Dec 14, 2013

Hot Sake in Hot Bath

I believe that the practice of enjoying warmed sake constitutes one of the most important parts of the sake culture.

I myself often enjoy warmed sake, and I usually use a kandouko (see "Finally got akandouko (sake warmer)!") to prepare warmed sake. However, if you want to sip sake in a hot bath, I can show you an easy way to prepare warmed sake. This method recently flashed on me. Prepare cup sake and use the following procedure.

1. Leave the cup sake in the bathtub in which hot water is filled.
2. Wait for a while until your warm sake becomes warm enough.
3. Bathe in the bathtub and enjoy warmed sake at the same time.

Usually, the bathtub in a Japanese house is connected with a boiler, which can be used to keep the water in the tub warm. So, you can stay bathing in warm bathtub long enough for having relaxing time over sips of warmed sake.

Dec 10, 2013

Bathing in a Yuzu Bath

Japanese people have a practice of taking a bath in a special way on the day of the winter solstice. They put some yuzu orange fruits in the bathtub and then bathe.

It is said that taking a yuzu bath helps prevent you from catching a cold. The rind of the fruit contains ingredients that are effective in blood circulation promotion and maintaining beautiful skin. Of course, the aroma of the yuzu fruit relaxes you. Then, there is no reason for me to take a yuzu bath.

Oct 24, 2013

Kandouko Cooking

Lately, we have quite cool autumn days here in Japan, and I have more chances to enjoy warmed sake than I did in summer time of course.

I chiefly use a kandouko for warming my sake. This is a copper-made gadget for warming sake. The kandouko holds some amount of water within it, and it has built-in brazier in which burning charcoal is placed. The heat from the charcoal warms the water and the warmed water in turn warms sake in a flask, tokkuri, chirori or whatever container placed in the water. While warming sake, you can also cook some foods such as dried fish on the grill placed over the charcoal fire.

So, with the kandouko, you can cook some food while drinking warm sake, and this is my favorite point about the kandouko.

Today, I'd like to introduce two easy canned food recipes using the kandouko.

Enoki-Saba-Misoni (Enokitake mushrooms and Saba mackerel boiled with miso-paste soup)

One can of Saba-Misoni, 100 g of Enokitake, shredded cheese.

How to cook:
1. Make a small "pan" from aluminum foil, and place it on the brazier.
2. Place Saba-Misoni and Enokitake on the "pan." Adjust the amount of these ingredients so that they can be contained in the "pan."
3. Wait until the ingredients are boiled, then put some shredded cheese on them.
4. When the cheese is melted, the food is ready.

The food was a little bit salty from the miso-based soup, so you may want to add some vegetable, such as shredded cabbage, green pepper, etc.

I uploaded a video work demonstrating how to cook this. Then, I got a message from some one, recommending the following recipe:

Saba Flavored with Mayonnaise (boiled Saba mackerel flavored with mayonnaise)

This menu is also easy to prepare. Because I want to prepare food while preparing warm sake, my kandouko cooking menu must be cooked only on the small brazier of the kandouko and must be easy to prepare.

One can of Saba Mizuni (plainly boiled Saba mackerel), mayonnaise, ground pepper, soy sauce, and green onion (green part)

How to cook:
1. Open the can of Saba Mizuni, and place the can on the brazier.
2. When the contents of the can are boiled, add mayonnaise, ground pepper, and soy sauce.
3. Then, add chopped green onion.
4. Crumble the blocks of Saba mackerel and mix the ingredients together.

I am not sure about the amount of each ingredient but if you use too much of each ingredient, they may overflow from the can. Maybe, you may want to use a small pan instead of just directly put the can on the brazier.

Sep 14, 2013

Hiyaoroshi Season

It is September now, and it is a special season for sake lovers, the season of hiyaoroshi.

Hiyaoroshi is a type of the sake that is pasteurized after being pressed in winter or early spring, then aged in a cool storage house until summer is over, and then bottled without undergoing the process of second-time pasteurization (many sake products are pasteurized twice).

Many of the breweries in Tokyo are now shipping their hiyaoroshi products. So, I called the liquor shop I patronize to bring me two bottle of hiyaoroshi. They are Kasen Tokubetsu Honjozo Hiyaoroshi and Sawanoi Hiyaoroshi.

We still have some hot summery days between series of autumnal fresh days, but regardless of its being hot or cool, I'm enjoying autumn flavor.

The owner of the liquor shop, when bringing me these bottles, told me that the Sawanoi Hiyaoroshi of this year was especially good and recommended me to have it lukewarm. Probably, my sake warmer kandouko will be busy from this September until next spring.

