Dec 31, 2008

Yearend Party for Tokyo Sake Fans

A yearend party was held in the restaurant called Kaoriya Sunday (December 28) in Tachikawa City, Tokyo. The party was hosted by the Tokyo Jizake Community, a community in the mixi SNS. The party attendees were all lovers of sake brewed in Tokyo.

We enjoyed 12 Tokyo sakes prepared by one of the attendees who is the owner of the restaurant Kaoriya. These sakes are all new brews of this season, having fresh flavors and enchanting aromas. Also, the attendees included one guy who was a chief sake brewer brought two bottles of Juemon, a sake brewed by him. Juemon was just marvelous sake with a bold and rich taste. I myself also brought an unfinished kijoshu (see "Today's Sake" at

So, the amount of sake added up to about 60 go (10,800 ml). Since we were 17 people, so 3.5 go (630 ml) per capita. This is the average amount and I probably drank more than the average. I may have been drunk about 4 go (720 ml) or more. I must also take into account the fact that most of them were genshu (sake not diluted), with higher alcohol percentage than usual sake. So, the amount I drank was equivalent to about 5 go (900 ml) of usual diluted sake in terms of alcohol amount. In a nutshell, this amount is too much for me.

So, naturally, I got quite drunk. However, it is quite good to enjoy merry inebriety with friends, isn't it?

Today's Sake
Nakadori Nama Genshu Junmai Muroka Juemon (Toshimaya Shuzo)
Whether it is non-pasteurized or pasteurized, I love the rich and meaningful flavor of Juemon.
People should know that there is the amazing sake named "Juemon" in Tokyo.

Dec 29, 2008

Kimono Chirstmas Party

On December 23, a kimono-wearing party called "Kimono DE Christmas" was held in Chez Daigo Yaesu, a restaurant near JR Tokyo Station.

Around 50 people attended this buffet-style party. Almost all the attendees were wearing kimono because of the dress code of this event.

My acquaintance Shino Hagio, a jazz singer sang some songs for us accompanied by the guitar by Osamu Jimba.

Please play back the video to listen to their music and see how the party was.

Incidentally, we cracked a sake cask open and drank sake from the cask. This sake was futsu-shu (regular sake), but, having absorbed the scent of the cask that was made of Japanese cedar wood, the sake tasted quite fresh and good.

Today's Sake
Kasen Funeshibori Muroka Nama Genshu Honjozo (Tamura Shuzoujo)
This sake is brewed in a sake brewery in Fussa City, Tokyo. This sale-by-subscription sake is quite rare, and I had to ordered it in advance.
The first sip was impressive and I soon discerned the characteristic taste of a sake by this brewery quite impressively and felt this was the taste of Kasen. Elegant and meaningful.
Seimaibuai: 60%
Alcohol: 19 - 20%

Dec 11, 2008

Complicated Sake Name

Lately, I feel a kind of gap between sake breweries and sake consumers.

There are many types of sake. Fore example, sakes called tokuteimeishoshu (sake with a special name) actually includes eight different types of sake. They are honjozo, tokubetsu-honjozo, ginjoshu, and daiginjoshu (alcohol-added sakes), and junmaishu, tokubetsu-junmaishu, junmai-ginjoshu, and junmai-daiginjoshu (sakes to which no alcohol has been added). Each of these names of tokuteimeishoshu is defined according to whether brewing alcohol has been added to the sake, the value of seimaibuai (to what degree the rice used has been polished down), and other criteria, and there is a law to define the criteria to specify these names.

Also, there are other ways to classify sake. Usually, pasteurization process is applied to sake twice during its production process. However, Namazake is a sake to which no pasteurization process is applied through its entire production process while namachozoshu is pasteurized immediately before it is shipped and namazumeshu is pasteurized immediately before it is stored for aging process. Unlike usual sake, which has been diluted with water to make it easier to drink, a sake called genshu has not been diluted. Another classification method divides sake into three categories according to in what stage of the sake-pressing process the sake has been pressed. If sake is pressed in the beginning state, it is called arabashiri. Sake pressed in the middle stage is called nakadori, and one pressed in the final stage is called seme.

Since some of the terms described above are concurrently used to form a sake name, a sake can have a name like "nakadori fukuroshibori junmai-ginjo yamahai muroka nama genshu" (fukuroshibori: a pressing method using cloth bags, yamahai: a method for preparing a yeast starter, and muroka: unfiltered). Such a name is quite complicated and it is difficult for general sake consumers to correctly understand the meaning. Such a name indicates how the sake has been made and only those who have a knowledge about sake brewing process can decipher the meaning. However, first of all, is it necessary for a sake drinker to understand how the sake she/he is drinking has been made?

It seems that sake brewers are directing their attention only to sake reviewers, sake enthusiasts, sake connoisseurs, and appraisers from the National Tax Agency. I think they should view their products from the viewpoint of general sake consumers.

Now, it is Christmas season, and towns are illuminated by many small lights in the nighttime. The kimono circle I belongs to will hold an annual Christmas party, in which everyone must wear kimono. For this year, we plan to bring a sake cask to the party for a toast although Christmas and sake sound somehow mismatched. I hope that people enjoy sake more freely in various situations like we will do in our Christmas party.

