Dec 30, 2009

Masuya Rihei

I went around in Saitama prefecture to visit several sake breweries in November as I described in a past article (please see Sake Brewery Stamp Rally). Yao Honten is among the breweries I visited at that time, and I bought the sake "Masuya Rihei" there.

This sake is of my favorite type with a dry and clean-cut but full-bodied taste. The soft ginjo bouquet is pleasant. It is also good to enjoy this sake after heating it lukewarmly.

Actually, I recently learned that Saitama prefecture produces 13,000 kilo litters of sake annually, and this amount exceeds those of Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures. Speaking of sake breweries in Saitama prefecture, for several years, I have been fan of Igarashi Syuzou, which is making Tenranzan, and Koedo-Kagamiyama Syuzou, which is brewing Kagamiyama. Recently, I found another favorite, Biwa-no-Sasanami from Asahara Syuzou.

Saitama is a next prefecture to Tokyo, and I want to visit different more breweries in Saitama next year.

Dec 19, 2009

Mystery of Namazake Flavor

I love namazake that has a certain flavor "characteristic of namazake."

The flavor "characteristic of namazake," which I consider to be a right expression, is very difficult to describe by words.

"Tarekuchi" by Taiyo Syuzou, Junmai Muroka Nama "Yuho" by Mioya Syuzou, and Tamajiman Sake-wa-Tanoshiku Nama from Ishikawa Brewery have this flavor. Biwa-no-Sasanami from Asahara Syuzou, which I recently drank, also has this flavor "characteristic of namazake." Oh, I must not forget to mention Kikusui Funaguchi Ichiban-Shibori, aluminum-canned sake, which also has a rich flavor "characteristic of namazake."

I wonder where that namazake flavor comes from or what ingredient of sake causes that flavor. I must continue to drink more types of sake to solve my question.

Dec 13, 2009

Yamasake 4-go Tamura

Tamura Syuzoujou shipped its first brew of "Yamasake 4-go Tamura Namazake" on December 10. Having been making Junmai Ginjo Tamura using the rice named Ginginga, this brewery added a new Tamura, which uses Yamasake 4-go rice, to its product lines in this brewery year.

Yamasake 4-go Tamura Namazake is limitedly produced and sold by subscription, and I needed to order this bottle before its shipment. Recently, the liquor shop brought the bottle to me, and I tasted it yesterday.

The first aroma note is mild but smells like melon, at the same time, it suggests that the taste is clean and dry.

I feel the sake somehow sweetish to my palate, but the sake meter value is actually +5, which is rather dry. The sake also tastes clean. The acidity, by the way, is 2. When swallowing the sake after holding it in mouth for a while, I feel briskness and sturdy astringent bitterness in the deep part of the mouth, which refresh my mouth. A little bit higher alcohol content makes me feel somehow warm in my stomach.

In terms of richness in taste, I am in favor of the Ginginga version, but Yamasake 4-go Tamura is more interesting. This sake has just shipped, and may change in its taste as it is mellowed with the course of time.

Dec 3, 2009

Canadian Enjoys Sake to Her Heart's Content

Ms. Rosina Lau, a citizen of Toronto, Canada, owns a company that sells useful Takui bags.

At the beginning of October, I received an E-mail message from her. She said she read my blog and got interested in sake. She had had rare chances to enjoy sake in Canada, and wanted to visit Japan to experience and learn about the sake world.

As early as 12 of November, she was already in an inn in Kyoto! Then, she visited Fushimi, Saijo city, and Takayama city, which are all famous for their sake. On 21 of November, she arrived at her hotel in Tokyo. She makes her decision and moves really quickly!

I met her on 25 of November. She had come to Japan long way from Canada, and I of course wanted to welcome her. So, I asked Mr. Shimizu, sales manager of Ishikawa Brewery, to show us their brewery and he did so. Then, I took her to an izakaya restaurant, "Shutoan," in Yotsuya in the evening. "Shutoan" carries a lot of sake and it offers good dried fish and oyster.

