Jan 26, 2011

Japanese coiffure, soba and sake

Bunkin-takashimada is one of the most magnificent Japanese coiffures, which is known as a hairstyle of the bride at a wedding.

I heard that Mrs. Akiko Sekiba, who is working as hairdresser of Japanese coiffures, would hold an event in which she would demonstrate the hairdressing of the traditional Japanese coiffure of bunkin-takashimada at Koedo Kurari in Kawagoe City. So, the other day, I visited the city to see the demonstration.

According to Mrs. Sekiba, many of the Japanese-style hairdressers are not working on natural hair but on wigs. She said natural hair includes hairs with various lengths and its hairdressing work is troublesome. She has made some of her tools for hairdressing by herself. Thus, working as a Japanese-style hairdresser does not seem very easy.

In the demonstration, Mrs. Sekiba parted the hair of a model into several locks and combs each of the locks beautifully. Then, these parted locks become the back tress, side tresses, and front tress, drawing graceful lines towards the top of head and joining the root tress. These tresses together make up a thick chignon on the top of head. Hana-kogai, kanzashi, and kushi are inserted in the hair as finishing ornaments, and then the hair is wrapped with pure white cloth called tsuno-kakushi. Thus, an art work using human hair is completed.

Here is video I took on the day. See how the hairdresser works on the hair (play list including 8 video works)

By the way, Koedo Kurari, where the demonstration of this hairdressing was given, is in the place where Kagamiyama Shuzo sake brewery (corporate body different from the current Koedo Kagamiyama Shuzo) was operating before. There are still the buildings that were formerly owned by this defunct company in this place. The commercial establishment of Koedo Kurari was opened last year by using these buildings. The demonstration was given in a rental gallery of this establishment.

Kurari has a building named Makanai-dokoro, which was built in the early Taisho Period (1912 - 1926). In this Makanai-dokoro building, the restaurant Hasshuutei is operating. This restaurant, based on its policy of local production for local consumption, provides its food service for customers, and it serves of course the Kawagoe's wonted Kagamiyama sake. The local sake can usually be paired well with local foods, so one will easily make a good match in pairing local sake with local foods. Therefore, I drank Kagamiyama Junmai Shiboritate and local Sayama-cha soba (soba using powder of green tea, which is also a local product in the vicinity).

Jan 20, 2011

Cocoon balls and sake warmer

My city was once known for its flourishing sericulture, and people had a custom of displaying mayudama (literally "silkworm cocoon balls") on January 14. They cut a small tree that had a trunk diameter that fitted in the hole of the stone mill, and inserted the trunk in the stone mill so that the tree could stay standing. They made a lot of dumplings from rice flour, and stuck them on twigs of the tree, which was then displayed in the house. In this display, the rice dumplings were used to resemble the cocoons of silkworms. This custom represented the people's wish for a good yield of cocoons and good harvest of crops.

When I visited a restored Japanese house of old days, which had been built in Musashi-murayama City for exhibition to the public, in January last year, mayudama was displayed in this house. Then, I felt nostalgic at the display of the mayudama and a homely and cozy taste of the smoky interior with burning fire in the irori fireplace. So, I visited this house this year again. And, also this year, the fire was burning. The smell of smoke and sounds of popping firewood made me relaxed for no special reason.

An ensemble of kimono with a beautiful pattern was hung on a lintel over shoji doors. The texture of this kimono is called Murayama Ohshima, which used to actively be produced in the vicinity of the place of this restored Japanese house, and the material of this kimono may have been woven from silken threads produced also in the place.

In the inmost room of the house, a nagahibachi (old Japanese-style hibachi designed to be used indoors) and kandouko (sake warmer) were displayed. I could imagine how people in old days drank warmed sake on cold days while putting their cold hands over the small fire in this nagahibachi. I tend to grumble about cold weather these days, but warming yourself with such an old classy furniture piece is a joy that is added to by the coldness. In the future, I would like to get a nagahibachi and kandouko via a net auction or from an antique shop, and invite friends home to treat them to warmed sake in a relaxing mood.