Today's Sake
Ipponjime Koshinohakugan (Nakagawa Shuzo)
Honjozo Ipponjime Koshinohakugan
Again, I was attracted by the name "Ipponjime," which is the name of a rice variety, and I purchased this sake because of this name. Since I heard this rice variety had decreased in crop yields recently, I wondered what type of variety this was and became interested in it.
The sake exhibits elegant balance between various sensations of flavors while possessing keen dryness.
The rice used has been polished down to 57%, which is low enough to be called ginjoshu in terms of seimaibuai. So, I can say this is a posh sake.
Rice used: Ipponjime
Seimaibuai: 57%
Alcohol: 15 -16%

Dec 5, 2008

Niigata Sake Masters' Gathering

Niigata Seishu Tatsujin Kentei (Niigata Sake Master Certification Test), which assesses testees' knowledge of Niigata sake, was held for the first time in Niigata City in March this year. The successful testees have been certified as do no tatsujin (bronze masters). This certification test is planned to be held every year. Next year, they will certify gin no tatsujin (silver masters).

On the second day of this month, a party named "Niigata Seishu Tatsujin no Tsudoi" (Niigata Sake Masters' Gathering) was held in Niigata City for all the bronze masters, and I participated the party because I have also been certified as a bronze master. I needed to pay 5,000 yen as a membership fee and the trip to Niigata cost me quite a lot of expenditure, but I determined to participate the gathering because I have good acquaintances in Niigata and foods of Niigata in winter are quite attractive.

In addition, if I can get translation jobs concerning sake-making industry in Niigata, such a situation will also be favorable for me. I thought I could probably have some talks and make myself known to some key persons in the Niigata sake business.

Since I am a tall guy (188 cm) and, in addition, I was wearing kimono during the party, I seemed to attract attention from those in the venue. I was even interviewed and filmed by some local TV staff. If you are a show-off, it is a good idea to wear kimono when appearing in public.

Although I am not sure whether my kimono helped people get interested in me, I could talk with some persons from sake breweries in Niigata Prefecture and a person from the prefectural municipality, and we exchanged business cards. So, the gathering was worth participating to me. They told that they were preparing a guidebook of Niigata sake in English, and I expect they will actively promote Niigata sake in the global market in near future. I believe that a person like me who enjoys sake and have ability of language translation will be useful for them. If I can have a translation job regarding sake and can introduce sake to people in the world, it would be quite an enjoyable job for me as a sake lover.

Niigata sake was formerly not as popular as it is now. In the time when sake brewing technology was not so advanced, fermentation control of sake was very difficult if soft waters were used because soft waters did not help yeast and other microbes work very well. And waters in Niigata Prefecture were soft waters. As a result, they could not make good sake with Niigata waters.

In recent years, sake brewing technology has advanced, and now they can well brew sake relatively easily even with soft waters by the method of long-period low-temperature fermentation. Also, change in tastes of people has helped Niigata sake, which has a clear flavor with a crispy aftertaste, gain in popularity. Now, Niigata Prefecture boasts of the third place in the country in the shipping amount of sake next to that of Hyogo Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture. Of course, I am sure that people concerned in the prefecture have been making efforts continuously.

My first visit to Niigata City in this year was in March, when Niigata Sake no Jin (Niigata Sake Festa) was held, and I visited this time to participate this gathering. So, this was the second time in this year to visit the city. In both times, I felt the enthusiasm for promoting Niigata sake from breweries in the prefecture, Niigata Prefectural Brewing Experimental Station, Niigata Prefectural Brewers' Association, and other staff concerned.

For example, they have developed their original sake rice, Koshitanrei, they are frequently setting up opportunities for education and technology exchange in the brewing industry, and they have established the Niigata Original Sake Brand Control Association to protect and promote Niigata sake brand. I was much impressed by their continued efforts. The Niigata Sake Masters' Gathering at this time must also be a part of such efforts.

When they knew that I came from Tokyo to participate the gathering, each person on the organizer side expressed their gratitude from the heart saying, "Thank you for coming such a long way." I really felt their true and earnest heart. I am not a very big Niigata-sake lover, but, being so much thanked, I would like to yell for Niigata sake.

By the way, I regret that I could not enjoy good foods and sakes prepared that evening because I was busy in talking and exchanging cards with many people. When I noticed, there were only few foods. In spite of the fact that seafood is really good in Niigata, I found only some sandwiches, cakes, fruit, etc. However, I was given a bottle of Niigata sake as a souvenir. So, I must be satisfied.

Today's Sake
"Shinmai Shinshu Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori" and "Jukusei Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori" (Kikusui Sake Co., Ltd.)
These are canned sakes. I drank them in the Shinkansen train when coming back from Niigata.One of the pleasures of travel is enjoying uncommon and delicious foods or drinks of different places.

In a train, having box lunches and beverages sold in the train or at a station is also enjoyable.

In such a case, canned sake or cup sake is quite handy. They are usually cheap sake, but these canned sakes are quite good! "Shinmai Shinshu Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori" (green can) is a nama genshu of the honjozo type, and "Jukusei Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori" (red can) is a nama genshu of the ginjo type. Both have rich and bold flavors, and the latter has more fragrant because it is a ginjo type sake.

