Oct 31, 2009

Sawanoi Kurabiraki

At 9:30 a.m. on October 24, 2009, I was in the event of kurabiraki at Ozawa Syuzou (the brewery is open to the public in this event). In front of the brewery building in which they were offering sampling opportunities of sake was a long line of people waiting for their turns to taste sake.

Expecting that the sampling place would be less crowded later, I moved to Sawanoi-en (Ozawa Syuzou runs restaurants, rest house, corner for pay sampling service on their premises) for the moment. Sawanoi-en was not very crowded then.

"Ichibay san!" -- Someone called me. I turned around and found it was K san. We have known each other through the Internet, but it was the first time for us to see each other.

"I recognized you immediately, Ichibay san!"

Probably, I was easy to recognize; I wore kimono and I am tall. On this day, I happened to meet six or so acquaintances excluding those working for this brewery, and all of them noticed me earlier than I noticed them (later, I was even told by someone that he had noticed me at the kurabiraki). So, if you want to attract people's attention, wear kimono.

I bought namazake and drunk it at a table in the rest house. In the meantime, this place was also getting crowded. Even Mr. Ozawa, president of the brewery, was also busy selling Sawanoi's special okara shao-mai.

Well, back to the kura building for sake sampling, a placard indicating "A 2-hour wait for sampling" was being presented. "Oh, this line is as long as one I saw in Tokyo Disneyland!" Earlier, I thought the place would get less crowded in the course of time, but things in reality got worse!

It seemed that I had no choice but to join the line and wait for my turn. However, I was not bored while waiting in the line; a band of Japanese traditional musical instrument players were entertaining visitors; lion dance was being performed; a funny dancer wearing a droll mask walked down from the stage and made everyone laugh; a child, being half-frightened, was laughing at the droll mask and running around trying to escape from him. This idea for preventing visitors in the waiting line from getting bored also reminded me of Tokyo Disneyland.

Scenes inside the kura building

Many types of sake were provided for sampling, and they were classified into many groups including the regular sake group, junmai/honjozo sake group, distinctive sake group, etc. according to the sake characteristics. I could taste all of these types of sake.

"Iroha (Fountain of Tokyo)" is produced using this wooden tank, which is relatively small as a fermentation tank. Ozawa Syuzou is brewing Iroha with this small tank and the sake is being shipped to foreign countries including the United States. I hope this Tokyo sake will be known among people in the world.

Oct 29, 2009

Escapade at Japanese Inn Nikoso in Oita

In a room of a Japanese ryokan inn, various types of wigs such as those used for disguise of an oiran, geisha, samurai, maiko, etc. are lined on a shelf, and many kimono and other costumes are hung down on hangers or piled up high on tables. In a corner of the room was a carton box in which fake swords and spears are stored in disorder. Tabi socks are seen being stored in a translucent plastic chest that has about five drawers. The tabis seem to be sorted by size and stored in drawers corresponding to their sizes.

Something like a table or workbench is placed in the room. On it, foundation, brushes, and other items used for makeup are put in a jumble. In front of the table, two chairs are set in a face-to-face position. One is occupied by a man wearing a surgical mask, and the other is occupied by a woman. The man is busily painting foundation and drawing eyebrows on her face. The woman is apparently talkative and keeps talking to the man. Even when she must shut her eyes because he needs to paint foundation on her face and pat her face with sponge, her mouth is busy.

If you stay at the Japanese inn Nikoso located in Beppu city, Oita prefecture, you will witness a scene just like the above described. My friends and I stayed at this inn on October 18, 2009.

Formerly, many of the guests of Nikoso were those who enjoyed parties with gaisha, and the Hamawaki Onsen district where this inn was located was a lively hot-spring lodging town. However, the number of such guests decreased in the course of time, and the lodging business here has lost briskness.

The owner of Nikoso enjoys unusual costumes including women's kimono and wigs, disguising himself as a geisha, oiran, etc. He enjoyed such activities as a hobby at the beginning, and later, he started offering the guests of his inn opportunities to wear part of his clothes and wig collection and allowed them enjoy parties with such costumes. This offering by this inn gained in popularity attracting more and more guests. Now, guests are sometimes from abroad.

Now, this inn is known as the only ryokan in Japan offering costume party service, being visited by many people including repeat guests. You can choose your favorite outfit from 300 types of costumes when you stay at this inn. According to the owner, he sometimes goes to the Tokyo area to purchase new wigs and clothes in order to offer a broadened selection of costume in the service.

