- Research article
- Open Access
Coastal sand dune ecosystem services in metropolitan suburbs: effects on the sake brewery environment induced by changing social conditions
© The Author(s). 2017
- Received: 9 August 2016
- Accepted: 8 September 2017
- Published: 2 October 2017
- Ecosystem service
- Coastal dune system
- Land use change
- Japanese sake
- Soil and groundwater
Japanese sake is brewed from rice and water, which are the central ingredients of the food culture of Japan. Sake is produced by a singular fermentation technology that applies the power of microorganisms. The beverage has attracted attention worldwide. In addition, sake is an alcoholic drink specific to Japan and a component of a traditional food culture that has continued for approximately 2000 years (Food and Beverage Specialist Organization NPO 2009). Japan’s traditional food culture, known as “Washoku,” was given UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status on December 4, 2013. The sake industry, however, is in decline. There were over 4000 licensed sake breweries in 1955, but their number had dropped to about 1600 in 2016, and consumption of sake has decreased, as of 2015, by two thirds since 1974 (National Tax Agency HP: http://www.nta.go.jp/kohyo/tokei/kokuzeicho/jikeiretsu/01.htm).
The diverse natural environment in which sake is brewed includes coastal sand dunes, river plains, hills, and mountains. The natural characteristics of these environments (e.g., soil, groundwater quality, and climate) substantially affect the taste of the finished product. Water has a significant impact on the taste of sake. In sake brewed in coastal dune systems, the freshwater layer that lies 5–10 m below the ground surface provides mineral-rich, hard water in that is high in calcium and magnesium. These nutrients actively promote the proliferation of Aspergillus oryzae and yeast, the predominant microorganisms used in sake brewing. The taste of Japanese sake from such coastal areas is dry and full-bodied (Kaneko et al. 2012, 2013).
As detailed by the records of Chiba Prefecture, Japan, the number of sake breweries in the coastal areas around Tokyo Bay during Japan’s Taisho era (1912–1926) was 5–10 times higher than at present (Suzuki 1997). A freshwater layer forms under coastal sand dunes, and it is this water that is used in sake brewing. Chiba Prefecture’s Tokyo Bayside, near the Japanese capitol, is formed on coastal sand dunes. This area flourished in ship transportation in the Edo era (1603–1868), and there were many sake breweries there. The sake brewing conducted there used the water from the freshwater layer in its brewing processes, making use of an ecosystem service. The term “ecosystem service” means the benefits that human beings receive from the bounty of nature. Sake breweries have been supporting this region for a few hundred years, and brewing has received the natural benefits of the coastal sand dunes (terrain, soil, water quality, etc.). However, because these areas faced Tokyo, there has been extensive infrastructure maintenance and coastal development since the high economic growth period of the 1960s. The coastal sand dunes of Tokyo Bayside have been affected by urban development, and most of the sake breweries have closed.
In this study, we investigate sake brewing in these areas, which benefitted from the natural environment, and factors that have led to its decline, based on a survey of the social changes such as land development that have occurred in the coastal area, modifying those features that promoted sake brewery during the Taisho era (1912–1926).
Locations and soil and groundwater environments of sake breweries
For information regarding historical and current sake breweries, we relied on Suzuki (1997) and Kaneko et al. (2012, 2013). In our research, we investigated the environment, including soil, topography, groundwater, and land use around sake breweries recorded in 1925. We investigated the soil and topography using subsurface geological maps, topographic maps, and soil maps created based on borings and well surveys (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, National Land Information). Groundwater conditions are described using groundwater quality data collected by Chiba Prefecture. Groundwater sampling and analysis were conducted in 1953, 1963, 1965, and 1966, during the development of coastal area in Chiba Prefecture. Since that time, very little further development has occurred in that area. We assumed that the study sites enjoyed a natural coastal environment in the 1950s and 1960s. Groundwater hardness was based on the American scale (soft 0–60 ppm, medium hard 60–120 ppm, hard 120–180 ppm, very hard 180 ppm or more), which is the reference standard of the World Health Organization (2011). The land use investigation used blank maps for 1925, 1930, 2004, and 2009 from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. To investigate extinction factors for sake brewing, we conducted an oral survey with individuals who were engaged in local sake brewing in 1925.
where Y is the sake production rate, A is the volume produced in Chiba Prefecture, and B is the volume transferred from outside the prefecture.
