Dec 29, 2011

Looking back on 2011 (May to August)

May is the end of spring or beginning of summer. Some days, we have moderate weather, and some days, we also have very hot weather like in summer. One day, we had a walk along the riversides of the Tama River in Okutama area. Rivers in summer days are beautiful.

On June 2, the ruling Democratic Party had a gathering before the parliamentary meeting. The then prime minister Naoto Kan stated his resignation in this gathering. So, many of the lawmakers of the party decided not to vote against the no-confidence motion against the Cabinet to wait for the voluntary resignation of the prime minister. As a result, the no-confidence motion against the Cabinet was voted down in the parliamentary meeting. However, on the following day, Kan did state his intention to remain at his post. This was the first time to see such a cunning prime minister who deceived people in this way. I was very angry and I sent a protesting e-mail message to the prime minister's office. Hatoyama was certainly a loopy man but still looked quite a good person compared with Kan at this time.
This month started with such an offending political drama, and when I was in such an unpleasant mood, I would rather like to see something tranquilizing such as an old building. Anyway, as we had planned before, friends and I went to visit an old Japanese house in Machida City. This house is called "Buaiso," where Jiro Shirasu and his wife Masako lived before. I went through the front gate, saw a big persimmon tree behind the gate, and there was a nicely maintained garden in front of the main building. This was a nice house! The main building was a big thatch-roofed house. We enjoyed seeing the interior and furnishings of the house showing the taste of Masako, who was quite at home in antiques.

I often travel in summer with friends. This summer, we went to the Aizu area in Fukushima Prefecture. Tohoku areas had greatly been stricken by the earthquake and nuclear plant accident in March, and people and business in these areas were quite devastated. We had heard that visitors from other prefectures decreased in number compared with the same season of a usual year. So, we just wanted to visit one of these areas for the sightseeing business of the area.
In Kitakata City, we visited Yamatogawa Shuzo Sake Brewery. "Kasumochi Genshu Yauemonsake" was sweet sake, which used koji about twice as much as usual sake.

Chiefly in summer, in the Okutama, Ome, and Akiruno areas in Tokyo, the Chichibu area in Saitama Prefecture, and other Kanto areas, they perform "sasara-shishimai" or "sanbiki-shishimai" lion dances dedicating to Shinto deities of various shinto shrines. This year, we could visit and see sasara-shishimai lion dances at Suwa Shrine in Saitama Prefecture. These dances were familiar to enthusiasts of lion dances of this type.
These dances are performed as prayers for bountiful harvests, lasting peace of the nation, prevention of epidemics, etc. So, when our nation is suffering like in this year, it is meaningful to perform such dances.

Dec 24, 2011

Looking back on 2011 (January to April)

At the beginning of this year, I visited Sawanoien, the rest station operated by Ozawa Syuzou brewery and bought a fukubukuro (lucky bag). I expected that this year would be a happy year. Of course, I never dreamed at that time that our country would suffer that big earthquakes and subsequent fatal accidents in the nuclear plant in Fukushima.

I often played with wild birds. I needed about three months to tame this Japanese great tit, and it finally became to feed directly from my hand. I set a birdhouse on a tree in front of my house. I could also shoot video of birds with a camera set in the birdhouse. Some of my video works show how the birds hatched eggs and brought up chicks. You can access my Youtube channel to watch these works.

Niigata-Sake-no-Jin (Niigata Sake Festa) was one of the biggest annual sake events for me. I was to attend the event and have test of Niigata-Seishu-Tatsujin-Kentei (Niigata Sake Expert Test) there. On March 11, I was practicing sake tasting in the morning in preparation for this test, and the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in the afternoon on the same day. Inevitably, the sake festa event and test were cancelled.

In this season of a usual year, you can see people having outdoor sake drinking parties under cherry trees in full blossom. However, they were not very willing to have such upbeat parties when it was just about a month after the catastrophic blows caused by that series of the earthquakes and fatal accidents at the nuclear plant. I even thought that the word jishuku (voluntary restraint) would be selected as a one of the most popular words of the year when event organizers were cancelling various happy upbeat festivals, parties, and other gatherings. When people were in such a negative devastating mood, some sake breweries in the Tohoku Area (disaster-stricken area) made a move. They created some video streams and uploaded them to Youtube, The video said, "Please drink sake while admiring cherry blossoms." I felt like I was cheered up by people in the Tohoku area.