To tell the truth, I was indifferent to wearing costumes, but my friends insisted that they wear costumes and disguise themselves as an oiran, geisha, or maiko. Ok, I gave in and decided to stay at this inn.

I thought I would lose nothing by using this service because the lodging expense included the costume service. So, I finally decided on that day to disguise myself someone unusual.

"I don't look very serious."

"Crime of passion?"

"I was very happy to be flanked by two women."

Thus, I was cooking with gas.

By the way, I felt the humidity on the head when wearing the wig. Sweat containing the foundation and other dyes and looking blackish blue began to drip from my nose tip. I thought it difficult for me to enjoy the costume party with this heavy makeup.

So, I changed out of these clothes and went to the bath to wash off my makeup. This was an onsen (hot spring) and I was relaxed and refreshed. Then, I enjoyed the party with good foods. Probably, Nikoso is a good ryokan for those who want to disguise themselves as some unusual personae. Also, foreigners who want to wear Japanese kimono may want to stay at this inn.

Today's Sake
Sawanoi Ichibankumi Nigorizake (Ozawa Syuzou)
On 24, October, I attended the kurabiraki event (the brewery is open to the public in this event) of Ozawa Syuzou that is making this sake. This sake was sold only in this event. Personally, I prefer mellow aged sake to young just-pressed sake, but this sake is available only at this time of the year. So I bought this bottle. Drinking this fresh sake, I realize the autumn is far advancing.
Seimaibuai: 65%
Alcohol: 19 - 20%

Oct 26, 2009

Drinking Carrot Juice at Sake Brewery?

Before, I have drunk sake whose bottle bore a label on which a picture of a bird appeared. I remember the sake was rich and exhibited a pleasant aroma. I think it was "Tokubetsu Junmai Niwa no Uguisu." Yamaguchi Shuzojo is known for this brand name "Niwa no Uguisu."

During my trip to Kyushu from October 16 to 19, we dropped in Yamaguchi Shuzojo on the way from the hotel in Fukuoka prefecture to the next inn in the Oita prefecture.

When we almost reached Yamaguchi Shuzojo, we could not get any closer to the brewery because they were holding a festival at the nearby shinto shrine "Kitano Tenman Jinja," and regulating traffic. Having no choice but obeying the traffic controlling person, we parked the car in the parking lot according to his instruction, and walked on the road that we believed the right way to Yamaguchi Shuzojo. After just a five or so minute walk, we encountered a festival procession of children. We found they were proceeding just in front of the entrance of the brewery.

Yamaguchi Shuzojo is a small brewery producing only about 100 kilo litters annually. However, they are selling their sake also in the United States and other countries. Its Daruma Label sake of tokubetu junmai is introduced on pages at some Web sites such as those listed below. I hope also those living outside Japan can enjoy sake more easily.
True Sake

On this day, they were holding an exhibition of patchwork and attracting many visitors. They offered visitors opportunities to sample their sake. Unfortunately, I was driving the car and could not drink. The two friends traveling together with me were enjoying sampling various types of sake while I was making do with carrot juice (I don't know how come they had carrot juice for sampling). As to sake, I purchased a bottle of tokubetsu junmai hiyaoroshi, and I am now waiting for an opportunity to open this bottle.

Oct 24, 2009

Sake Brewery in Kyushu -- Nakano Shuzo

During my trip to Kyushu from October 16 to 19, I visited Yamaguchi Shuzojo in Kurume city, Fukuoka prefecture, and Nakano Shuzo in Kitsuki city, Oita prefecture.

The visit to Nakano Shuzo occurred on October 19, my final day in Kyushu. We were driving toward Oita Airport on that day, but we had enough time before departure. So, we decided to drop in an old castle town in Kitsuki city before reaching the airport. The main street of the Kitsuki castle town runs east and west on the bottom of the small valley that is flanked by two hills. There are store buildings on both sides of the street. They are liquor shop, soy bean paste store, kimono store, etc. and many of the buildings have whitewashed walls.

I purchased a bottle of sake, local sake of Oita. This was sake brewed by Nakano Shuzo. Later, we found that the brewery was located quite close to this town. So, we decided to visit the brewery.

The brewery was in a distance of just 5-minute ride of a car.

This brewery is making sake with the brand name of "Chie-bijin." I asked a clerk what the sake brand name derived from, and learned that the wife of the brewery founder was named "Chie."