Talking of the kandouko, I wrote about it in a past article, and I recently received a comment for this article from a man living in Philadelphia. He is a dexterous man and makes various things by himself for nothing. To my surprise, he made a kandouko after reading my post about this device. Read his article (Kandouko) to learn how he made his kandouko and enjoyed warmed sake with friends.

Jan 19, 2011

Sake cake

When I visited Ishikawa Brewery, which is making Tamajiman sake, for collecting stamps for the Sake stamp rally the other day, I bought "Daiginjo Cake" at the souvenir shop there. On the carton box, there was a description saying "the cake was aged after being infiltrated by daiginjo sake."

A delicate bouquet well matches the elegant sweetness of the cake.

Today's Sake
Kirinzan Junmaishu (Kirinzan Shuzo)
These days, I often train myself for a sake expert test (sake tasting test) to be held in Niigata in March. I select sakes from the junmai, honjozo, and other similar classes, and sample and compare them. Among them, this Kirinzan Jumaishu is nice, having sweetness of rice.

Jan 17, 2011

Hot bath on a cold day

Now, Japan is in the coldest season of the year. With cold hands and feet, it is difficult to fall asleep in bed.

In that case, I like taking a hot bath.

Recently I used the bath agent "Hakutsuru no Sakeburo" (白鶴の酒風呂<大吟醸酒配合>). This is a bath agent that contains some components of daiginjo sake.
I can pour some 200 ml of sake in the bathtub, but I feel reluctant to use sake for bathing. This is because I, of course, prefer drinking it to using it in the bath. So, this bath agent, which one of my friends kindly gave to me, is just for people like me.

The sake bath, which has moisturizing and conditioning effects of your skin, warms up your body, and relaxing you, makes me quite comfortable, finally finding myself singing a sanguine song.

Today's Sake
Funaguchi Kikusui Ichibanshibori (Kikusui Shuzo)
When I was unfamiliar with sake and I had just poor experience of namazake and genshu, I drank this sake (at that time, the sake was contained in a yellow can) for the first time on a Shinkansen bullet train from Niigata. At that time, I was impressed by the sake very much and realized what namazake was. Maybe, this was the experience that ushered me into the world of namazake.

Jan 14, 2011

Sake in which Sea Monkeys hatch?

When I was a schoolchild, Sea Monkeys (small arthropod resembling a shrimp: Artemia salina) were sold by mail order. I hear that the actual product was a breeding kit including dried spawn of this creature, necessary feed, etc. I often saw advertisements for this product printed on the back covers of juvenile weekly magazines, but I'm not sure how popular it was among children.

The company selling this product hyped the Sea Monkey as a mysterious and monstrous creature, but it just looked like a tiny shrimp and never looked like a monkey in spite of its product name "Sea Monkey."

These days, I hardly hear the word "Sea Monkey," but I recently happened to get this word for the first time in long years.

At that time, I was drinking sake with friends at a table of the rest station run by Ozawa Syuzou. First, we get warmed regular sakes at the shop and shared them. Later, one guy opened the 1800-ml bottle he bought at the souvenir shop, and he gave us the sake. This sake was Sawanoi Kameguchishu Junmai Ginjirushi.

When we were drinking this sake, the guy who gave it to us said, "They look like Sea Monkeys!" The winter sunlight was penetrating into the sake bottle placed on the table. This sake was sparkling namazake (unpasteurized sake) and a lot of small bubbles was slowly rising up in the sake and shining in the sunlight. He meant that they looked like Sea Monkeys. Actually, I have never seen this creature with my eyes, but Sea Monkeys probably look like these small bubbles.

Jan 11, 2011

Taruzake and fukubukuro

During New Year's Holidays, Japanese have various special events. Among such events, I will write about two things relating to sake: taruzake and sake fukubukuro (casked sake and sake lucky bags).

Taruzake means sake contained in a cedar cask. Usually low-priced regular sake is used for taruzake. After having been stored in a cask for an appropriate period under pertinent conditions, the sake takes the scent of cedar, and turns into a beautiful sake due to the magic of the cedar scent.

People bring a cask of sake to a party or gathering which is to celebrate some happy event, for example, some couple's wedding, the opening of a new store, people's happily welcoming the New Year, etc. They crack open the cask, ladle the sake out of it, and make a toast.