Change in the number of sake breweries in Chiba Prefecture
Land use change
Soil and topography
Land classification, sub-surface geology, and soil type in study area
Hanamigawa ward in Chiba City
Sand bankc, natural levee
Inage ward in Chiba City
Sand bankc, natural levee,
Sand 1b (exceedingly soft)
Midori ward in Chiba City
Sand bankc, natural levee
Pale ando soils
Sand bankc, natural levee
Rough particle gray soil
Sand bar, sand bankc , natural levee
Rough particle gray soil, Gray soil
Sand bar, sand bankc, natural levee
Sand bar, sand bankc , natural levee, flood plains
Sand 1b (exceedingly soft)
Rough particle gray soil, Gray soil
Sand bar (covered sand dune)
Sand bar (covered sand dune)
Study sites’ water quality
Water quality characteristics
Well depth (m)
Total hardness (ppm)
Water sampling period
Hanamigawa Ward in Chiba City
Inage Ward in Chiba City
Midori Ward in Chiba City
Study site environment
As noted above, the sake breweries operating in the coastal area along Tokyo Bay in 1925 were often situated at an altitude of approximately 10 m, approximately 1.0 km from the sea (Figs. 8 and 9). The surface geology in their locations consisted of exceedingly soft sand-rich sediments, including sand, and the land is classified as sandbanks, natural levees, and sandbars (Table 1, Fig. 8). The topography inland from the coast in these regions is characterized by a coastal dune system in which sand and wetlands alternate, and there are hills and terraces (Fig. 7). Groundwater depths are 3–10 m, and the water is variably hard, from medium hard to very hard (Table 2).
The groundwater under the sand dunes contains nutrients that originate in the remains of seaweed and animals deposited on the dunes and the salt spray carried by the wind. Nutrient concentrations are also high where sand-dune vegetation is abundant (Brown and Mclachlan 1990). In the marine sandy alluvial soil in Chiba Prefecture, potassium, phosphoric acid, calcium, and magnesium concentrations are high. The calcium concentration of the groundwater that flows through the aquifer that contains the shell layer has been influenced by the dissolution of splintered shells (Kaneko 1994; Kaneko et al. 1994). These nutrients actively promote the proliferation of Aspergillus oryzae and yeast, which are the predominant microorganisms used in sake brewing. Japanese sake that is brewed using hard water tends to be full-bodied, deep, and dry. Sake brewed using soft water tends to be mellower and slightly sweet (Inoue 2009). According to Kaneko et al. (2012, 2013), sake breweries that were on the sand dunes used groundwater depths of 5–10 m, which placed it deep within a freshwater layer in the sand dunes. Therefore, we believe that the Japanese sake brewed in the study area made use of this freshwater layer that was formed due to the coastal dune system. If such water was used to brew sake, it would have a dry, full-bodied taste.
The study cites all lie on alluvium. The alluvium forms an unpressurized aquifer based on the sand-rich sediment. However, the topography and geology are quite different, and the groundwater flow is different in the northern and southern parts of Chiba Prefecture. In the northern part, the aquifer tends to flow to an alluvial lowland on the coast of Tokyo Bay from the Shimousa Plateau, where the recharge area that provides water resources is rich in groundwater. However, in the Tateyama district in southern Chiba, there is little freshwater in the basement of the surrounding plateaus. However, in the alluvium along the coast and in the alluvial plain, where the study area is located, the unpressurized aquifer in the sand layer is used as for shallow wells (Institute for Health in Chiba Prefecture 1983).
Therefore, we conclude that because in 1925 development that would affect the groundwater supply had not yet occurred, the coastal dune system was in a relatively natural condition. Thus, water suitable for brewing could be taken from the groundwater of the coastal sand dunes along Tokyo Bay (Chiba Prefecture side), and sake brewing was feasible.
Factors leading to sake brewery decline
According to our survey results and other research, the following items caused the decline in sake brewing, compared to that practiced in the coastal area in 1925: (1) bankruptcies and reconstruction difficulties that followed the destructive 1923 Great Kanto earthquake (7 breweries); (2) the wartime Industrial Adjustment Act (6 breweries), which required the nation to adapt, integrate, or close non-military-related industrial facilities to support military-related industry during World War II (1939–1945); (3) the increased difficulty of sake brewing as a result of the large quantities of groundwater used by coastal industry during the 1960s and 1970s (1 brewery); and (4) altered transportation methods resulting from the development of distribution based on infrastructure improvements since the 1960s (e.g., changing from ships to railroad and road transport) (3 breweries), whereby (a) Japanese sake from other regions and imported alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and other alcohol could be obtained at cheaper prices, (b) changes in the availability of luxury goods occurred, and (c) it was no longer possible to sell sake brewed in the region.