Dec 1, 2008

Autum leaves, Waterfall, and a Sake in Niigata

On Sunday (November 30), I and my hiking company went for a hike for seeing autumn leaves in the western Tanzawa Area in Kanagawa Prefecture. We parked the car in the parking lot of the Nishitanzawa Shizen Kyoshitsu (literally translated into "Nishitanzawa Nature School"). The destination peak was Azegamaru.

First, we walked up along a creek. Although there were several erosion-control dams we needed to climb over, the walk along the stream was quite enjoyable. The water seemed clear and pure and even the entire ravine looked bright, which was maybe because of the white sediments of quarts diorite sands on the riverbed under the clear blue sky of the late autumn.

After about 50 minutes along the creek, we came to the point where the path to the peak left the creek, but before we left the creek we saw a waterfall named Hondana no Taki. We needed to walk up along the creed for a few minute to the waterfall, but I must declare that this waterfall is well worth seeing. This about 60-m high waterfall drops almost vertically, and the fall crest looks like a knife that is cutting the hard rock into two.

After seeing the waterfall, we continued walking along the mountain trail which was getting steeper. When we got close to the mountain ridge, we saw many Japanese andromeda trees. Each of theses evergreen trees looked getting ready for the next spring by preparing many small flower buds on their branches. When we reached the ridge, colorful autumn leaves were replaced with dry and dead leaves; winter was already more dominant than autumn on the ridge.

We continue walking along the trail on the ridge repeating several times of uphill and downhill walk. Since we could have a clear view of mountains around because of the fine weather, the walk on the ridge was a merry experience. In addition, there was very little breeze, so we did not feel coldness in spite of this late autumn season. Finally we reached the summit after needing about two-hour walk on the ridge. We had late lunch there, and went back the same trail to the car.

Today's Sake
Junmaishu Koshinotsukasa (Imayotsukasa Shuzo)
Junmai Koshinotsukasa was my most favorite sake of the five sakes I tasted when I visited Imayotsukasa Shuzo in Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture.
At this time, I tasted a junmai, junmaiginjo, junmaidaiginjo, junmai shiboritate nama-nama, and junmai karakuchi types.
Among these sakes, Junmai Koshinotsukasa had an excellent fragrance and is gentle but rich in flavor. It first tasted like a junmaiginjo sake rather than a junmai sake. Actually, it is said this sake was brewed in the method for making junmaiginjo sake using rice polished down to 65%, which is a little bit higher percentage value for making junmaiginjo sake.
After tasting this sake I purchased a bottle of this, and I plan to try drinking it warmed next time.
Rice used: Gohyakumangoku
Seimaibuai: 65%
Alcohol: 15 - 16%

Nov 26, 2008

Gathering for Enjoying Tokyo Sake

Tokyo tends to be conceived poor in nature due to its image of the center of Japan's business, economy, and politics, but there are many places in Tokyo richly endowed with nature. In some of these places, sake breweries have been making sake using good waters, which are blessings bestowed by nature, since olden days.

Actually, there are 12 breweries in Tokyo, and 4 breweries in the Nishitama area (western part of Tokyo) collectively hosted the Eighth "Gathering for Enjoying Nishitama Sake and Sake Cups" at Tachikawa Washington Hotel in Tachikawa City on Sturday 22, November. I participated the gathering. The host breweries were Nakamura Shuzojou from Akiruno City, Ishikawa Brewery and Tamura Shuzoujou from Fussa City, and Ozawa Shuzou from Ome City.

The gathering is held in Café de Paris (, the restaurant on the third floor of the hotel, and twenty sakes from these breweries, including daiginjo, and junmai-daiginjo sakes, were served with the food of the restaurant.

Since this was already the eighth "Gathering for Enjoying Nishitama Sake and Sake Cups," there were many attendees who I had got acquainted with. So, when I entered the restaurant, I felt quite easy, and I could enjoy talking and drinking during the gathering. We also enjoyed playing bingo, and some lucky attendees won bottle of sake from these breweries.

All the sakes served were good and they well suited the food, which is European cooking. I believe sake goes well with any types of food including not only Japanese food but also Western food and I think the gathering at this time well exemplified how sake goes well with Western food. I hope the parties concerned will continue to make efforts for familiarizing sake to the public and provide opportunities in which people can enjoy sake with various foods.

Today's Sake
Kisho Ginjo-namazume Shiroyamazakura (Nozaki Shuzo)
The article this time is about the gathering for enjoying Nishitama Sake. Nozaki Shuzo making "Kisho" brand sake is also a brewery in the Nishitama area. This brewery is a small company located in Akiruno City, Tokyo. I hear that the brewery is sticking to the method that has not been changed since olden times, and making a small amount of sake in an attentive manner.
Usually, sake is pasteurized twice in its production process, soon after sake is pressed and immediately before it is shipped. But, for a namazume-shu, the pasteurization immediately before the shipment is omitted. This ginjo-namazume-shu is a wonderful sake that is well balanced between the matured taste from aging and freshness.
Alcohol: 16 - 17%

Nov 15, 2008

The Opening of Tachikawa Yataimura Paradise

In Tachikawa City, Tokyo, the Yataimura Paradise ( was opened yesterday. This is a small food squire consisting of ten and several retro-style small restaurants. We went there as first visitors of this pleasant place.