Ishikawa Brewery started its sake brewing as early as 1863 boasting a history of over 140 years. Measuring 25.2 meters in width, 13.25 meters in height, and 28 meters in depth, the Hongura building, where fermentation process of sake takes place, is the hugest as an existing wooden kura building in the Kanto region. The Ishikawa family, the owner of the brewery, has its house on the premises. In front of the house, stands an old gate with wings on each side. This gate was built about 240 years ago and both wings were used as living spaces for gatekeepers. Many of the building and architecture on the premises, as well as the two mentioned above, have been registered as tangible cultural properties of Japan. So, I wanted visitors from abroad such as Rosina san to visit and see this brewery, and I am happy that I could actually take her to this place.

Then, we were headed from Ishikawa Brewery to Shutoan, which I had wanted to visit for enjoying part of its great selection of sake. This izakaya restaurant is reputed to offer a lot of types of sake (actually it carries 450 types of sake) and good foods especially oyster from different places inside and outside Japan, having been enjoying popularity among sake lovers since its inauguration in September. I decided to go to this izakaya restaurant on my own judgment, but I was sure Rosina san would like it.

In addition to its wide selection of sake, one of the sales points of Shutoan are oysters; they are brought from various places including Iwate prefecture, Miyagi prefecture, and some are from Canada or the United States. The menu shows a list of producing districts of oysters that are available on the current day. Since oyster contains ingredients that are good for the liver such as taurine, it seems to be paired well with sake.

On this day, I couldn't decide what we should drink because there were so many bottles in the refrigerator in the restaurant (they displayed sake bottles in the refrigerator). So, I asked Mr. Takeguchi, owner of the restaurant, to select some bottles for us. We enjoyed as many as abut 10 different types of sake, including Kunpai (君盃), Eikun (英君), Waruno-Daikan (悪の代官), Azumamine (吾妻嶺), Kaze-no-Mori (風の森), Kame-no-Umi (亀の海), Nanbu-Bijin (南部美人), Okunokami (屋守). Personally, I liked Kame-no-Umi, which, I feel, is rich in taste.

Rosina san said, "I drank about 10 types of sake today, and still I have 440 types to try. So, I must come back here." She was very eager to come back to Japan and told me she would go to Niigata next time in March for Niigata Sake Festival 2010 (にいがた酒の陣2010). I, as a sake lover, am very happy to have such an enthusiastic sake friend abroad.

Nov 21, 2009

How to Judge Sake

In front of me were daiginjo, namazake, junmai sake, tokubetsu honjozo, yamahai, etc. I was drinking these sakes and comparing them with each other. There was plenty of sake, and there was no fear that all the sake was drunk off since I was then at a sake brewery.

I enjoyed various kinds of sake beginning with the freshness of the namazake followed by the fragrance and smooth taste of the daiginjo. Then, I had some food before drinking acid and full-bodied yamahai. In this way, I continued trying one sake and another.

One gou, two gous, three gous, and I drank more, and there was plenty of sake since, I repeat, I was at a sake brewery. It was November 14. I was participating in "Gathering for Enjoying 'Tamura' and 'Kasen'" at Tamura Syuzoujou brewery.

With few acquaintances in the venue, I was a little nervous at first. However, after drinking some sake and getting drunk, I felt easy and could talk with people and staff of the brewery freely. Sake really makes people friendly!

And I continued drinking more and more. However, any heavy drinker has the limit and finally gets drunk if continuing drinking sake. I got drunk and my nose and tongue less well understood the virtue of the drink. How much sake in the world did I drink?

If a man in the state of inebriety continues drinking and frequently extends his hand unknowingly to a specific bottle of sake, this is the bottle he unconsciously selects. And, maybe he selects right sake for himself.

In the event, we could literally enjoy various sake of the brewery to our hearts' content. When I had got drunk very badly, I suddenly found myself drinking "Kiwametsuke Karakuchi" single-mindedly without paying no attention to daiginjo and other premium sakes.