Movie -- "The Song of Kandouko"

Jun 30, 2013

Making loquat liqueur

In the side yard of my house, there is a loquat tree. No one planted this tree. It seems to have come out from a seed, and have grown up. Now, it produces a lot of loquat fruits in June every year. My family enjoy eating these fruits. However, the tree is too bountiful for us to consume all the fruits and we usually left quit a lot on the branches and let birds to peck them.

This year, I picked these fruits and made loquat liqueur.

The following is how I made the loquat liqueur:

 Loquats                        500 g
 Lemons                           2
 Crystal sugar                 50 g
 Distilled spirit (shochu)  900 ml

1. Put the loquats, lemons, and sugar in a disinfected preserve jar, and then add the distilled spirit.
2. Store it avoiding direct sunlight and high temperature.

After three months of aging, the loquat liqueur will be ready to be drunk.

May 6, 2013

Shishimai and Sake

On May 5, an annual shishimai event was held at Yakumo Shrine in Kawai district of Okutama Town, Tokyo. Yakumo Shrine is in a distance of 10-minute walk from JR Kawai Station. I invited some sake-drinking friends to join me to see this event. The style of the lion dances dedicated to this shrine is the one called sambiki-shishimai or sasara-shishimai, which is popular in various districts in the Kanto area including Okutama, Chichibu, Ome, Akiruno, and other cities, towns, and villages.

The front approach way to the shrine consists of two flights of stone stairs. If you look upward from the base of the first flight, you will find a "two-story gate" in the dimness of the cedar tree grove. The approach goes through under the gate leading to an open square beyond it. This "two-story gate," designated as a tangible folklore cultural property of Tokyo, has a unique structure; standing on the mountain slope, the front appears to be a two-story building while the back looks like a one-story building.

The upper floor of the gate on the back side serves as a stage for plays, dances, and other local performing arts. However the three-lion dances are not performed on this stage but in the open square in front of the stage. The front approach leads to this center square, across which there is another flight of stone stairs. At the upper end of these stairs is the front shrine.

Another noteworthy point of this Yakumo Shrine is that there are several stone-walled tiers on both sides of the second flight of stairs. These tiers serve as spectators’ seats so that visitors at this shrine can enjoy watching a play, dance, or any other performance art performed on the stage or in the center square.

High-standing cedar trees surrounding the spectators’ seats, center square, and theater provide good shade for performers and spectators, and usher a comfortable energy flow into the precincts, producing a sacred atmosphere of a realm protected by some mysterious power.

On this day, we occupied our place on the third tier from the bottom on the right, viewed from the stage. We had brought some bottles of sake, wine, and snacks, and set them ready in place, waiting for lion dances to begin.

In these shishimai events, seven performances of lion dances are performed. When we arrived at the place, it was past noon, three performances had already been performed, and performers were taking a lunch break. In the afternoon, still another four performances were awaited.

Here, I would like to explain sambiki-shishimai. This type of lion dances is danced by three dancers and some backup dancers with music played by bamboo flutes.

The dancers wear headgear called shishigashira. They are what the Japanese in olden days thought look like lion heads (since the Japanese did not know what the lion looked like exactly, they never look like lion heads, having horns and feathers on the head). The dancers bear drums tied around their waists, and beat these drums while dancing.

The backup dancers are four, six, or eight kimono-clad people. The number of these backup dancers varies according to the place where dances have been handed down. They play instruments made by bamboo, making frictional sounds along with the melody of bamboo flutes.

Many documents describing the derivation of lion dances are handed down in many places in Japan, and according to these old documents, lion dances have been started in 1245. The story is as follows:

In the spring of 1245, in the ceremonial hall Shishinden in the imperial palace, imperial families and their guest were enjoying a party. Suddenly, the sky turned dark and they heard thunders and saw streaks of lightning. Then, three shining objects appeared in the sky and they flew to these people, finally fell with thuds in the garden of the Shishinden. These objects were something they had never seen before, and they were surprised and scared. Then, after close observation of these objects, the people knew these objects looked like three heads of some animal. No one knew what in the world these things were. The emperor had a fortune-teller see these things to see whether they were a good omen or bad. The fortune-teller said, "these are the head of lions living in India, and they are great auspices," continuing, "if people wear these on their heads and dance, our country stays in peace forever." In this way, people started these lion dances. Of course, this is a legend, and no one take this story at face value.

By the way, I often come to enjoy the lion dances of this Yakumo Shrine, and every time I am at this event, one clown guy first dancing with other dancers but later coming out from the dance place bears a bottle of sake, comes to us, and offers sake to us. This is my most favorite point of these lion dances at Yakumo Shirine.