The place opened 5:00 p.m. and we reached there 5:15. The place was not so crowded at first, but only after about an hour, the seats of most restaurants were occupied by customers.

We first went to a yakitori shop, and then Okinawa food restaurant. Employers of those restaurants looked not very accustomed to handling their jobs because of the first time for them to perform their jobs. Actually, when I paid for the food in the first yakitori restaurant, we were the first customers for this restaurant who were to pay money. A cashier calculated the sum very awkwardly while we were waiting patiently. Finally, she calculated the sum. I gave her a 10-thousand bill. She opened the cash register, ... . and found no change there!! Oooops! They seemed to have forget to prepare changes.

Anyway, this is a pleasant place and there no place like this in my vicinity, so I am sure that I will frequently visit this place in the future.

Shichihonyari Junmai Wataribune (Tomitashuzo)
After visiting the Yataimura Paradise, we went to a restaurant run by my acquaintance. There, knowing that I was interested in this sake, he kindly kept it for me. This is for me the second sake using the rice variety Shiga-wataribune-roku-go. This sake is mild on your palate, leaving flinty impression.
Rice used: Shiga-wataribune-roku-go
Seimaibuai: 77%
Alcohol: 15 to 16%
Sake meter value: (+)6
Acidity: 2.1

Oct 29, 2008

A Rice Variety -- Shiga Wataribune Roku Go

(Liquor shop Hashikawa in Nagahama City)

I was staying in Nagahama City in Shiga Prefecture on October 18. I dropped in a liquor shop Hashikawa in the city and purchased a bottle of sake named "Shigasakari Wataribune." "Waratibune" is taken from the name of a rice variety Shiga Wataribune Roku Go, which is used to brew this sake.

The rice variety Shiga Wataribune Roku Go (sixth variety of the Wataribune group) was developed at Shiga Prefectural Agricultural Experiment Station in 1895 and belongs to an ancestral family of a famous sake rice variety Yamadanishiki. Wataribune Roku Go had been cultivated for making sake as a recommended variety of the prefecture between the period of 1916 and 1959, but then the cultivation of the variety was discontinued.

In a recent year, they started test cultivation of Wataribune Roku Go in Shiga Prefecture and test brewing was performed in the 2005 brewery year (*1). Therefore, the sake I purchased is presumably a product of just a few years old.

*1: A sake brewery year starts in the beginning of July and ends in the end of June.

(A lot of kimono-clad women appeared in Nagahama City because the city held a kimono event on this day.)

Today's Sake
Junmai-ginjo Shigasakari Wataribune (Omi Shuzo)
I like the strong acidity of this sake. The taste should be described as being bold and having a strong impression rather than being rich.
Rice used: Shiga Wataribune Roku Go
Seimaibuai: 60%
Alcohol: 18.3%
Sake meter value: (+)4
Acidity: 1.9
Yeast used: No. 1601

Oct 15, 2008

Takigi Kagura of the Mitake Shrine

October 12, my friend and I visited the Musashi Mitake Shrine to see takigi kagura performance. Kagura is a type of dances performed as religious rituals and is to be dedicated for gods of shinto. Seventeen pieces of kagura have been handed down to the Musashi Mitake Shrine. At this time of the year, some of these pieces of kagura are performed in the nighttime surrounded by bonfires. The word takigi literally means firewood.

We got off the funicular train at the station on the mountain top and walked about 20 minutes to reach a street flanked by souvenir stores and restaurants. We went through the street and came to a squire in front of a big torii gate. This was the place where takigi kagura was to be performed. There was already a temporary stage in the squire.

Until around seven o'clock, we spent time in a souvenir store restaurant called Chimotoya. When I visit this area, I often drop in this restaurant for a cup of coffee. The coffee served here is special one called "Iwashimizu Coffee," which I would recommend. Every morning, the owner of the restaurant goes into the mountains, gets water from a spring, brings it to the restaurant, and makes this aromatic coffee by using this water.

Every time you order the Iwashimizu Coffee, they serve some confections to eat with the coffee. In addition, they serve even a konjak food, which almost makes me order atsukan (warmed sake).

By the way, I found good sake bottle and cups and purchased them. The moon was in the state called jusanya-no-tsuki (a good moon to see) on the previous day, the design of these sake bottle and cups seems very suitable for drinking sake while admiring the moon.

Well, the takigi kagura started at 7:30. The plays included "Urayasu no Mai," "Hohei," "Daisago Kiri," and "Tanekashi (Inari)." Unfortunately, we needed to leave the place while the "Tanekashi (Inari)" was being performed for fear that we might miss the last funicular train.

"Urayasu no Mai" was created in the early Showa period and its song words were made by the Showa Emperor. The words express a prayer for world peace and this slow and elegant kagura dance is danced by two shrine maidens.

