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