The Great Kanto earthquake disaster
In Nako Town, there was a sake brewery until the Taisho era (1912–1926) (Nako District Union Neighborhood Association 2007). Other sake breweries known from records to exist in 1925 are as follows: 3 in Goi Town, 2 in Hojo Town, 1 in Tateyama Town, 1 in Funagata Town, 1 in Kaneda Village, 1 in Iwane Village, and 1 in Kisarazu Town (Chiba Prefecture Brewing Association 1885, Chiba Prefecture Brewing Association 1925). However, several sake breweries were not visible in a bird’s-eye view of Chiba City (Matsui 1929). According to an interview with a descendant of a sake-brewing family that engaged in the brewing industry in Tateyama Town in 1925, the family business ceased operation after the brewery building was destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. In addition, according to earthquake disaster records, Tateyama, Hojo, Nako, and Funagata Towns were destroyed by the earthquake, where 97–98% of the buildings were gutted by fire, and the brewing industry was devastated (Awa Country Office in Chiba Prefecture 1925). We surmise that for small-scale sake breweries, reconstruction was financially difficult.
Industrial adjustment in wartime
Sake brewery closings because of the wartime industrial adjustment occurred in Goi Town and Iwane, Kaneda, and Shiina Villages in 1939–40. Although a sake brewery in Makuhari Town was depicted in a bird’s-eye view of Makuhari Town from 1929 (Matsui 1929), the brewery was not included in the Chiba Prefecture brewery list of 1962 (Chiba Prefecture Brewing Association 1962). Therefore, it is likely that this brewery closed because of the wartime industrial adjustment.
Coastal industrial development
Reclamation was performed in the coastal zone of Tokyo Bay in Chiba Prefecture, from 1955 to 1975 to create land for the Keiyo coastal industrial zone (Chiba Enterprise Department Coastal Division 1976). In the Goi and Ichihara districts, development occurred from 1957 to 1963 (Chiba Prefecture Development Department 1961a). Because the quantity of groundwater pumped for industrial uses in the coastal area increased rapidly, the groundwater level decreased. This practice influenced private wells, and ground subsidence occurred (Chiba Prefecture Development Department 1961b). According to an interview with a descendant of a sake-brewing family from Shiina Village (present-day Midori Ward), although the vicinity of the sake brewery was rich in spring water (with an artesian spring water height of up to 20–30 cm throughout the area before coastal industrial development occurred), after the coastal industrial zones were created, artesian spring water was no longer seen. In addition, according to interviews with individuals who were engaged in the brewing industry until 1969 in Goi Town, after the reclamation of the coastal area for industrialization, the brewing industry ceased operation because the well water had become polluted. The pollution was confirmed by color tone, organic matter at concentrations greater than 1000 ppm, and the detection of ammonia. Thus, high-quality groundwater was no longer available (Chiba Prefecture 1963). Although spring water occurred in many artesian wells in Chiba Prefecture, the pumping increased because of continuing urbanization and the development of industry and agriculture. Therefore, the groundwater level decreased, as did the number of artesian wells. In particular, artesian wells distributed in the center of Goi Town, dug using the Kazusa-bori technique (a representative construction method in which wells are dug using bamboo), subsided for several years and then disappeared after the pumping of industrial water for the Keiyo industrial complex on Tokyo Bay commenced (Chiba Prefecture 2002). Therefore, we can conclude that the sake breweries located near the developed area could no longer be assured of an adequate supply of water because of the large quantity of groundwater used by industry and because of industrial pollution of the groundwater. Thus, the breweries in the district could no longer brew sake.
Increased availability of luxury goods due to distribution system development
Viewing the history of sake in Chiba Prefecture and the surrounding areas, the Japanese sake brewing industry of the Kanto area, which is located in the eastern part of Japan, was done on a small scale, was relatively undeveloped, and was of inferior quality compared to that of the Kansai area located in midwest Japan. The Kansai sake industry has been continuously producing for the Edo (now Tokyo) market since the beginning of the seventeenth century. Therefore, Japanese sake made in the Kanto area was deemed to be inferior local sake and was neglected by both Samurai and commoners in Edo. The Edo feudal government aimed to improve the quality and increase the volume produced by representative sake breweries and tried to restrict the volume of Japanese sake in Kansai. As a result, the Edo feudal government could not restrict the imported volume of sake from the Kansai area to Edo, and Japanese sake from Kansai was more popular than that from Kanto. However, this policy later led to improvements in the brewing technology of Kanto (Yoshida 1997a). The volume of kudari-zake shipped to Edo in 1856 was 72 million liters, whereas there were only 7.2 million liters of jimawari-zake, sake made in the Kanto area. Because of this, residents in Edo drank kudari-zake overwhelmingly. Sawara Village (now Katori City in Chiba Prefecture) produced jimawari-zake that was shipped to Edo. In 1789, it shipped 37,800 l of sake to Edo in 1789 (Yoshida 1997b). Moreover, although sake breweries in the various parts of Chiba Prefecture shipped to neighboring areas, there was no connection with Edo (Yoshida 1997a; 1997b; Takahashi, 2012). In the fishing villages of Chiba Prefecture in the Edo period, there was one sake brewery per village. People engaged in the heavy labor of fishing exerted a large demand for sake, so sake brewing developed (Chiba Prefecture 2009). We expect that people in Chiba Prefecture drank local sake during the Edo period.