"Hohei" represents gratitude to the gods of shinto. The dancer jingles bells and swings a wooden stick at the end of which paper strips hang down, purifying the place ceremonially.

During the dance of "Daisago Kiri," the two dancers express movements of scattering rice grains. I am sure that the rice has been playing a very important part in the history of Japan. Since the rice is emblematic of the entire crops, the "Daisago Kiri" kagura is probably a prayer for rich harvest.

The rice also appears in the next play of kagura "Tanekashi (Inari)." A dancer wearing a hyottoko mask (droll faced mask) sows rice seeds, and a fox-masked dancer makes fun of him. A fox is the familiar of the god Inari. Inari is written "稲荷" in Japanese and the character "稲" means rice. Thus, this dance is also related to agriculture and a prayer for rich harvest. The hyottoko-mask actually climbs down from the stage, comes to you, and gives you real grains of rice.

Considering the fact that the food self-support ratio of Japan is lower than 40 percent, It is obvious that Japan must increase the production of agriculture. When seeing these dances, I feel that Japanese people should seriously think of Japanese agriculture not in terms of only the food self-support ratio but also the protection of Japanese culture.

Today's Sake
Sawanoi Honjo Nama(Ozawa Brewery)
I drank this sake in the restaurant Momijiya near the big torii gate of the Mitake Shrine.
A sake with the same brand tends to slightly change in its taste depending on its brewery year. One of the good points of Sawanoi sakes is that they have stable quality, having little fluctuation in taste.

Oct 10, 2008

Shishimai (Lion Dances) and Kashima odori

Long into Okutama Lake, a tongue of land juts out. A path, which seems so narrow that vehicles cannot pass each other, ascends toward the end of the tongue. Seeing the dark-green slightly rippling water of the lake on the right, I walk up the road. As I inch my way to the end of the tongue, the road goes on the left side of the tongue of land and winds up. Now I am on a cliff and I can look down the surface of the lake which now appears tranquiller than before through cherry trees and others. The mountain air in the early autumn feels crisp.

I continue walking and find myself at the entrance of the square where the shrine office building stands. In the square, several tens of people already occupy their own places. I climb the stone stairs on the right. Below on the right of the stairs is the road I have just trodden. Soon, I reach Ogochi Shrine that stands at the highest point of the tongue.

In 1957, the construction of the Ogochi Dam, which backs up the water of Okutama Lake, was completed. Then, this shrine was built to collectively enshrine the gods of the shrines in nearby districts that are now sunk deep in the lake.

Today, September 14, a festival of Ogochi Shrine was held. From nine o'clock in the morning, shishimai (lion dances) and Kashima odori dances were to be dedicated to the shrine. To see these dances, we got up early in the morning, take trains and a bus, came a long way, climbed the road of tongue, and were finally here.

When I was waiting for a band of shishimai on the stone stairs leading to the shrine, I heard bamboo fifes resounding through the cool air from a distance. Drums accompanied clear high-pitched sounds of the fifes. I traced the road lying below but it curved left and disappeared behind the mountain. The music of the shishimai band was getting closer and closer and I was anticipating the band would suddenly appear from behind the mountain. I was very much excited.

Finally, a band of shishimai lead by a guy wearing a happi coat came into view. Fifers, sasara players (sasara is a musical instrument made of bamboo and it makes rubbing sound, a sasara player plays this instrument wearing headgears ornamented with paper flowers), mando-bearers (mando is an object with drooping sprays of flowers and a stem to hold it up), and three dancers wearing lion-heads were marching over here. Children were running back and forth around them.

This shishimai band came from the Sakamoto district, and the other shishimai bands who were going to subsequently show their performance were those from the Kawano and Hara districts. The style of these shishimai dances is called sanbiki shishimai (three-lion shishimai) or sasara shishimai. Usually, the shishimai dance of this style is danced by three lion dancers who beat the drums tied to their waists and several sasara players who wear ornamented headgears, accompanied by several fifers.

The three lion heads used in shishimai are called oodayu, kodayu, and mejishi, translated into a big male lion, small male lion, and female lion, respectively, although how to call them varies according to the district. They can be distinguished from each other by their colors and horns. For example, an oodayu has voluted horns and a mejishi has no horn or has an orb on the head.

These three lions dance various dances, many of which represent simple, unaffected and trivial themes. For example, the story of the play called saogakari is like the following: The three lions were wandering in mountains and came to a point where a fallen tree was blocking their way. They were troubled because they could not go on. However, finally after some trial and error, they could successfully overcome their obstacle and they happily danced and played together. Quite a pleasant story, isn't it?

When the dances of the bands from the three districts were over, it was time when Kashima odori dances were going to be dedicated to the shrine. In this performing art, six women-kimono-clad men dance.

The dancers were wearing fascinatingly elegant kimono and golden crowns, and danced artistic dances, which were graceful and settled, to meaningful songs. It is quite amazing that such wonderful performing art was conveyed to the place in so deep mountains long ago and still exists even now.