"Yes! A good brew must be one that you want to drink more even after you drank very much of it," I thought.

Thus, in my conclusion, "Kasen Kiwametsuke Karakuchi" can be said to be certainly a good brew.

Nov 17, 2009

Sake Brewery Stamp Rally

I am participating in the stamp rally "Visiting Sake Breweries by Seibu Railway Line." Participants are to visit some or all of the specified breweries in Saitama and Tokyo, which are located along or relatively close to Seibu lines to collect stamps of breweries. After collecting stamps, I will participate in the prize competition for bottles of sake.

On the day when I visited Tamura Syuzoujou for sake brewery study tour, I first visited Ishikawa Brewery to collect the Tamajiman stamp, and then went to Tamura Syuzoujou, where I of course obtained the Kasen stamp.

Later, on another day, I went to Ozawa Syuzou to collect the Sawanoi stamp. Thus, I easily collected the three stamps since my home is along the JR Ome Line and these breweries are also along the same line.

October 11, my friend and I went for drive to see autumn leaves in a Chichibu area. Of course, this was a good opportunity to visit some breweries in the area.

Bukou Syuzou for the brand name "Bukou-Masamune"

The shop building has been registered as national tangible cultural property. They have a wide merchandise assortment.

The mother water has been registered as one of the 100 excellent spring waters of the Heisei period (from 1989). Bring a PET bottle and be given some of the water.

Yao Honten known for the brand name "Chichibu-Nishiki"

In contrast to Bukou Shuzou, the factory of Yao Honten has modern facilities.

The souvenir store for tourists and sake brewery museum are on the premises of the brewery. These establishments can be visited at ease. Beside sake, the souvenir store sells shochu, wine, and other local products.

We had lunch at the restaurant "Nosaka" close to Seibu Chichibu Station.

Pork miso bowl is sold at 850 yen. Charbroiled pork is very hot, soft and juicy.

In any case, autumn leaves in the Chichibu area were like those in these pictures (taken at a point close to Ashigakubo Station).

Finally, we visited Igarashi Syuzou brewing "Tenranzan.

The brewery displays antique items representing their history in their cozy little direct sales store.

So, by this day, I had collected six stamps.

Nov 10, 2009

Drinking Sake with a Favorite Cup

Saturday, a sake drinking gathering for enjoying "Tamajiman" was held at the izakaya restaurant Nanoka in Tachikawa city.

Tamajiman is sake brewed by Ishikawa Brewery in Fussa city, Tokyo, and there are many people who love this sake here in the western part of Tokyo.

On this day, we enjoyed many different types of sake including Daiginjo Nama Genshu Shizukudori, Tanrei Ginjo, and Tama-no-Yorokobi Junmai Daiginjo.

Among these sakes, a 720-ml bottle of Daiginjo Nama Genshu Shizukudori is sold at a price over 10,000 yen and was used to give a toast on that day. This high-end premium sake has an elegant fragrance and soft touch of taste with richness.

Tanrei Ginjo is dry sake with the alcohol content of 14 to 15 degrees. It has a mild aroma and is smooth drinkable sake. In this sake, I felt an attractive taste, which I guessed drived from koji, and I liked this sake best on that day.

Also, every participant was given a sake cup, which was sold by Mr. Tatsuro Sasaki, and everyone enjoyed sake with the given cup.

At the venue, Mr. Sasaki was also showing and selling his goods including sake cups and tokkuris. So, I bought one sake cup in addition to the given one, and thus I got two cups.

The purchased cup (right in the picture above) is an earthenware work called "Oribe" and this was created by Mr. Mitsunori Demachi. The one on the left is the cup given in this event. Using these favorite cups really adds to joy of drinking.

I am really enjoying looking closely at this Oribe cup. As you see in the photo below, it exhibits such different features from different angles.

I'm sure I will more enjoy sake with this cup.

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