Nov 30, 2010

Pleasure of warmed sake

Lately, it seems that sake is gaining in popularity outside Japan. I sometimes read blog articles about sake written by non-Japanese people. Reading such articles, I think that they tend to prefer ginjo sake, junmai sake, and other premium types of sake to regular sake and other low-priced sake types. This is probably because, in other countries, sake is not so popular as in Japan, they do not conceive it to be a beverage consumed on a daily basis, and they may think sake is something special and it should be enjoyed with sashimi or tempura in a fancy Japanese-style restaurant. Of course, it is a nice way to enjoy sake, and I don't deny it, though.

Needless to say, sake is an alcoholic beverage Japanese people have been drinking since old days. It have been drunk in ritualistic scenes such as wedding ceremonies, funerals, religious festivals, etc. Maybe I can say that, for Japanese people, sake is a part of their life. However, people can't afford high-end sake such as ginjo sake as a daily drink.

When people call it a day and then go back their own houses, they drink sake while feeling tiredness as an evidence of their satisfactory hard work. Looking back on the day or increasing their motivation for tomorrow's work, they drink sake in a relaxing mood. This has probably been a typical way of banshaku, or evening drink, for many of the Japanese. I guess they have been drinking sake in this manner on a daily basis since the Edo era or maybe earlier.

In my opinion, non-Japanese people would be able to have a wider range of opportunities to enjoy sake if low-priced table sake including futsushu (regular sake), which can be drunk on a daily basis casually at home, gains in popularity as widely as sake drunk during formal dinners or sake paired with decent Japanese foods.

As I thought in the way above, I am trying to introduce kanzake (warmed sake) to people in the world because kanzake is one of the casual ways of drinking sake, and usually people warm relatively low-priced sake to make kanzake (high-end sake tend to lose the balance of taste when warmed). And, here I provide the following movie:

The message of this move is "Boil some water in an electric pot, and place a flask filled with sake to warm it. This is an easy way to prepare kanzake, so I recommend this way to you!"

This movie seems to have a number of viewers from the United States and other countries. One viewer gave me a message to tell that he had even purchased an electric pot to use it for warming up sake. I am happy to receive such comments.

I want people in the world to know there are various ways of drinking sake. If you have never tried warmed sake, I want you to have a try.

Nov 25, 2010

South American folklore music and sake

It was September of 2008 when I first visited Toshimaya Syuzou sake brewery. On that day, a managing director of the company showed us their facilities such as the rice washer, rice steamer, fermentation tanks, bottling line, etc.

(This movie was taken September 9, 2008.)

At this time, we sampled some sakes of this brewery, and I drank Juuemon for the first time. The full-bodied bold taste of this junmai sake impressed me strongly.

By the way, Toshimaya Syuzou held an open brewery event last Sunday, on November 21. And, I went to the brewery for this event.

I got on a train and reached Higashi-Murayama Station at around 11:35. When I started walking to leave the station, someone called me from behind, and it was one of my drinking friends. So, we together reached the brewery.

At the brewery, we had sample this year's new sake, kamekuchi sake, etc., purchased bottles of junmai ginjo jukusei nama genshu, a limited item specially sold in this event, and then walked around in the venue to see whether some of our friends were there and to find no one. So, now, all we must do is to buy some sake and foods and enjoy them.

Since we heard the toji, master brewer of the brewery, and his company performers would start performance of South American folklore music from 12:30, we went to the square where a stage was set up. A lot of sake bottle boxes were arranged there so that visitors could use them as tables and stools. However, almost all the seats were occupied.

We were walking around in front of the stage for music performance while taking video and pictures and talking. Then, luckily two seats suddenly became vacant, and we could sit down just in front of the stage. I bought some foods and we had sake and foods while enjoying merry folklore there.

My friend bought a bottle of Juuemon Nakadori Nama Genshu, which we drank there. The toji was playing music with zampoña, quena, bombo, etc. while we were drinking his sake. That is to say, the toji amused us doubly.

Nov 18, 2010

Drinking various sake with right sake vessels

Recently, I bought four sake vessels at the pottery market in Mashiko Town, Tochigi Prefecture.
(Play list of movies regarding the Mashiko Pottery Market

I know that drinking a specific type of sake with a right drinking vessel enhances good characteristics of the sake. So, I tried choosing vessels according to several types of sake, and drank the sake. However, I may have been dogmatic in deciding on these combinations of sake and vessels described below, and some people may have different ways of combining sake and these vessels.

Vessel (1)

The first vessel is a tall one, which can hold as much as about 140 ml of sake. When I filled about 60% of this cup with ginjo sake, the aroma rose up from the inside of the cup. I set the thin brim of the cup to the lip and tilted the cup. The sake flew into the mouth from the cup smoothly, and I felt a pleasant touch of sweetness first. It seems that this cup accentuates the clear taste and fragrant aroma of ginjo sake.

