Roberta Lima in conversation with Maho Otsuka,
the Toji of SHOUTOKU SHUZO [Part Two]

“Embodiment of Water”. Video stills. 2018. Courtesy of Roberta Lima and Charim Galerie. “Embodiment of Water”. Video stills. 2018. Courtesy of Roberta Lima and Charim Galerie.

Roberta Lima: When I had the privilege of experiencing sake-making with Maho Otsuka, I also noticed how she continues to challenge herself and the industry. The debate on women’s empowerment keeps growing in Japan, but she doesn’t go around waving flags or participating in large political actions. What she does is more about remodelling the sake industry from the individual, about being a toji and having a family at the same time. She is questioning and changing the system from within and I believe that’s important in how I do my performances as well. The fact that this kind of empowerment of women was happening not only within the art
scene was very beautiful and inspiring.

Maho Otsuka: I knew that it would be very demanding when I first decided to take on this job. There would be times when I would have to be up working early in the morning or late at night, so I thought that it would be impossible to get married and have a family like everyone else. But when the environment started to change and I saw my male colleagues getting married, starting a family and having children, I began to want my own children too. I felt I could work it out while continuing working as a toji. I started to have hope and believed that changes could be made when I was put in a position of responsibility.

Lima: I noticed that water, time and precision is very important in sake-making. You were constantly checking the rice and the time, paying respect to and loving all the elements. Could you explain more about the process of sake-making?

Otsuka: The first process of washing the rice, soaking it in water and then steam-cooking it, which we call ingredient processing, is essential in brewing sake. If this process goes wrong then the koji made from that rice may fail, or the rice may dissolve too much when fermenting in the mash, and have a negative influence on the taste. I believe that washing the rice speedily, and the amount of water the rice soaks up is the most important factor in sakemaking. The sake’s taste is greatly influenced by how water is used because 80% of sake is composed of water. If water with high mineral content is used the end taste will become sharp and if water with low mineral content is used the sake will taste softer and rounder. Kyoto’s water is very soft, so the sake made will naturally taste soft too, which is why the sake made in Fushimi of Kyoto has always been called “feminine” sake, and the sake made using the hard water of Hyogo, “masculine” sake.

“Embodiment of Water”. Video stills. 2018. Courtesy of Roberta Lima and Charim Galerie.“Embodiment of Water”. Video stills. 2018. Courtesy of Roberta Lima and Charim Galerie.

“Embodiment of Water”. Video stills. 2018. Courtesy of Roberta Lima and Charim Galerie.
Lima: We are always facing some kind of dichotomy in the world, like woman and man, or soft and hard. It’s something I think about in my performances as well. Why is it called feminine sake, why is there an image that soft = woman? The toji is working extremely hard to make the soft sake. This is something that also interests me. The presence of water during sake-making left a strong impression on me. Back in Finland I paid attention to its different states (Evaporation, Condensation, Freezing, Melting) for creating Embodiment of Water. I also noticed that water appears very frequently in Japanese mythology and pop culture as a symbol of power, like in
characters of Pokémon games.

Otsuka: It’s quite strange isn’t it, now that you mention it.

Lima: It was clear that I would work with the power behind her story and sake-making as a starting point, rather than directly addressing sake as a drink or a process. The way she heads towards what she wants, and the pure dedication is the same as what we artists do. Each story of sake-making, from waking up early every day to work, the precision of the processes, to the respect towards colleagues and the materials, all had their own power, which really appealed to me.
How should I address women empowerment? How will it relate to sake, and how can I reconstruct it to be visually coherent? The good thing about art is, that not everything has to make sense. I often work with the body, pain, resilience and endurance, but these are also poetic and have an aspect of beauty to them. That was how I understood sake-making; that there is that same aspect of beauty in the hard work. I’m so happy, as I would not have come up with this idea without meeting you, thank you.

Otsuka: I’m also happy and honoured that you took interest in sake-making.


*toji – master brewer
*koji – rice cultivated with a mould

conversation on 16th April 2018.

A sake brewery of Fushimi, Kyoto founded in 1645. The Kimuras, originally brewing sake in Rakuchu, transferred to its current location in Fushimi, famous for its water, during the mid-Taisho period. Shoutoku Shuzo believes that Junmai sake (no adding of distilled alcohol) is the true form of sake, and continues to brew only Junmai sake, following rules strictly where needed, and allowing change otherwise.


  • Roberta Lima, Embodiment of Water, 2018, Kyoto Art Center. Photo by Yuki Moriya.

    Roberta Lima

    『Embodiment of Water』

  • Roberta Lima Artist Talk


  • Talk: Dialogue on Technique (Sessions 1-3)