Today's Sake
Chie-bijin Genshu (Nakano Shuzo)
This sake tastes mature and sweetish, while it has a good degree of acidity. It has a wild impact.
Alcohol: 18%

Oct 23, 2009

Drinking with Ittanmomen, a Cartoon Character of Kitaro

Recently, my friends and I visited Kyushu island (the southernmost one of the Japan's four major islands), stayed Nagasaki, Fukuoka, and Higashi-beppu, and spent one night in each city.

In Nagasaki city, we met members of the Nagasaki Kimono Study Circle and enjoyed the night of Nagasaki together. First, we visited a decent Japanese restaurant and enjoyed foods and some sake in a tatami-floored room in an elegant atmosphere. However, sake lovers from Tokyo as well as those in Nagasaki wanted more sake. So, we went out for some local sake to a drinking area.

This time, we appeared in Shianbashi Side Street, where many bars, restaurants and karaoke places are found.

My keen sense to locate places of good sake led us to a snug-looking izakaya, Sake Bar Ittanmomen. The name of this izakaya "Ittanmomen" is the name of a funny specter of the famous cartoon "Gegege no Kitaro." Wherever I am, I can locate whereabouts of good sake.

A cramped dark environment like the room in this video is very comfortable to me when drinking sake.

This time, I enjoyed the Nagasaki's local sake Rokujuyoshu Honjozo and Nokomi Junmai Ginjo of Saga prefecture.

Rokujuyoshu was sweetish with a dry aftertaste, exhibiting a quite characteristic taste. It seemed to be paired well with salty-sweet foods of Nagasaki.

Nokomi had mild and clean taste with a good ginjo aroma.

Oct 21, 2009

Shinto music and dance at Mitake Shrine

Located on the summit of Mt. Mitake in Ome city, Mitake Shrine has a long and venerable history. According to the Web site of this shrine, it was established in the 7th year of Emperor Sujin, which is indeed B.C. 91.

Emperor Sujin is the 10th Emperor and he appears in the Japanese myth Kojiki. So, the shrine was established as far back in the past as when main players of the myth were actually alive.

My friends and I visited this shrine to see takigi kagura (shinto music and dance performed under bonfires) on October 11.

Here, I present some photos taken during the performance.

(1) Urayasu-no-mai (dance praying for peace)
This number was performed by two junior high school girls. The dance and music are performed following lyrics composed by Emperor Showa. The lyrics say "I pray to the gods of the heavens and earth that the world may be peaceful like a calm sea in the morning that is not agitated."

(2) Hohei (offering of a sacred wooden stick to which paper strips hang down)
This dance is performed to purify the stage. The photo may not convey the atmosphere, but the performer danced a merry and rhythmical dance.

This performance represents a scene where a blade smith makes a celebrated sword with help from the god Inari (a god of harvests).

(4) Amano-iwato (rock door of the heavens)
This performance represents the legend describing how gods took out Amaterasu-ookami, who disappeared behind the rock door of the heavens. According to the Japanese myth Kojiki, since Uzumeno-mikoto goddess danced while baring her breast and slipping off her clothes down to expose her private parts, all the gods there broke into explosive laughter. Amaterasu-ookami opened the rock door slightly and watched out from curiosity. At this time, she was taken out of the door. Uzumeno-mikoto is probably the Japan's first nude dancer, but she stayed clad on the stage set up in front of the shrine.
Tajikaraono-mikoto, who is renowned for his unparalleled strong power, holds the rock door and throws it away in the photo on the right.

(5) Mountain god
This is the last number of this series of kagura performance. Kagura is dance and music to be dedicated to gods when food is offered to the gods. Rice cake is prepared as offering, and the performer of this performance throws the rice cake to spectators. So, we are given good luck from the gods.
I could collect seven pieces of rice cake. Since the rice cake is said to protect people from diseases and keep them sound, I brought it home and ate it with family. Thanks to the gods.

Mitake Shrine pavilions are on the summit of Mt Mitake, which stands 929 m above the sea level. Takigi kagura was performed in the open space in front of the torii gate that is located at a lower point than the shrine pavilions. Due to high elevation, it was cold at night in October. Even subtle warmness coming from the two bonfires placed on both sides of the stage along with the scent of soot was felt nice to me.

The dancers' clothes that emerged in the light of fire were sparkling as if they were corresponding to the flaring flames of the bonfires, drawing the audience into a world of illusion.