So, we had been waiting for this time!

Mar 22, 2013

Cherry Blossom in the Vicinity of the Hamura Diversion Weir

This year, it quickly gets warmer and warmer after the arrival of March. It even seems to me that Japan is skipping spring and just directly jumping from winter into summer. All the cherry trees across the country are hasting to bloom. The cherry tree in the garden of my house also started blooming. So, the day before yesterday (March 20), I went out to the Hamura Diversion Weir to check how the cherry trees there are blooming.

(Filmed on March 20,2013)

The trees had just started blooming, but I know they will quickly reach their culmination and then turn into foliage. Probably, we will be able to see the trees in full bloom at the next weekend and we could enjoy blossoms quite much even this weekend.

Hamura City, where the Hamura Diversion Weir is located, holds "はむら花と水のまつり (Hamura Flower and Water Festival)" in this time of the year (from March 27 to April 15 for this year). The festival is originally seemed to have been planned so that you could enjoy cherry blossom around the weir in the first half of the festival period, and tulip flowers planted in the rice paddy fields located upstream from the weir in the last half.

For cherry blossom viewing, for this year, I guess you should come to Hamura in March. It may be too late to come on the first weekend of April.

The city will hold some festival events on the second weekend of April, including Dashi no Hikiawase (they compete with one another in how well they play their bamboo flutes and drums on their festival floats) on 13th and Mikoshi no Kawaire (they carry the portable shrine and go into the Tama river) on 14th although I think it will be too late for also enjoying cherry blossom viewing at this time.

(Dashi no Hikikawase last year: Filmed on April 7, 2012 at JR Hamura Station)

If unfortunately you cannot make it by the right time of cherry blossom viewing, you will still be able to go upstream to see tulip flowers (tulip flowers can be see until the middle of April).

Cherry blossoms filmed on April 10 last year (on the bank upstream the Hamura Diversion Weir). The cherry blossoms come into bloom far earlier than usual.

(Cherry blossoms upstream of the weir: Filmed on April 10, 2012)

If you prefer bustling atmosphere of the festival, I recommend you to walk around the Hamura Bridge; there are food and drink stands here and there, monkey show, and even footbath service using hot spring water brought from distant onsen places. If you are a person who loves a quieter environment, you can walk upstream to the bank along the river, where cherry trees are planted and you can admire blossoms sitting under a tree in a relaxing mood.

Jan 21, 2013

Drinking at Okunitama Shrine

There is a big shrine called Okunitama Shrine in Fuchu City, Tokyo. On New Year’s Day, a lot of people visit the shrine to offer prayers, and commercial business people set up their food stands along the approach way to the shrine building to provide these visitors with food and drink services. On a festival day of a specific shrine or temple, you can often see its approach way flanked by food and drink stands selling ringo-ame (candy-coated apples), tako-yaki (octopus dumplings), yakisoba (pan-fried noodles), and even tornado potato and doner kabab. There are also those who are selling shellfishes such as turban shells and scallops grilled on charcoal fire. This seems to be a nice place for those who want to drink during the daytime. So, having nothing to do in particular during the New Year’s Holidays, I asked one of my drinking friends to come with me to this place.

This was the first opportunity for going out for drink this year, and I felt I could not wait to have nice grilled seafood and sake, but I first gave my respects to the god. This Okunitama Shrine is said to have been built in 111 A.D., during the period of the Twelfth Emperor Keiko. The enshrined god is Okunitama-no-okami, also known as Okuninushi-no-mikoto.

I stood facing the front shrine, threw a coin into the offertory box, and gave prayers to the god, “please, let me drink a lot of nice sake also in this year.” The enshrined god Okuninushi-no-mikoto is worshiped as a god of nation building, agriculture, commerce, medicine, etc. Will the god satisfy my desire, a quite earthly one?

Anyway, I finished what I had to do. Now, I can drink to my heart’s content.

There are a lot of stands and makeshift restaurants on both sides of the approach way, selling various foods and drinks. Among them, there is an area above which a large sheet is set up to serve as a roof. Under the sheet were tables and chairs, and various food and drink stands such as takoyaki, yakisoba, and hamayaki (charcoal-grilled shellfish) stands. There are also sake, beer, and other drinks. You can buy any food or drink at any stand, bring what you bought to a table, and eat and drink them.

Sake sold there are Hakutsuru, Sawanotsuru, etc., which are major brands and popularly drunk across the country. I bought warmed cup sake of Hakutsuru and paired it with a grilled turban shell, scallops, and oyster. I think shellfish tastes nice with sake. Yummy!