On January 9, Ozawa Syuzou welcomed visitors at the Sawanoien rest station with taruzake free of charge. The dry Sawanoi regular sake had added to freshness in the cask, and people must have enjoyed a refreshing sensation.

In front of the souvenir shop of Sawanoien, fukubukuros were displayed on cedar casks. A fukubukuro, meaning a lucky bag and being sold during New Year's days, is a commercial custom that is said to have been started in the Edo period by a major long-established department store in Japan. A fukubukuro contains commercial goods and is usually sold at a lower price than the total prices of the contents.

Sawanoien was also selling fukubukuros. What are the contents? Of course, bottles of sake.

Actually, I bought a 10,000-yen bag. The bag itself was a piece of Sawanoi commercial goods, a tote bag with the company's logo printed on it, containing a small wooden sake cup and three 720-ml little bottles: Daiginjo Bon Tobingakoi Nama, Daiginjo Genshu, and Junmai Ginjo Soten Genshu. The contents were quite satisfactory for me.

Jan 10, 2011

Sake stamp rally

Seibu Railway Co., Ltd. is hosting a sake stamp rally until January 18. In this event, attendees collect stamps placed at specified sake breweries that are located near railroad line of this company. After collecting a specified number of stamps, you can send the sheet on which collected stamps have been affixed to the company to apply for various gifts.

There are 10 specified sake breweries, and if you collect 10 stamps at these breweries, you can apply for a two-daiginjo bottle set and two tickets for lunch at Shinjuku Prince Hotel.

My friend and I had already collected seven stamps by January 7, and, on this day we went out to visit the last three breweries.

The last three breweries were Tamura Syuzoujou (Kasen), Ishikawa Brewery (Tamajiman), and Nakamura Syuzou (Chiyotsuru). These are all located in the neighboring citis.

Tamura Syuzoujo, the first destination, is known for its brand name of Kasen (嘉泉). The brewery is about a 10-minute walk from JR Fussa Station, but it seemed to me a long walk in a cold north wind.

Magnificent kura buildings with whitewashed walls stood on the premises of Tamura Syuzou. At that time, there were no visitors except us and the place was quiet. In this brewery, there was only a small unattended exhibition hall. There was neither direct selling shop nor free sampling corner. So, we didn't sped a lot of time there, and left the brewery for Fussa Station after getting the stamp in the brewery office.

The next destination was Nakamura Syuzou, which is about a 10-minute walk from Akikawa Station on JR Itsukaichi Line. This brewery is making Chiyotsuru (千代鶴) sake. Among their products, personally, I like Tokubetsu Junmai Okutama.

After putting the stamp of Chiyotsuru on the stamp sheets, we sampled several sakes. They were still selling Tokubetsu Junmai Hiyaoroshi, and this tasted better than when we tasted last autumn, having increased richness in its taste. This sake seemed still getting better.

After leaving Nakamura Syuzou, we returned to JR Akikawa Station and got on the train to trip to Haijima Station. Then we went to the next destination, Ishikawa Brewery, which is known for its brand name Tamajiman (多満自慢). From Haijima Station, we took a taxi to the brewery because it was very cold and we didn't want to walk to the brewery. The brewery was not very far and the taxi cost just as much as the fare for the minimum distance.

There was a shop in Ishikawa Brewery. They had the stamp in this shop. I told the shop clerk that this brewery was the 10'th brewery, and she was amazed and celebrated our achievement with applause.

Ishikawa Brewery has a Japanese restaurant and Italian restaurant on its premises, and the Japanese restaurant was not operating at the time of our visit. So, we entered the Italian restaurant and had some beer there. We wound up our sake stamp rally with seasonal blueberry ale beer and cheese assortment.

Here is a video work to show how I visited these sake breweries. I hope you will enjoy my video.

Jan 3, 2011

Sake Shop Kodama--the place to visit for sake lovers traveling in Japan

Sake Shop Kodama (地酒屋こだま) is just a 5-minute from JR Otsuka Station on Yamanote Line. It is on the opposite side of the street from a post office.