Dec 13, 2011

Sake restaurant for stylish ladies

I would like to write about a sake restaurant Mamiana in Tachikawa City, Tokyo. Unlike many izakayas in Japan, this restaurant is quite sophisticated and it is easy for a woman to enter this restaurant even when she is alone (many people in Japan still tend to think that an izakaya is a place for men or drunkards, and woman's entering such a restaurant alone gives an impression that she is quite a heavy drinker or another negative impression).

Now that beer and other types of overseas alcohol beverages have gain in popularity in Japan, consumers, especially young people, do not lately drink sake very much. One of the reasons why sake is not popular among young people is that they have the prejudice that sake is not "sophisticated" or sake smells "bad." We have been watching scenes on TV and in movies in which senior and middle-aged men drink sake in tatami-floored rooms in old houses, at messy izakayas, at food stands on streets, and in other cheap settings. In brief, these sake-drinking people do not look very cool, and probably, these scenes have helped people conceive negative images about sake.

Well, how such prejudice like that I described above can be wiped out from young people to usher them to the wonderful world of sake? I feel Mamiana is showing an answer to this question.

In Mamiana, light lilting music is playing. The interior of the restaurant gives a clean, free and easy impression, creating a somewhat urban atmosphere. Working women on their way home may feel free to drop in at this restaurant and enjoy some sake with nice foods.

I think, from the video works provided below, which I made before, you can see the atmosphere in this isakaya.

The woman in this video seems to have a habit of straightening her index finger when she holds a sake cup. It is good that this is not her middle finger.

If she comes into this izakaya alone, she will probably drink sake like the way in this video.

Sake-loving men shall take their girlfriends, wives, partners, etc. to this izakaya to introduce them to a stylish way of drinking sake. This, I think, will contribute to expanding the sake market in Japan.

Dec 5, 2011

Amusement park where a sake sommelier resides

If you plan to stay in the Tokyo area in this winter and want to have some special sake experience, I would recommend you to visit the amusement park Yomiuriland. The park is now holding a limited-time event named Jewellumination. This is an electric spectacular event, which ornaments the park with LED lights of seven jewelry colors.

And, you must think what this illuminations event has to do with sake? Actually, one of my drinking friends is a key person in food service of this event. They have set up food stands named "Jewel Hot Dining" on the park premises under his instructions. However, he is not an ordinary manager, but he is a kikisake-shi (sake sommelier) and a great sake drinker. So, naturally he demanded the restaurant serve his selection of sake bottles and other favorite alcohol beverages as well as foods to be paired with these drinks. The Jewel Hot Dining consists of five food stands, and one of them is, thus, providing alcohol beverages and foods. There, you can enjoy wonderful electric illumination with nice sake, beer, whisky, and other beverages.

The menu includes the following sake names:

  Dassai (獺祭)
  Houken (宝剣)
  Oroku Kei (王祿の渓)
  Okunokami (屋守)
  Kamoshibito Kuheiji (醸し人九平次)
  Jikon (而今)
  Ugo-no-Tsuki (雨後の月)

Warm Sake:
  Daishichi Junmai Kimoto (大七純米生酛)

Other alcohol beverages on the menu include local draft beers, wines, cocktails, whiskies, shochu, awamori.

You know, this is not an izakaya restaurant specialized in sake, but a mere food stand temporarily set up in the park!

Besides, the sake sommelier did not fail to give consideration to one thing especially important for drinkers. He demanded there should be public lavatories close to the food stands, and actually temporary facilities have been set up for these food stands. So, we drinkers can continue drinking at ease.

I asked a waitress at the food stand whether she likes sake, and she said she had not been drinking sake before, and have not known sake was so nice. I am pleased if young people like her become more familiar with sake and understand the virtue of sake.

  Get off the train at Keio Yomiuriland Mae on Keio Sagamihara Line.
  Take Sky Shuttle Gondola to the main gate.

Jewllumination & Jewel Hot Dining Operating Period:
  November 11, 2011 to March 11, 2012
  (For operation days, check the calendar:

Dec 2, 2011

Increasingly, Ichibay big into kandouko (sake warmer)

I wrote about the kandouko sake warmer in a post little time ago, and recently I bought another kandouko in an Internet auction. So, I have two such articles now, and since each one has a sake serving capacity just for two or three drinkers, having two probably allows me to hold a home drinking party for five to six people (I often drink in a group of five or six drinkers).

Anyway, I carried out a test run of my new kandouko.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, I shot video of this test run and made a short movie.