Today's Sake
Honjozo Ginrei Tateyama (Tateyama Brewing)
When I went to scale Mt. Tsurugi in the North Japan Alps in August, I stayed in a mountain lodge. Fortunately, they were selling beer and sake in the lodge. At that time, I bought Ginrei Tateyama and drank it cold. It was palatable sake, I could drink it smoothly, and at the same time I felt stable body in this sake. The aftertaste was quite dry but flinty. Recently, I found the same sake on the shelf in the nearby liquor shop, and I bought it. This time, I am enjoying it hot. When warmed, it is not bad but it becomes somehow strong in terms of an alcoholic sensation.

Rice used: Gohyakumangoku
Seimaibuai: 70%
Alcohol: 15.3%
Nihonshudo: (+)5.0
Acidity: 1.4

Sep 18, 2008

Sake Brewery Tour -- Toshimayashuzo

September 9, my two drinking friends and I visited a sake brewery named Toshimayashuzo.

The brewery is making seishu Kinkon and Tenjo Mirin (sweet sake for cooking). In this period of the year, they are preparing for new sake making and getting busier. In this busy time, Mr. Tanaka, Sales Manager, and Mr. Ishii, Chief Sake Brewer, kindly made time to receive us.

They told us many interesting stories such as about the establishment and history of this brewery and the related company that has been operating since 1596, which was very popular among people in Edo (old Tokyo) for its shirozake (sweet white sake).

Then, we were shown their premises and facilities.

First, we saw the place where the water to be used for brewing was being pumped up from the depth of 150 meters under the ground. The water is filtered before being used for brewing. According to Ishii Chief Sake Brewer, the unfiltered water is also suitable for brewing sake but he uses the filtered water just because he knew, after he compared the two waters, that he could make better sake with the filtered one. Maybe, he is adjusting the "strength" of water by filtering so that it suites the brewing method of this brewery.

Next, we were taken to the "kamaba," or rice steaming place, where sake-making steps including senmai (washing polished rice), shinseki (soaking washed rice in water), jokyo (steaming rice), and horei (cooling rice) are performed. There were various machines and facilities for sake-making. Sales Manager Mr. Tanaka gave us an easy-to-understand explanation on how each machine work in sake-making process.

(Horizontal continuous rice steamer)

Steamed rice, after being cooled down, is blown by air pressure to reach the koji-muro (koji-making room) or a shikomi-tank (fermentation tank) through hoses .

Then, we were even able to enter the koji-muro. This is the place where a koji mold is cultivated on steamed rice to make kome-koji (malted rice). Since the activity of the koji mold is adversely affected by the activity of unwanted bacteria, those who are to enter the koji-muro are required to wash and disinfect their hands and change their footwear. Moreover, the koji-muro is hermetically insulated from the outside by the double door. We again had to disinfect our hands before entering the koji-muro.

It was humid and warm, nay, hot in the koji-muro! On a table, steamed rice that had just been carried in was spread out and covered up with white cloth. At this very moment and place, the process in which an amazing microorganism called koji mold changes the steamed rice into kome-koji (malted rice) is taking place. I carefully walked around in the room to see the steamed rice and the facilities there because I felt like I might interfere with the activity of the koji mold if I walked roughly.

After leaving the koji-muro, we entered the shikomigura (sake-brewing house), where several tens of big fermentation tanks are neatly arranged. Mr. Tanaka, a fast speaker, told us about sake-making process enthusiastically and restlessly. He kindly told us everything if asked, giving us good lessons.

Our sake brewery tour continued. After visiting the shikomigura, we saw a storage room, where pressed sake was stored, and other places on the premises. Then, we entered the room used for bottling. In this room, there was a lot of machinery, including the bottle washer, sake-bottle filling machine, capper, and labeling machine. Sake bottles are conveyed along the line including these machines. They are washed, filled with sake, plugged with caps, and labeled as they go through these machines, and become commercial products.

Near these facilities, placed were several tanks each of which measures about 120 centimeters in diameter and about 100 centimeters in height. When Mr. Tanaka partly stripped off the vinyl sheet covering one of the tanks, the fragrance flowed out of the tank. The tank was filled with clear and a little bit yellow-tinged liquid. "Judging from this characteristic fragrance, this is a junmaiginjo sake," said Mt. Tanaka decidedly. He let us smell this sake. I was just happy to know that all of so much liquid was really junmaiginjo sake. What the clarity and brightness of this sake!

Finally, we were led to and entered a big refrigerator where Okunokami, the sake of a special brand of this brewery, was stored, and we found Okunokami of the brewery year 15 (BY15) there. Even the Sales Manager and Chief Brewer had not tasted yet and had no idea about its flavor.

Later in the day, in the reception room, we tasted some sakes of the brewery. Luckily, Mr. Tanaka included that BY15 Okunokami among the sakes to be tasted. The other sakes included nice sakes of the brewery such as Toshimaya Juemon Junmai Nakadori Genshu Nama, Toshimaya Juemon Junmai Nakadori Genshu (pasteurized), Okunokami Junmai Nakadori Muchosei Nama, Junmai Hiyaoroshi. Additionally, Mr. Tanaka brought us a kijoshu, which is a sake of a rare type. This kijoshu had been aged for 23 years in the bottle. I will write about this kijoshu in the section of "Today's Sake" later in this article.