Vessel (2)

The next vessel is also tall (this time, I bought three tall vessels). The capacity is about 90 ml. The marks on the cup look like hieroglyphic characters. They also look like dancing people with horny headgears on their heads. I also noticed that one of the marks looked like a kanji character of "笑," which means a laugh. The general mood of this cup is that of an unearthed ancient item. So, the idea that hit me was "Let's fill this cup with long-aged sake."

Vessel (3)

This tall cup has a white outer surface, on which line drawings have been scratched. The brownish color of the foundation mud is exposed as a result of the scratched lines. So, I am sure that two types of mud are used to make this cup (brownish mud is used for the foundation with white mud coated on it). The outside surface of the cup does not seem to have been glazed, while the inside surface has been glazed and has a layer of thin glass. I drank fresh chilled namazake with this cup.

By the way, the line drawing shows giant robots, or Mobile Suites (Gundam). So, this is a very unique sake vessel and I liked it at first glance.

Nov 15, 2010

Drinking "Tenranzan" on Mt. Tenranzan

Last week, I went for a hike in the vicinity of Han-no City, Saitama Prefecture. I walked along the following course:

Higashi-han-no Station on JR Hachiko Line -- Igarashi Shuzo Sake Brewery -- Mt. Tenranzan -- -- Koma Pass -- Kinchakuda Paddy -- Koma Station on Seibu Line

I started walking at around 10 o'clock at Higashi-han-no Station, and ended the walking of this day at Koma Station at about 2:30. If I had not taken the detour for visiting Igarashi Shuzo for sake, my walk would have been shorter by about one hour. However, in that case, I can't write an article for this blog, which deals with sake, so I walked the longer way.

An easier way to get to Igarashi Shuzo is to walk from Han-no Station on Seibu Line, but the map showed me that walking from JR Higashi-han-no Station to the brewery did not make a big difference in terms of distance, so I decided to walk from Higashi-han-no Station. However, I was not very sure whether I was on a right track, and I walked approximately southward by making a guess. And, finally I reached the street that runs along the Koma River. I was sure that the Igarashi Shuzo was located on this street. Actually, I have a good sense of geography, and I can usually manage to find a right way to the destination in such a case. However, it was a bit long way.

Igarashi Syuzo (arrival at 11:20)
Anyway, I could get to Igarashi Shuzo, and the shop there was selling their sake. When I entered the shop, the salesclerk was busy with some paperwork at her desk. She confirmed that I was not driving, took out some bottles of sake from the refrigerator, arranged them on the table, offered me sample sips of sake, and then went back to her desk to resume her work.

After sampling all types of the presented sake, I purchased a bottle of aged sake Koten and a 300-ml bottle of namazake and put them in my rucksack. According to the salesclerk, it takes about 20 minute on foot to Han-no Station, and the starting point of the trail to Mt. Tenranzan is farter beyond the station. Well, I had known that since I looked the map, and I thought she told me roughly correct time to the station. However, I don't like a 30-minute or longer walk on a paved road very much. I hoped that I could walk on unpaved trails soon and I tended to be at a trot.

The starting point to climb Mt. Tenranzan was near the Noninji Temple, and I walked the trail that passes beside the temple. It was a very short way to the summit, and actually it took only about 10 minutes for me to reach the summit. The part of the trail just below the summit was somewhat steep, but I think even kindergarten children can walk to get to the summit.

Tenranzan summit (arrival at 12:30)
Mt. Tenranzan stands 195 meters high. There is a robust concrete structure on the summit. This is a viewing platform, from which you can look down the town of Han-no City. Also, you can have a panoramic view of Okutama mountain area. In the past, Emperor Meiji watched his warriors hold military exercises from this point ("Tenranzan" means "a mountain from which Emperor watched something").

I drank some of Tenranzan namazake on the summit as I planned, had lunch there, and then started walking again for Koma Pass. I took about one hour to the pass, and the trail was broad and comfortable.

Koma Pass (arrival at 1:40)
It was somewhat dim on Koma Pass. I could not have a good view from there. From this point, I walked for about 30 minutes to reach the Kinchakuda Paddy.

Do-re-mi-fa Bridge (arrival at 2:00)
The Do-re-mi-fa Bridge is a small submerging bridge spanning the Koma River that runs meanderingly around the Kinchaku Paddy. I walked across this bridge and reached the Kinchakuda Paddy.

The photo above on the right was taken from the Do-re-mi-fa Bridge. I tried to take picture of swimming fish in the water, but can you see them?

Kinchakuda Paddy (arrival at 2:10)
I think the best season to visit the Kinchakuda Paddy is late Sempember, when flowers of the cluster-amaryllis are in full bloom. The photo below on the right was taken in late September, 2008.

Views from the Shikanodai Bridge
I left the Kinchakuda Paddy for Koma Station. On the way to the station, I walked across the Shikanodai Bridge over the Koma River. The photos below were taken from this bridge.

