Tokyo, Apr 4 (PTI) A 17th-century Japanese lord produced wine and opium for medical purposes 200 years earlier than thought, a study of ancient documents has found.

It was believed that large-scale Japanese wine brewing began in the 1870’s.

However, researchers found that the wine produced by Tadatoshi Hosokawa, a 17th century lord of Kyusyu, Japan, in the Kokura Region began more than 200 years earlier in 1627.

The researchers also showed that Lord Hosokawa ordered his liegeman, Taroemon Ueda, to make wine from wild grapes and send it to Edo, the former name of Japan’s capital city Tokyo.

A detailed study by the researchers from Kumamoto University in Japan shows that wine was only produced from 1627 to 1630, and that Lord Hosokawa ordered the wine be sent to Edo for each of those four years.

During that time, winemaker Taroemon was promoted to vassal for his successful wine and medicinal sake making techniques.

Researchers found that black soybeans were used in addition to wild grapes in the wine making process.

Black soybeans promote fermentation and it is believed that the addition of black soybean yeast helped ferment the wild grapes, which have a relatively low sugar content.

In essence, Lord Hosokawa’s wine was made by fermenting wild grapes, rather than by simply soaking wild grapes in alcohol.

The researchers also found that the Hosokawa family was producing opium in 1629. It is thought that opium imported from Nagasaki was used for medicinal purposes, such as sedation, analgesia, cough suppression, and hypnosis.

The winemaker Taroemon became responsible for opium production, which started in the spring and produced about 1.27 kg of opium by autumn.

A description of opium imports was found in the historical record from the previous year (1628), as was a note from Lord Hosokawa which read, “I am dissatisfied with the opium ordered (from Nagasaki) so it shall be returned.” It may be inferred that Lord Hosokawa desired a commodity of higher quality.

Evidence of wine imports to the Kokura region is older than the description of opium imports. In 1623, a letter written by Lord Hosokawa ordered the purchase of sweet wine from Nagasaki. Imports continuing until 1639.

In 1638, a sick Lord Hosokawa entered the Shimabara Rebellion – an uprising of mostly Catholics that resulted in the prohibition of Christianity – on the side of the central government.

He commanded that wine be sent to Kumamoto, which became his territory in 1632, for medical use on the battlefield.

In that same year, another regional lord with an affinity for wine requested some through Lord Hosokawa’s son.

Lord Hosokawa replied, “I have contacted Nagasaki, but since wine is known to be used when converting to Christianity, merchants have stopped trading it to avoid suspicion that they may be Christians.” From these transcripts, researchers uncovered that both lords and merchants recognised that wine had become a prohibited Christian drink.

In the following year, Lord Hosokawa appears to have made one last order to send wine to Edo.

For an ailing Lord Hosokawa, it is inferred that wine had great medicinal value, but as a lord famous for his loyalty to the central government he could not continue to produce or import the forbidden Christian potation. His suffering is evident in the documents from this time period.

After the Shimabara Rebellion was suppressed, the central government prohibited port entry from Portuguese ships, eliminated Christianity, and restricted trade with Western Europe to only the Netherlands, which promised not to propagate Christianity in Japan. This marked the beginning of Japanese isolationism.

The research shows that Lord Hosokawa had a passion for importing and producing wine during the twenty years before Japan’s isolation.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.