It is clear that recent developments in the distribution system, thanks to improved highway infrastructure, have increased the availability of Japanese sake brewed in other regions and imported alcoholic beverages, such as beer and wine. The increased availability of such luxury goods had a significant detrimental impact on Chiba’s sake breweries. There were three sake breweries in Tateyama Town in a list compiled by the Chiba Prefecture Brewing Association (1977), and according to information from our survey, the brewing industry operated until the 1980s or 1990s. All of these sake breweries have gone out of business because of the combination of reasons presented above.
In this study, we investigated potential environmental factors (e.g., landscape, soil, and ground water) and societal factors that were favorable for sake brewing in the coastal area in the 1920s. We clarified how sake brewing in these areas benefited from their proximity to the coast (the ecosystem service).
Water hardness classification
USA hardness (ppm)
0–60 less thana
Medium hard water
60–120 less thana
120–180 less thana
Very hard water
180 or morea
The groundwater under the sand dunes contains nutrients that originate in the remains of seaweed and animals deposited on the dunes and the salt spray carried by the wind. Nutrient concentrations are also high where sand-dune vegetation is abundant (Brown and Mclachlan 1990). The study sites all lay on alluvium, which forms an unpressurized aquifer in the sand-rich sediment. The groundwater in the northern part of the prefecture tends to flow to an alluvial lowland on the coast of Tokyo Bay from the Shimousa Plateau, which has an abundance of groundwater (Fig. 2). However, in the Tateyama district in the south, there is little freshwater in the basements of the surrounding plateaus. The unpressurized aquifer in the sand layer is used for shallow wells (Institute for Health in Chiba Prefecture 1983).
In the sandy marine alluvial soil in Chiba Prefecture, potassium, phosphoric acid, calcium, and magnesium concentrations are high. The calcium concentration of the groundwater in the aquifer containing the shell layer has been raised by the dissolution of splintered shells (Kaneko 1994; Kaneko et al. 1994).
Most of the sake brewery wells on the coast in Chiba Prefecture were approximately 5–10 m underground, providing a mineral-rich, hard water, high in calcium and magnesium (Kaneko et al. 2012, 2013). Much of the sake brewed in the study area used water from a freshwater layer formed by the coastal dune system.
We also clarified the following as factors that caused the decline of sake brewing as practiced in the coastal area in 1925: (1) bankruptcies and reconstruction difficulties that followed the destructive 1923 Great Kanto earthquake; (2) the wartime Industrial Adjustment Act, under which the nation was required to adapt, integrate, or close non-military-related industrial facilities to support military-related industries during World War II (1939–1945); (3) increased difficulty of sake brewing due to large quantities of groundwater being used by coastal industries during the 1960s and 1970s; and (4) altered transportation and distribution systems resulting from infrastructure improvements (e.g., changing from ship transport to railroads and roads), whereby Japanese sake from other regions and imported alcoholic beverages (e.g., beer and wine) could be obtained at cheaper prices. This brought on changes in the availability of luxury goods, and it was no longer possible to sell locally brewed sake.
Originally, we hypothesized that the fate of Chiba’s sake breweries was linked to the natural endowments of the local area. However, the situation is more complex than that, and many sake breweries went out of business because of changes in social circumstances.
We wish to express our sincere gratitude to the individuals engaged in sake brewing in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, Chiba Prefectural Library, and Chiba Prefectural Archives that provided Japanese sake information for their support of this research.
Both authors carried out the ecosystem services studies, participated in the sake breweries investigation and drafted the manuscript. KK participated in the design of the study and performed the statistical analysis. HM participated in its design and coodination. Both authors read and approved in the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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