Usual liquor shops in Japan have various kinds of sake including sake, beer, shochu, and other alcoholic beverages. However, Sake Shop Kodama carries only sake (日本酒). This is a unique liquor shop.

In May of last year, this shop started its operation as a successor of the liquor shop Tsunaya, which had been operating at the same place. Actually, I have been acquainted with the shopkeeper of Sake Shop Kodama and I had wanted to visit him at the shop, but there hadn't been an opportunity for visiting there. On December 28 last year, I was to have a year-end party with some of my friends in an urban area of Tokyo, so I decided to drop in at this sake shop before attending the party.

I came to the front door of the shop. Through the door glasses I saw the shopkeeper Takeya Kodama (I call him Take-san) dealing vigorously with his customers in the shop. I was happy to see him, wanted to cheerfully enter the shop to give him a friendly and surprising greeting, and pushed the door, which wouldn't open. Feeling puzzled, I then pull the door handle, and the door did still not open.

After trying the pushing and pulling of the door, I finally remembered that these doors were sliding doors, opening right- and leftward. As soon as I got in the shop, Take-san said to me, "Please do not break the doors! :-)"

This is a great shop. If you enjoy drinking sake or are interested in sake, and you are traveling in Tokyo, I strongly recommend you to drop in at this shop. I will show you five reasons below why I recommend you this shop.

First, of almost all the sakes in this shop, you can sample any of them. It is virtually impossible to pick out specific sake that matches your taste from among a lot of brands you have never heard of until you actually sample them. So, this shop offers free sampling of any sake you want to try, and you can buy your favorite sake after confirming its taste with your tongue. For example, a woman came to this shop, telling she herself was not quite at home in sake and was going to prepare fugu-nabe (globefish with vegetables in a pot). Take-san selected several bottles that he thought could be good pairing for her food, and recommended her to sample them. She sampled those sakes, could find her favorite bottle, and happily went home with it.

Second, this shop is making sincere efforts to keep good storage conditions of sake. For example, Take-san uses ultraviolet ray-free fluorescent lamps in his refrigerators in order to prevent the damage to his sake, and always keeps the sake under the temperature of 0 degrees centigrade. I understand his intention to treat with great care sakes that the brewers have painstakingly made, and I think the brewers can feel secure about entrusting their products to this shop.

Third, the selection of sake of this shop is very unique. The sakes in this shop are selected arbitrarily by the shopkeeper. So, in this shop, famous brands are hard to find but you can expect new findings. This is exciting. Among the sake selection, there is even the brand named Azumazuru which is brewed by a very small sake brewery in Saga Prefecture (this brewery produces only about 4,500 litters of sake). Of course, the small scale of a brewery is not always a good point, but at least Take-san selects his sake regardless of the sizes of breweries but according to his own standards (if he thinks sake is good or will become good, he will select it). Therefore, if you expect a dramatic encounter with a new sake brand, you should visit Take-san at this shop.

Fourth, there is a pay sampling corner, which starts around 5 p.m. Sake Shop Kodama is not an izakaya but a liquor shop. So, off course we must behave well and enjoy sampling quietly. However, when there are some brands you want to try more in quantity, you can use this corner.

And above all things, I was impressed by Take-san's heartful courtesy to his customers. When I was drinking at the pay sampling corner, customers kept coming. When Take-san deals with his customers, he always smiles and explains his sake in a respectful and ardent manner, helping them selecting right sake. I felt this shop is just wonderful. Customers can enjoy shopping and Take-san also enjoys his business. And, each time a customer left the shop with her/his sake in hand, the shopkeeper made a deep bow. You must feel happy and satisfied when being treated very politely in such a way, and want to visit this shop again to buy sake.

Reading the above description, you may think I complimented this shop too much because I am acquainted with the shopkeeper. However, I really think Sake Shop Kodama is a great sake shop. I have never seen such a sake shop and I believe it is worth visiting for every sake lover.

Finally, I must present to you one IMPORTANT WARNING. The front doors of Sake Shop Kodama are sliding doors. Never forcibly push or pull the door handles to open the doors. Doing so may damage the doors. :-)