Today's Sake
Asazume-no-sake Sawanoi Honjizake (Ozawa Syuzou)
Ordinary Honjizake of Sawanoi except that it was bottled and pasteurized in the morning of October 1, the "Sake Day." When I bought this bottle in the evening, it was still slightly warm. I wanted the sake to stay warm until I brought it back home. So, I put the bottle inside my jacket and carried it. I could feel the subtle warmness of the sake and I felt my heart becoming warm.
Junmai sake with rich and bold taste.
Seimaibuai: 65%
Alcohol: 15 - 16%
Sake meter value: -1
Acidity: 1.6

Oct 14, 2009

Nama Genshu and soda

The Stand-up BarSawanosuke was open at Sawanoien run by Ozawa Syuzou sake brewery limitedly on 10th and 11th of October.

By the way, my friend and I were to see takigi kagura (shinto music and dance performed under bonfire) at Mitake Shrine on October 11. And, Sawanoien is located near Sawai Station, which is one stop before Mitake Station, the station we were to get off the train. Then, what was the reason for passing Sawanoien without having some sips of sake there? Of course, we get off the train at Sawai Station.

Swanoien were attracting a lot of visitors as usual and there was a line of people in front of the kiosk where they were ordering soba noodle and other foods.

The Stand-up Bar Sawanosuke was selling "nama genshu and soda," non-pasteurized, non-diluted sake with carbonated water and ice. I tried one glass of it. A bit of citron juice had been added to this beverage. The flavor of citron mixed with briskness apparently deriving from live yeast was refreshing. With the addition of carbonated water, sake seemed to increase in its characteristic sweetness.

Before, I thought nama genshu should be drunk chilled without water or anything since I wanted to enjoy characteristic thick flavor of nama genshu. Now, I have changed my thought. Nama genshu and soda was actually nice.

(Nama genshu and soda priced at 350 yen)

(This is Sawabee, which has probably been created from the words "Sawanoi" and "beer.")

Oct 7, 2009

Study Tour to Tamura Syuzoujou Sake Brewery

Located in Fussa, a city in the far-flung west of Tokyo, Tamura Syuzoujou sake brewery has been making sake for nearly 190 years since its establishment in 1822. This time, my friends and I visited this brewery and saw facilities in this brewery to learn how they are making sake. Sales Manager, Mr. Hirahara, showed us their brewery. It was a fruitful study to receive explanation about sake making process while actually seeing samples of different sake rice varieties, sake making facilities, bubbling fermenting mash, etc.

After leaving the west exit of JR Fussa Station, go westward along the main street for about 10 minutes, and you will reach the intersection on Okutama Kaido street. Take the right here. Okutama Kaido street around here runs alongside Tamagawajosui Water Supply Channel. Walk toward the upper stream for a while to reach a pedestrian overpass, and you will find a small bridge over the channel. Walk across this bridge, and you will see a red brick chimney ahead on your left. Farther proceed on your way ahead, and you will be walking along the black wall long extending along the road. On the premises behind the wall, whitewashed buildings with massive tiled roofs stand orderly in a line. Huge trees stand high and extend boughs as if they were guarding these buildings, and you hear birds chirping. Now, you are in front of the main gate of Tamura Syuzoujou.

When we walked through the gate, we found a big cedar leaf ball hanging under the eaves of the building on your left. The ball was brownish, but it was soon to be replaced with a new green one when they would start the shipment of new brew. Placed on the right in front of the entrance of the building were three sake casks wrapped with rush mats with the brand name of "Kasen" on them.

When we walked under the cedar ball and went into the building, we found on the right the base of the red brick chimney that we had seen from a distance.

Having the shape of an octagonal column, this chimney was built in the middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912) and once damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake. Later it was restored but it is not used currently. Mr. Hirahara said that, according to an architecture specialist, they should preserve this chimney even if they would not use it because the bricks used in this chimney were laid in a distinctive way.

On the opposite side of the chimney was a rice-steaming room. Before entering the room, we were shown samples of sake rice varieties. Rice grains that had been milled down and had become whiter were packed in plastic bags, on each of which the name of rice and rice milling rate are indicated on a label.

There were Yamadanishiki, Nihonbare, Ginginga, Miyamanishiki, and Yamasake No. 4. I have ever heard of Yamasake No. 4. If I remember right, this rice has been developed in an agricultural high school in Yamagata prefecture. Tamura Syuzoujou experimentally used this rice and succeeded in making quite good sake in the last season. So, they decided to use this rice in full-fledged production. Now, we can anticipate seeing a new type of sake from Tamura Syuzouhou on shelves in this season.

