Feb 8, 2011

Start of spring

February 3 was the day of Setsubun (the day before the calendrical beginning of spring). On the day of Setsubun, people scatter beans to drive away bad luck and call in happiness. Of course, my family practiced bean scattering this year as usual. Beans are sold at supermarkets or grocery stores. We bought beans and put them on the shelf of Shinto god altar built in our house, and skewered the heads of sardines on skewers. Actually, we didn't have good bamboo skewers so we substituted old sharpened cooking chopsticks for skewers. The sardine heads were then toasted on the gas burner. These skewered and toasted sardine heads were displayed with holly leaves at the front door. This is a custom called yakkagashi (or yaikagashi).

Speaking of Setsubun, people are apt to think of nation-widely known ehoumaki, a big rolled sushi, which is eaten in hope of good luck. This was a custom originally practiced in Osaka or Aichi Prefecture, but it later became known to people across the country by some chance. In the meantime, how about the above mentioned custom yakkagashi? I'm not sure it is practiced nation-widely. Anyway, we are observing this practice instead of ehomaki.

And, the next day of Setsubun is Risshun (the start of spring, this year it falls on February 4). Oh, speaking of Risshun, there is sake named Risshun Asashibori. This year, 38 sake breweries in the country pressed this special sake in the very morning of the Risshun, and it was shipped as non-pasteurized non-diluted sake on the same day. Of these 38 breweries, the one closest to my place is Ozawa Syuzou, which is making Sawanoi.

For ordinary sake, the timing of pressing is determined by judging the conditions of the fermenting mash. For Risshun Asashibori, however, it is destined to be pressed in the morning of the Risshun. So, the fermentation process must carefully be controlled and adjusted in order that the sake can be pressed in good conditions. I hear attentive care is required for this process.

On the Risshun day (February 4), I happened to have a chance to drink with friends, which was the birthday of one of them. So, I wanted to send something to him, and went out to a nearby sake shop to buy a bottle of Risshun Asashibori as a present. At the sake shop, they were unloading from the truck cartons of this sake they had just brought in. I asked whether I could buy some bottles of this sake to a shop clerk unloading cartons. However, I was told that I couldn't since all the bottles were sold on a subscription basis. So, I went back home empty-handedly.

Nevertheless, shortly I wanted to buy something instead of Asashibori for the friend, and revisited the sake shop. I found that they were selling this sake under a tent in front of the shop. If I remember correctly they were selling Asashibori not under a tent but on the shelf in the shop last year and the year before last. So, I told one of the shop clerks under the tent to make my doubt clear, "I think I could buy this sake last year at your shop without a reservation?" He told me that they would sell this sake on the ordinary shelf after several days or a week if they had remaining bottles. So, I thought I needed to visit this shop again, maybe a week later.

Well, this post is just saying I couldn't buy Risshun Asashiori on the Risshun day and maybe not very interesting. But, you have read to this point anyway. Thank you for reading. The photo below shows the last year's version of Risshun Asashibori.

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