Both Okunokami and Juemon taste massive but, at the same time, it has a fresh and flinty flavor. According to Chief Brewer Ishii, raising the rate of kome-koji makes sake taste rich and deep. Also, he said the sake of this brewery well represents the characteristics of Miyagi Kobo (Miyagi Yeast).

Today's Sake
23-year Aged Kijoshu (Toshimayashuzo)
Kijoshu is a sake of a special type. It is brewed by using sake instead of water in some steps during the brewing process.
I tried a sip of this 23-year old sake. It was a wonderful sake, tasted rich, deep, and mellow, and suggested much of amino acid. Before tasting this sake, I guessed it tasted strong because of its brewing method. However the taste was actually quite meaningful and enjoyable.

Sep 5, 2008

Sake Tasting Cup

Kikijoko refers to a cup used for tasting sake. It is a white porcelain cup with two indigo blue concentric circles pained inside on the bottom. These blue circles are useful to check the transparency or clarity of sake to be tested and the background white part is used to check the color of sake.

In this year, I got acquainted with a person who is a board member and the sales manager of a sake brewery in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. Then, I have visited this brewery already twice. In such a case, I was very naturally treated with their several premium sakes at the brewery. He provided me with a kikijoko, which seemed to hold over one go (180 ml) of sake. Probably, this kikijoko is used for professional sake tasting. The thin rim of the cup is convenient to sip a mouthful of sake.

By the way, I drove the car to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji on September 1, 2008. Then, on my way home from the mountain, I dropped in a sake brewery called Nakamura Shuzo, which is not very far from my home. The brewery is making Tokyo local sake with the brand name of "Chiyozuru" and is located close to the interchange of Akiruno on the Ken-odo Express Way. On the premises of the brewery, there is a small exhibition room named "Sakezukuri Shiryokan," where a lot of tools that were used for making sake before are displayed. The displayed articles include a rice steamer, sake pressing tank, small vats, brewing tank, yeast starter tank, koji-making containers.

In a corner, there is a shop selling sake-related items such as sake cups and sake made in this brewery. You can taste some of the sakes sold there. Unfortunately, since I was driving this time, I gave up sake-tasting. Instead, I bought a large kikijoko for myself.

This cup is heavier than the one I used at the brewery in Nagaoka City and the rim is apparently thicker. When I later consulted an on-line encyclopedia, I learned that there are kikijoko's for professional use and those for general use. the professional use kikijoko can be used for a national sake contest held by the National Tax Administration Agency. The kikijoko of this type is light in weight and has a thinner rim. In addition, it has thicker indigo blue circles on the bottom helping sake testers check the clarity of sake. Seemingly, the one I have bought is for general use.

Nonetheless, a large-sized kikijoko seems convenient for tasting sake. When using such a cup, you can taste and smell sake more precisely. You can sip quite a good amount of sake and the wide-open rim of the cup covers your nose to help you smell the aroma of sake.

Today's Sake
Asahiyama Senjuhai (Asahi Shuzo)
Niigara Prefecture is famous for flinty, crispy, and meaningful taste of its sake. Asahiyama Senjuhai is one of such sakes, but this honjozo sake is drier than the average. The briskness of this sake may be good to drink it warmed in cooler weather, but, for now, I drink it cold since it is still hot.
By the way, "NIIGATA O C" mark in the lower right on the back label represents "Niigata Original Control." This is a symbol mark given to a sake that satisfies certain criteria for the quality of water, rice, techniques, etc. used for brewing the sake.
Seimaibuai: 60%
Alcohol: 15 - 16%

Aug 28, 2008

Shishimai (Lion Dances)

August 16, my kimono ladies and I visited the small village called Sakai in Okutama Town, Tokyo to see shishimai (lion dances). These dances are dedicated to the god of the Shirahige Shrine in this village and, according to local residents, these dances mean their prayer for rich harvest, rain-making rituals, and things.

We drove the car westward on the Ome-kaido street, which runs along the JR Ome Line, passed by the Okutama Station, continued driving along the meandering road along the valley, and went through several tunnels. We took the left immediately before the bridge named "Sakai-bashi," pulled over the car on the road shoulder. The place where shishimai was being performed was just in a five-minute walking distance from the car. We walked across the bridge, took the right immediately after the bridge, proceeded in the paved road in mountain through the grove of cider or cypress.

Cicadas were buzzing, and, among the buzzing, we began to hear bamboo fifes playing a treble part. The fifes were sounding in the sky, which already exhibited a subtle nuance of autumn. As we were approaching the shishimai place, the sound of music was getting louder. After a short while, we found the two longer-than-is-wide banners of the shrine flying high in the wind on two long poles.

Soon, the road forked and we took the right-hand path, which is a steep downward slope leading to a small open space, where three lions were already dancing. The dance, however, was over in five minutes or so, and the band of performers walked out of the place marching in a row to the tune of fifes and drums. As we believed that they would soon come back and start another performance, we waited for it.

After a short break, the performance started again, and it continued for about 40 minutes. The three performers who were costumed as lions were moving vigorously. Although the performers were in a mountain zone, the blaze of the summer sun were torturing them ruthlessly. I was sure they were having a hard time in continuing the dance for 40 minutes without a respite.