Well, we then moved to the rice-steaming room. Shiny stainless-steel rice soaking tanks, also shiny horizontal continuous rice steamer, rice cooling device, and other facilities were in the room. Beside the rice steamer was an old caldron for steaming rice that was not used currently.

Facilities of this brewery are relatively new and buildings are well constructed. We were shown fermentation tanks, which are hermetically sealed types and have the capacity of 10,000 litters for each. The upper floor from which they stir the mash with stirring rods are decently planked and looked to have been waxed. Such floors of old sake breweries are often humble and sometimes they creak when you walk on them. The floor of this brewery is steady and never creaks. The stirring rods, which are as long as five meters, are made of glass fiber.

In one of the fermentation tanks, ivory-white thick mash was bubbling. Enchanting sweet aroma like that of soda pop was rising up from the inside of the tank.

Although the facilities look latest or relatively new, the buildings in which these facilities are placed are old. The building in which fermentation tanks are placed was actually built in 1918. The roof of this building is tiled with hongawara (roof tiles usually used for shrines, temples, and other high-class architectures) and was built by miyadaiku (skillful carpenters specializing in shrine and temple buildings). This is a gorgeous building!

We were also shown the garden that is owned by the Tamura family. According to the book "Tokyo no Jizake" (Tokyo sake) written by Hiroyuki Koda. The Tamura family has a history of over 300 years, and family leaders were the headman of Fussa village. The garden is so old and a huge tree standing there is estimated to be as old as about 1,000 years. This tree is worth seeing. It is said that the boughs of the tree provided a good shade for brewery buildings in olden days keeping the building cool.

At the end of the study tour, we of course had sake sampling time happily. We tasted Tokubetu Honjozo Maboroshi-no-sake Kasen, Junmai Ginjo Namachozoshu, and a sample version of Junmai Ginjo Tamura. I specially liked Maboroshi-no-sake Kasen, which has richness and is modest in pomposity. According to Mr. Hirahara, a real sake lover tends to finally become to prefer honjoso type sake to ginjo type sake.

When we were walking inside the brewery, we saw the toji master brewer and other brewery workers working busily. As autumn gets far advanced toward winter now, new fermenting mash will be prepared one after another and they will get busier. I thank Mr. Hirahara for sparing time for us in this busy time.

Oct 1, 2009

Japanese Sake Day

When I compare two brands of sake one of which is namazake and the other is pasteurized sake, I prefer the former to the latter in most cases. I feel namazake and pasteurized sake are completely different products.

By the way, if one happens to come in an izakaya where they have only one type of sake and she or he orders it, the sake is, in many cases, inexpensive pasteurized sake such as futsushu (regular sake), I guess. I have no intention to say that futsushu is not good. However, I think it is difficult for many people to understand the virtue of futushu if they have not experienced many types of sake or they do not have a delicate palate.

So, if someone who has not drunk so much of sake before happening to drink such sake as futsushu at cheap izakaya, it is quite likely that she or he thinks "Maybe, I am not good at this."

However, when it comes to namazake, its refreshing fragrance and rich taste impresses you at the first moment when you take the very first sip. So, I would like those who believe they don't like sake to drink namazake as a trial. They may change their view on sake. If they judge sake to be not enjoyable after drinking only inexpensive futsushu, I feel chagrined.

I am thinking of the above lately. Anyway, today is the Japanese Sake Day. It seems that some breweries have started koji making and some have proceeded to fermentation process already. Liquor shops are selling akiagari (half-year aged sake) and hiayoroshi (half-year aged sake without pasteurization before shipment). Especially hiyaoroshi can be called half namazake since its pasteurization process before the shipment is skipped.

As autumn gets far advanced and it becomes cooler, it becomes easier to pass our days. We are blessed with delicious foods of autumn. Every food is really tasty in autumn. It may be the privilege of those who live in Japan to enjoy hiyaoroshi paired with nice foods in autumn.

Today's Sake
Kure Junmai Muroka Hiyaoroshi (Nishioka Sake Brewery)
Sake from Kochi prefecture. This hiyaoroshi has been aged in a cave in the headwaters area of the Shimanto River.
It has been aged to mellowness while maintaining the characteristic flavor of namazake. In spite of the sake meter value of +9, it is fresh rather than dry.
Rice used: Tosanishiki (sake rice harvested in Kochi prefecture)
Seimaibuai: 60%
Alcohol: 17 - 18%
Sake meter value: (+)9