Dassai sake: Blending the ancient and the innovative
Photograohy: Mitch Payne / Art direction: Andy Wells
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Dassai sake: Blending the ancient and the innovative

Kenny MacIver — November 2018
Asahi Shuzo couples ancient methods and cutting-edge AI, IoT and cloud to ensure it can produce the very best Japanese sake.

Creating the highest-quality Japanese sake – Asahi Shuzo’s mission for its iconic Dassai brand – is a true labor of love. But one that is not without its formidable challenges.

Centuries-old craft methods have always yielded the very best results. But in recent years Asahi Shuzo has carefully combined those with highly innovative digital technologies.

Four years ago the company started working with ICT company Fujitsu to deploy IoT technology in the paddy fields of its rice growers, linking the streams of data from sensors to the Fujitsu Akisai food and agriculture industry cloud. The ultimate aim: to ensure a stable, plentiful supply of the specialty yamada nishiki rice used in the production of Dassai’s premium sake.

The success of that co-creation has now led the two organizations to embark on an even more ambitious trial, announced in April 2018 – the use of a predictive artificial intelligence model created by Fujitsu Laboratories to optimize Dassai’s sake brewing techniques.
Sake production — with the help of cloud

As Asahi Shuzo president Kazuhiro Sakurai says: “Our brewery is a medley of ancient tools and innovative equipment.” That starts with sourcing “the king of sake rice” and polishing away the outer bran of each grain, where the fat and protein reside, to expose the prized fermentable starches at its center.

In the case of Dassai products, grains are milled down to 50%, 39% and (for the cleanest and smoothest flavor) 23% of their original size, before being brewed using pure water from the pristine mountains at the southern tip of Japan’s Honshu island. That focus on quality has won many fans, not just in Japan but around the globe. In recent years, Dassai has been launched in over 20 international markets, with sales of its pure, highly polished Junmai Daiginjo sake soaring by over 40%.

But meeting that demand has required the application of some innovative thinking to some very Japanese circumstances. The yamada nishiki strain of rice is notoriously difficult to grow – it is susceptible to disease and its heavier grains and taller stalks (one and a half times larger than with conventional rice) make it susceptible to wind damage. As Asahi Shuzo was acutely aware back in 2013, that was limiting the number of growers who were willing – or able – to cultivate it.


The situation was further compounded by demographic changes. Ongoing rural depopulation in Japan has seen the average age of farmers rise to 67, according to 2015 census figures.

To counter the situation and encourage greater cultivation, Asahi Shuzo joined forces with Fujitsu. The ICT company’s solution involved the deployment of solar-powered IoT sensors and cameras in paddy fields, with the resulting data connected to the Fujitsu Akisai food and agriculture industry cloud. The sensors measured environmental conditions, including atmospheric humidity levels, ground and air temperatures, ground moisture and electroconductivity.

“The use of Fujitsu’s Akisai system in Dassai production has created a win-win for both Asahi Shuzo and its farmers.”

The initiative helped devise the cultivation methods necessary to optimize rice production, creating a sharable knowledge base of best practice. This was supplemented by recording the activities of individual farmers and the results they achieved: their methods, the fertilizers and pesticides used, the quality of rice planted, crop growth rates and the resulting yields. All that data was fed into Akisai from remote devices such as laptops and tablets. By introducing this system farmers can record their actions and the results allow them to determine which approaches are most effective.

Asahi Shuzo – which purchases about a fifth of all the yamada nishiki rice grown in Japan – has been able to produce a lot more sake. It’s also good for farmers as yamada nishiki is priced about three times higher than some other rice. As a result, the introduction of the Akisai system to the production process has created a ‘win-win’ situation for both Asahi Shuzo and its agricultural partners. 
Sake brewing aided by AI

More recently, that successful application of advanced technology has encouraged Asahi Shuzo to explore how other traditional skills might be captured, enhanced and put to use. Its AI trial with Fujitsu Laboratories aimed to combine a mathematical model defining the process of sake brewing with machine learning that drew directly on data from the Dassai on-site production processes and expertize.

Powered by Fujitsu’s Zinrai AI platform,  the model will enable the two companies to evaluate how practical AI can be used to optimize the control of equipment used in the sake brewing process.


By incorporating data gained from the field trial and the feedback from its experts, Asahi Shuzo will improve the prediction accuracy and the sophistication of the supporting information, enabling the system to assist with even more optimized sake brewing.

Again, the demographics of rural Japan are a factor. “As Japan’s society is aging, labor shortages are expected in sake brewing facilities, and there are concerns about maintaining a stable supply and the high quality of Dassai,” says Asahi Shuzo. “To address this, we have been working for many years to record and systematize experience in sake brewing.”

That commitment to ensuring supply and quality through a blend of craft and hi-tech will undoubtedly raise a “kampai” from sake connoisseurs everywhere.

Asahi Shuzo is one of almost 60 customer stories detailed in the Fujitsu Technology and Service Vision. View more here.

First published November 2018
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