Mar 31, 2009

Matsumoto Soy Sauce Store and "Kagamiyama"

The "Kamonrakuza" store in Kawagoe City ( is selling soy sauce, soy-sauce-pickled vegetables, and sake. The sake sold is "Kagamiyama" brewed by Koedo Kagamiyama Brewery and the soy sauce is called "Hatsukari," which is produced by Matsumoto Soy Sauce Store.

On 28 of March, when I visited Kawagoe City, I could have a study tour into the factory of the above Matsumoto Soy Sauce Store. This factory is adjacent to the "Kamonrakuza" store. Incidentally, the brewing facilities of Koedo Kagamiyama Brewery are on the same premises of this soy sauce factory.

We were ushered into an old storehouse called Tempo-gura by a guide from Matsumoto Soy Sauce Store. Inside the storehouse, I saw arranged wooden tanks used for making soy source in the dark space filled with cool air. There are about 40 tanks in this building according to the guide. He said that about six thousand to eight thousand 1.8-litter bottles of soy sauce could be made with a single tank.

These wooden tanks looked very old, so I asked the guide, "What will you do if a tank decays or break down and you cannot use it any more." He said, "Making one wooden tank will cost us about 15 million yen so we need to handle these tanks carefully so that we can use them as long as possible."

He explained, "It costs 1 to 1.5 million yen to make a bamboo hoop, which secures wooden pieces to form a tank. However, it is very difficult to attach a new hoop to a tank and to tightly fasten it. So, we usually prepare an iron hoop, which costs about 100 thousand yen. However, iron hoops can be used for only two to three years."

His explanation continued, "Soil is placed on the roof beneath the roof tiles of the storehouse building, providing heat insulation." Inside the building, I looked up and saw thick beams and pillars, which were supporting the heavy roof. These beams and pillars looked dirty, there were spider webs in places. However, they leave these beams and pillars unclean. He said that cleaning these things too much damaged the natural yeast fungus living inside the building. These yeast fungus are very important for them to make soy sauce.

He also told that different tanks had different conditions and different tanks produced soy with slightly different flavors.

Probably, this storehouse is maintaining a temperature, humidity, and other conditions which are favorable for microorganisms including soy yeast fungus. I felt this storehouse itself were alive. This building, the wooden tanks, and other tools of this factory must be invaluable assets of Japanese brewing culture and technology. I hope that Matsumoto Soy Sauce Store will maintain such assets in the future.

Today's Sake
Tokubetsu-junmai Muroka Nama Genshu Kagamiyama (Koedo Kagamiyama Brewery)
I hear there used to be Kagamiyama Brewery near the Honkawagoe Station before. Unfortunately, this brewery discontinued its operation in 2000. Then, in 2007, Kawagoe citizens and the municipal administration hoped the restoration of the brewery, and the new Koedo Kagamiyama Brewery was established on the premises of Matsumoto Soy Sauce Store. Thus, the reputed Kagamiyama sake was revived. Therefore, Koedo Kagamiyama Brewery is a young brewery, which has been operating only for two years or so. This brewery is making sakes whose classes are higher than junmaishu, and its sakes are all carefully "hand-made" by using the tray or box method for koji preparation and bag-hanging method or fune-pressing method for pressing sake.
Last year when I visited Kawagoe, I had a chance to drink this Kagamiyama and found it very attractive, and I became a fan of this wonderful sake. This tokubetsu-junmai is also good.
Seimaibuai: 60%
Alcohol: 17-18%

Mar 22, 2009

Japan's Best Ume Grove and Sawanoi Sake

Yoshino Baigo in Ome City, Tokyo was recently ranked by Nihon Keizai Sinbun Newspaper as the top among the notable sites for plum blossoms in Japan. On March 21, I attended an event, in which we visited the Ume-no-koen Park in this Yoshino Baigo area to admire plum blossoms and then had lunch with enjoying Sawanoi sake. This event was sponsored by Ozawa Brewery.

I got to the park at around 10:30 when Mr. Junichiro Ozawa, president of Ozawa Syuzou, and other company's staff were waiting for us near the gate of the park. We waited further for a while until all the prospective participants came there. Then, we started walking to see the sights in the park. Park guide Mr. Makoto Sawada showed us around the park and explained about plum trees and other plants in the park.