By the way, the style of this performance is called sanbiki-shishimai (three-lion dance) and is generally accompanied by the music of bamboo fifes, drums, and sasara (musical instrument made of bamboo and is used to make rubbing sound). The drums were not so big that the performers could tie them to their waists with cord. They danced with beating the drums. "Tom-tom tom-tom," the drums made dry rhythmical sounds while the high note of the fifes shook the clear air of the mountain. Sasara made rasping sounds, which were somehow low-keyed but playing an important backseat role.

The simple phrases of the fifes and drums, which were played over and over, came into my brain through the ears until the phrases became able to automatically be played back in my brain endlessly even after the music stops. However, although the music was the simple repetition of the same phrases, it never made me sleepy, but it paralized some functions of my brain and deprived me of the sense of time elapse. This day, we intended to spend 30 minutes or so to see the performance, but we had been staying at this place for over 90 minutes when we noticed.

Today's Sake
Three Sakes Brewed by Using Ice Stalagmite Water of Kurobe
I bought the three sakes below after visiting the Tateyama and Tsurugi-dake Mountains of the North Japan Alps. All of these sakes are brewed by using the water of ice stalagmites that are formed in the Kanden Tunnel, which is used as the dedicated trolleybus route connecting the Ougizawa Station in Omachi City, Nagano Prefecture, and the Kurobe-dam Station in Tateyama Town, Nakashinkawa-gun, Toyama Prefecture. At midwinter, this water is frozen in a moment soon after springing up from the bedrock, and every drop of the water accumulates to form stalagmites. However big is such a stalagmite, it is mono-crystal and almost free from contained impurities.
- Dokutsu-no-shimpi Hyojunsui-jikomi (Daisekkeishuzo)
- Kurobe-no-hyojunsui-jikomi Kinrankurobe Junmaiginjo (Ichinoyashoten) Miyamanishiki 100%
- Hakubanishiki Junmai Karakuchi Genshu Hyojunsui-jikomi (Usuishoten) Miyamanishiki 100%
These one alcohol-added sake and two junmai-type sakes are common in their light and flinty flavors, and taste quite dry. I wonder such flavors originate in characteristics of the hyojunsui (ice stalagmite) water? It may quite a "strong water."

Aug 5, 2008

Fireworks Display in Nagaoka

August 3, My friend and I visited Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, to see fireworks. The city's fireworks are quite famous in Japan and some people say this fireworks display is the best in Japan. Anyway, we left home early in the morning, traveled to Nagaoka City by Shinkansen bullet train, got to the city shortly after 11 o'clock, visited a sake brewery, saw fireworks, got on a night train, and then came back in the morning of the next day. Somehow a forced march.

In front of the Nakagoka Station, I found this structure. What do you think this is? (See the end of this article for the answer.)

One of my friends living in this city drove to the station to pick up us. He took us to a sake brewery in the city. Actually, this brewery is operated by him and his family. There, we were treated to a good sake, daiginjo that this brewery entered in the new sake contest. This sake smelled brilliant and tasted mellow. Quite a nice sake although it was aged and, according to my friend, changed in its taste.

By the way, we used kikijoko, or sake-tasting cup, to enjoy this sake. I found that this cup is really big! It can even sufficiently contain a beer can.

Late in the afternoon, we moved to the dry riverbed of the Shinano River, where people could sit down to see fireworks. True to its reputation of the Japan's best firework display, there are so many people at the fireworks-viewing site. However, the riverbed of the Shinano River was too broad to completely be occupied by this many people, and I didn't feel so much that the site was "crowded."

Unlike fireworks display held in many other places in Japan, they can prepare many firework launching spots because they, I guess, can use a broad shore of the Shinano River. And, the sky of the Nagaoka City serves as a big screen for displaying large-scaled art of firework. In the end of the show, they blasted off big shots of fireworks into the sky in the entire field of vision from as many as five launching spots at the same time, and, moreover, this continued for a minute or several minutes (I didn't measure the exact time). I am sure this was the greatest fireworks I have ever seen!

When I watched these fireworks lying on my back, the blast sounds strongly hit my chest and penetrated it to reach the ground, and shocked the ground. Then the ground, I felt, shocked my body again from my back. Ineffable majestic power and excitement ran through my body.
This was really great fireworks. Although the photos below cannot convey the power of these fireworks as much as I felt, here I place them.

Well, we had some extra time after the fireworks display until our train left. So, quite naturally, we dropped in at an izakaya restaurant close to the station. It was quite a hot day, and chilled beer was nice!

Of course, when visiting Niigata, sake lovers must not fail to enjoy jizake (local sake). Actually, we ordered sake tasting sets.

Today's Sake
Daiginjo Hakkaisan (Hakkaijozo )
Sweet and mild taste
Junmai-daiginjo Rokuno-esshu (Asahishuzo)
Discree aroma and meaningful taste with complexity unlike other ordinary daiginjo sakes. They use a rice variety called Senshuraku for this sake. Does this complex taste originate in this rice?
Kubota Suiju (Asahi shuso)
Good aroma, clean-cut, and mellow taste

Answer: If you see this from the opposite side, you will find two fireworks launchers.