Nov 8, 2010

Pleasant pottery market

Selecting a sake drinking vessel according to the type of sake you drink, how you like it, or your frame of mind -- this is one way of enjoying sake. I already have so many drinking vessels that I often hesitate about which drinking vessel to use when drinking sake. Therefore, I did absolutely not need to purchase any additional sake vessel in the pottery market held in Mashiko Town, Tochigi Prefecture, on November 3 to 7.

Anyway, on November 3, I went to the market in Mashiko Town with two drinking friends since they wanted to visit there and buy something.

At around 9:00 in the morning, we parked the car in a parking lot somewhat far from the venue. There, we could park the car free of charge. Then, we walked for about 10 minutes to reach the main street of the town, which extends from Mashiko Station to the east.

As we walked along the main street eastward, the street got busy and crowded with more and more cars and people. After we passed the intersection named Jonaizaka, I began to feel an all-out brisk atmosphere of the pottery market.

On both sides of the street, there were many shops and tents, where various types of pottery were sold. There were also tent shops on backstreets and alleys, in squares, and in parks. Besides pottery, folk handcrafts were sold. There were also food stands selling snacks such as hot dogs and beverages such as beer and sake.

As I own a lot of sake drinking vessels, I intended to buy the least possible number of sake cups, but, in fact, I bought these four cups. There were so many nice works there.

Nov 6, 2010

Warmed sake and autumn leaves

Now that it is November, high atmospheric pressures are coming in series from the Asian Continent to Japan to cover the archipelago, and we are being favored by good weather lately. So, on November 5, I went on a hiking to Mt. Takao in Hachioji City, Tokyo.

This time, I took a ride of the chair lift to quickly gain elevation, and then reached the summit via the No. 2 and 3 trails of the Takao Nature Study Trails. Then, I walked farther westwards to the point called Icchodaira, which is located within about a 30-minute walking distance from the summit.

It seemed that the culmination of autumn leaves of Mt. Takao was yet to come, but along the ridge trails connecting the summit of Mt. Takao and Icchodaira, leaves of cherry trees and some other trees were turning into yellowish and reddish colors. In the spring, these cherry trees charmed us with beautiful sakura blossoms, and now in turn they were entertaining our eyes with autumn leaves.

Well, this time, I enjoyed drinking warmed sake over these beautiful autumn leaves. I had brought some snacks to eat with sake and put them on a table placed at Icchodaira. Then, I boiled water and put sake cartons in the hot water to warm them. In a few minutes, the sake was warmed nicely.

Incidentally, I prefer futsushu (regular sake) to high-end sake such as junmai or ginjo sake for warmed sake in a case like this since futsushu can be drunk more casually than high-end sake.

Nov 1, 2010

I want a sake warmer!

As the autumn advances and it gets colder, delight of warmed sake increases. I like drinking warmed sake while grilling dried fish on a shichirin (small desk-top charcoal brazier) and nibbling it.

However, it is bothersome and spoils the pleasure to bring back an empty sake flask to your kitchen to make another helping. So, you need something that allows you to continuously enjoy your drinking without leaving your seat, or some device with which you can prepare warmed sake at the table. More specifically, it can be a douko (sake warmer used in a nagahibachi) and nagahibachi (brazier used indoors for heating). Otherwise, it can be a household-purpose small-sized sake warmer. Incidentally, a commodity called mini-kansuke uses just hot water to warm up sake and does not have a heating system, so it may be useful if you do not drink sake very much and you don't need to make many helpings of warmed sake. However, it is not very useful for heavy drinkers since the water in the mini-kansuke soon cools down.

Of all types of such sake warming devices, what I want to get is a copper kandouko (sake warmer) sold by Daikokuya. The kandouko holds some amount of water in it, warms the water with heat of charcoal fire also burning inside this device, and warms sake with the warmed water. While warming sake, you can also cook some foods such as dried fish on the grill placed over the charcoal fire. It seems perfect for my requirements, doesn't it? However, it is priced at 126,000 yen, and I am hesitating about whether to purchase it.

Mechanism of a kandouko

The combination of a nagahibachi and douko also seems a cool setting for enjoying warmed sake. They function by the same principles as Daikokuya's kandouko mentioned above. The douko is placed on the burning charcoal in the nagahibachi so that the water contained in the douko can be warmed and, subsequently, the sake in a flask sunk in the water can be warmed up. Maybe, I can buy them through an Internet auction less expensively than Daikokuya's kandouko. However, a nagahibachi is big and heavy and it is not very convenient to use it on a table.

Combination of a nagahibachi and douko

For now, I use a small electric pot to warm up sake. Although it is not so elegant as a douko, nagahibachi, etc., but it is anyway useful.

Yesterday, I used this electric pot to warm up a sake carton as shown in the movie below. I jut put the sake carton in whole and drank it. This is maybe a rude and wild way for preparing warmed sake, though.

(Later, in February of 2011, I finally bought a kandouko. So, I wrote another artilce about the kandouko after the test use of it. Here is the post: "Finally got a kandouko (sake warmer)!")