He showed us a plum tree called "ogonbai" (literally translated as golden plum), which had small yellow blossoms, and other rare species of plum. In additions to plum trees, there were many plants to see, such as "azumaichige" and "omeso." I learned much of these plans.

[Left: ogonbai, right: azumaichige]

After admiring the plum blossoms, we moved to the restaurant "Ume no Sato Kyubei" ( to have lunch. This restaurant offered food in which they used pickled plum fruit as ingredients. Since this event is hosted by Ozawa Syuzou, sake was of course offered. We drank honjozo "Hanami-shinshu," slightly fizzy, murky "Haru no Yuki," and "Purari," plum wine made from plum and sake. Especially, "Hanami-shinshu" exhibited a fresh impression, seeming quite suitable for this plum blossom-admiring event.

After lunch, we enjoyed a hot bath containing plum and Korean ginseng essence. There, I could get quite relaxed. Beautiful plum blossoms, delicious food and sake, and hot relaxing bath ... , I enjoyed the day enough.

Today's Sake
Koshitanrei Junmaiginjo (Yukitsubaki Shuzo)
Elegant aroma mild sweetish taste. I also tried it warmed, which, I thought, was not bad.
Rice used: Koshitanrei
Seimaibuai: 60%
Alcohol: 15 - 16%

Mar 19, 2009

Niigata Sake Festa Report

Also this year, on March 14 and 15, Niigata Sake no Jin, an annual sake festa event, was held at the Toki Messe ( This annual event was first held in 2004, and this year it is the sixth time for this event to be held. About 78,000 people visited the site during this two-day event this year. The number of attendees is increasing year by year.

At the venue, booths of sake breweries from every part of Niigata Prefecture were arranged. On tables, there were a lot of sake bottles waiting for visitors. Other booths were selling soba noodles, sushi, deep-fried tofu, and other foods of Niigata. In places, tables and chairs were provided for visitors, who could eat and drink there.

Because of too many people, tables and chairs were difficult to secure if you went there late. I got to the venue about 12 o'clock, but my friend living in Niigata was get there earlier just after the opening, and kindly secured some space for me and other friends.

[We gathered at the place of this flag. "愛" means "love."]

Over 90 sake breweries operating in Niigata Prefecture gathered to attend this sake trade show. By purchasing the entrance ticket, which cost 2,000 yen and was valid for the two days, each visitor could enjoy limitless drinking of Niigata sake with a given sake cup, whose design had specially been arranged for this event. This event was really a paradise for sake lovers.

I brought a tray that can be hung from the neck so that it is placed in front of my chest. Carrying a PET bottle of chaser water, sake cup, and memo pad on the tray, I walked from booth to booth, drank various types of sake, sipped a mouthful of water sometimes, and took notes about sakes I tasted. Actually, I used this tray also last year, and some people remembered me. Also, since I was wearing kimono, it seemed that I attracted people's attention. As a result, I was approached by some people saying like, "I saw you last year," or "I know you because I saw your photo at an Internet site."

[Left: Tray is useful for a stand-up meal, Right: Tupperware used for bringing tavern nuts etc.]

Staff from sake breweries also noticed me and addressed me, saying, "Thank you for coming also this year," or the like. To me as a sake lover, people from the sake industry are all venerable persons as they are making such wonderful products. So, I feel quite pleased to be addressed by such people.

Finally, sake lovers from every corner of the country seemed satisfied in enjoying Niigata sake very much, and then left the Toki Messe with pleased expression on their faces.

Today's Sake
Gunki Ginsen (Sekihara Shuzo)
I was impressed by this sake, when tasting it in the 2009 Niigata Sake no Jin event. When drunk chilled, it smells like washed cheese. When warmed, it smells and tastes like Parmesan Cheese. Sake with strong characteristics and complex taste.
Alcohol: 15%
Sake meter value: (+)7

Mar 13, 2009

Sake "Sokamo"

There was a sake brewery until about 35 years ago on Lake Okutama. It had been operating in Tabayama Village, Yamanashi Prefecture. The place is very close to the boundary between the prefecture and Tokyo. The brewery was named Sakai Shuzoten and was making Japanese sake "Sokamo."

