one of the largest Tokyo-based dealers of soy sauce and mirin, which are essential ingredients in soba – or buckwheat noodle – soups. We seek to play an important role in Japan’s food retailing industry by supplying quality products to our customers.
Since the founding of our business, which has sake at its core, Toshimaya has always observed the family motto passed on by word of mouth: “The customer and sincerity – first”. Our company’s code of conduct is based on “Continuity with Change”, whereby we preserve what should be preserved, while changing what needs to be changed.
Toshimaya provides value to customers through high-quality alcohol and food, and contributes to the development of food culture.
The customer and sincerity – first
Code of conduct (Company principle)
“Hueki-Ryuko” (Continuity with Change)
We preserve what should be preserved, while changing what needs to be changed.
Short stories about Toshimaya
Episode of shirozake
One night, Toshimaya Juemon dreamt of a paper doll that told him how to make shirozake. Juemon brewed it exactly the way he was told, which was the beginning of our shirozake.
Juemon sold shirozake just before Girls’ Day in spring. The good reputation of the fine tasting shirozake spread all over Edo, and people began to sing, “For mountains, it’s Fuji, for shirozake, it’s Toshimaya!”
“Edo-Meisho-Zue” (“Collection of famous places in Edo”)
In 1836, the latter half of the Edo period, a topography was compiled by the Saito family. It was titled“Edo-Meisho-Zue”, or “Collection of famous places in Edo”, and was drawn by artist Settan Hasegawa in 20 volumes. Volume 1 contains a scene of shirozake being sold at Toshimaya.
The description clearly expresses the popularity of Toshimaya: “Toshimaya sake shop in Kamakura-cho selling shirozake. Every year in late February, Toshimaya sold shirozake for Girls’ Day. A crowd of people gathered around the shop in the early morning.”
Blooming in Edo
“Edo-Meisho-Zue” shows many people gathering in front of the store to buy shirozake. The painting also features a watch tower in which doctors and firemen are standing by in case of emergency. There is a large signboard saying, “Sorry, but we don’t sell sake and soy sauce during the shirozake period”. It is said that single-day sales totaled 1,400 barrels! Toshimaya’s shirozake was a very popular drink in Edo.
Images of Toshimaya also appear in the famous Hiroshige Ando’s “Picture book of Edo gifts” and “Kyoka Edo-Meisho-Zue”. Toshimaya’s history is one piece in the mosaic of Japan’s cultural history.