Aspiring brewer taps Fukushima town’s hops in bid to boost sagging farming industry
“I can’t wait to drink delicious beer made from homegrown hops,” Makoto Honma, the president of Hop Japan Inc., told farmers with a smile in April when he visited them in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. While his company was originally intended to focus on the production and sale of homegrown hops, Honma is now planning to build a craft beer brewery in the city amid the recent surge in popularity of locally produced beer and unique brewing methods. Currently, most domestic hops are grown based on contracts with major breweries, but the production outlook is dim due to a dwindling number of farmers in Japan and falling consumption of big brand beers. The 52-year-old also believes the realization of his dream would help solve problems related to the abandonment of local farms and revitalize rural tourism. His brewery dream originates from his experience in the United States a decade ago. While working as a spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power Co. in 2008, the Yamagata Prefecture native decided to take a two-year leave to study English in Seattle. During his stay, Honma developed a fascination with local craft beer and the brewery business. In 2014, one of his friends asked him to help in negotiations with producers of Tohoku-grown hops, further piquing his interest in the industry. Honma said the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, and subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis, had a major impact on his life. “I want to make hop production sustainable in Tohoku. I would do whatever I can do as we can only live once,” he said, recalling his new outlook on life. Honma decided to quit his job and launched Hop Japan in Sendai in 2015. He later learned that Fukushima Bank offers financial aid for startups, leading him to move his company to the city of Fukushima in order to receive the funding. Honma was later tapped by the Reconstruction Agency to grow hops in Tamura, where farmers sought alternative crops because of the falling production of tobacco leaves. Tamura officials later asked him to build a brewery in addition to farming hops. Prompted by the local passion, Honma decided to follow through with the plan, and is set to move to the city by the end of the year, taking further steps toward fulfilling his dream. “By promoting the brewery business, I’d like to realize a society where economic activities from producing and processing to selling, work together in unison,” he said.