Sokamo means a brace of ducks, and it may be a brace of mandarin ducks, which are considered to be a harmonious couple. So, this name gave me an impression of something peaceful or happiness. I think this is a nice name as a sake brand.

However, Tabayama Village is quite a mountain village located upstream Lake Okutama, and my simple question was how the brewery could make money from their business.

Nearly a month ago, my friend Take-san and his fellows were planning to go on a Sokamo research trip to the village and I also joined them.

To collect information, we visited many places including the place where the brewery used to be operating, village office, liquor shops in the village, shrines, and a temple (we thought that shrines and temples had been receiving sake as offering). Finally, we reached an old man who was familiar to the deceased owner of the brewery.

From his story of the olden days when Japanese people suffered poverty soon after the Pacific War, we could somehow understand how the life of people in that time was and how their relation to sake at that time was.

At the time when a bottle of sake (1,800 ml) cost 550 yen (about 5 dollars), the daily allowance of the then typical worker was 240 yen. Sake was such a luxury item. In spite of this fact, sake was selling quite well. Why?

I understand that, when transportation was not so well developed as it is now and the sake that could easily be purchased in the village was only Sokamo and other few quality brands from Nada, a famous production center of Hyogo Prefecture, only Sokamo must have been the standard sake of the area. However, a big factor that we must take into account is that sake was a necessity for people's life in old days; they prepared sake in events of weddings, funerals, and various festivals including New Years' events. People were not very rich in those days, but they spent a good amount of money on sake because they had in their life many opportunities in which sake must be prepared and played important roles. I am sure that sake had significant meaning for their life.

Before, there must have been many chances to see bottles of Sokamo in many places in Tabayama Village. However, now, when driving the car through the village, billboards on streets no longer display the name of "Sokamo," but, instead, we see only "Sawanoi," the Tokyo's top-selling sake brand.

Today's Sake
Takaosan (Nakajima Shuzojou)
When I went on a light hike to Mt. Takao located in Hachioji City, Tokyo, I warmed this sake and drank. It has a sweet and tender taste. Although this is ordinary regular sake, when drinking this sake with facing to a beautiful Mt. Fuji, I felt quite happy. I think sake that makes you happy must be the best sake.
Alcohol: 15 - 16%

Mar 10, 2009

Sawanoi Sake Drinking Party

Sawanoi Sake Drinking Party was held at Izakaya Nanoka in Tachikawa City, on March 1. Fifteen people attended the party.

We often hold drinking parties as Tokyo Sake events. In such a party, many of the participants are frequenters. However, to my delight, I could meet five new faces this time. I hope they will become more interested in Sawanoi and other Tokyo Sakes.

This time, we focused on limited sake products from Sawanoi, which were usually difficult to purchase. As a result, many of the prepared sakes were fresh or intense-flavor sakes such as namazake and nigori-zake. So, I consulted the owner of the restaurant and decided to prepare Junmai Honjizake and Godanjikomi, which are year-round sake products of Sawanoi, to balance between different flavors.

We could compare different flavors of tasty Sawanoi sakes and had quite pleasant time. Even if they were from the same sake brewery, each product had its uniqueness in flavor and fragrance. Finding slight differences between different sakes, we enjoyed the drinking.

For myself, all sakes were nice, but I was impressed by the following sakes:

Risshun Asashibori (立春朝搾り): Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu (純米吟醸生原酒)
Flavor had well been generated. Pleasant to palate.

Kuramori 1997 (蔵守1997): Long-aged sake (長期熟成酒)
It had Crisp and clear impression as a long-aged sake. I liked it.

Nakagumi Ginjo (中汲み吟醸) BY19
I felt this was quite classy sake. Indescribable modesty in taste and mildness on the tongue.

Today's Sake
Kubiki (Kubiki Shuzo)
I found this cup type sake on the shelf in a Ministop convenience store in my vicinity. This was a genshu and was quite dry. I am sure it goes well with various types of food.
I don't know why, but Ministop carries goods with the Kubiki brand, such as Rice Ice-cream, bath agent containing sake essence.
Alcohol: 19 - 20%