I, who want to introduce warmed sake culture to people all over the world, give explanation of this kandouko in Russian in this movie. One of the preconceptions about Russians prevailing among people is that they are heavy drinkers. So, this time, I decided to make a movie in Russian language so that Russian-speaking people could learn some knowledge about sake. As a matter of fact, the language is not a big issue about this video, which is a good point of many video works. You know, this video is quite comprehensible. You would understand what I am talking about even if I were speaking in Spanish, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, or whatever language in this video.

By the way, I made a successful bid for this beautiful, tasteful article with an old wooden box only for JPY 3900. I think I was very lucky.

This kandouko has rather a shallow brazier with a relatively large caliber, burning charcoal well and heating sake quickly beyond my expectation. Probably, the rounded shape of the device cuts the water capacity, contributing to shortening of the time for warming water and sake. This is an easy-to-use kandouko.

Nov 21, 2011

Outdoor warmed sake

Last week, I thought it would be nice to go to Okutama Lake and see autumn leaves. So, my friend and I went to the lake.

If you go westward along the road on the north lakeside, across the Minedani-bashi Bridge, and through the tunnel, you will find a float bridge on Okutama Lake. The float bridge connects the north and south sides of the lake. We got off the bus at a bus stop on the lake and got to the north end of the float bridge. It was already past noon.

Formerly, they used oil drums as floats of this bridge, which was, therefore, called "Drum Bridge." Now, they are using float made of some plastic material. Because they discontinued using drums or for another reason, this bridge is not called "Drum Bridge" any longer. Instead, it is called just "Mugiyama Float Bridge" (Mugiyama seems to be a name of a place). To me, "Drum Bridge" sounds nicer, but actually no drums are used for the bridge. So, maybe there is no longer a reason to include "drum" in the name of this bridge.

We walked on this interesting shaky bridge to the opposite side. Then, we walked for about an hour along the trail on the south shore, to reach "Yama no Furusato Mura," which is facilities, where visitors can have lunch at the restaurant, learn about nature of the Okutama area, enjoy camping, and do other activities.

As to autumn leaves, it was still early for seeing the most beautiful colors. Maybe, this weekend will be fine? Anyway, while hearing chirping wild birds, and walking on rustling fallen leaves is quite relaxing and refreshing.

At the restaurant of "Yama no Furusato Mura," we had a late lunch. The fried Okutama Yamame Trout was nice.

After the lunch, I used my portable gas stove to boil some water outside the restaurant. I placed a small bottle of sake in the warmed water to make warmed sake.

The table and benches were in the warm afternoon sunshine, and staying there was cozy. However, when it was close to three o'clock, the sun moved to behind the western mountains. Then, suddenly, it became cold. We realized we were in mountains, and it was good that I had prepared my equipment for warmed sake.

Nov 19, 2011

Ichibay lately big into kandouko (sake warmer)

The portable kandouko is a cute and tasteful sake warmer. Since I got a small one in an auction on the Internet, I have often used this device to enjoy warmed sake. It is not such a large device for sufficient and steady supply of warmed sake for five or more drinkers, but it is a cool device for two or three drinkers. Low priced sake such as regular sake, junmai sake, and honjozo sake is good enough with this device.

You pour some water in a kandouko, and place burning charcoal in the brazier in this device. The heat of the charcoal warms up the water. So, you put a flask or another vessel containing sake in the warmed water and wait. Soon, the sake becomes warm.
(For details about the kandouko, see this post: "Finally got a kandouko (sake warmer)!"

The kandouko is not merely a sake warming device, but it also serves as a tiny hibachi. You can set a grill on the brazier and cook some food while warming and sipping your sake. You can grill dried fish, shiitake mushrooms, and other foods. This way of drinking may look somewhat poorish, but it is folksy, and I feel like I can flatter myself that I am a bearer of sake culture.

Lately, I am practicing a new way of using my kandouko; I warm canned food on the brazier

If you are interested in warm sake, how about getting a kandouko?

Nov 11, 2011

Shoot a target and get canned food!

(Sequel to the previous post)

After drinking at Sawanoi-en until early afternoon, we moved to the BBQ facilities Rengado Akatombo.

Rengado Akatombo has a large roofed BBQ site. On this day, it was rainy and food stalls were set up under the roof. A performance stage was also placed under the roof (the stage is set up outside in usual years, but it was a rainy day). On the stage, music, funny dances, Japanese traditional performing arts, and other performances were presented.

However, not being interested in such performances very much this time, we were busy drinking and chatting.

Almost all the seats were occupied at the large roofed BBQ site. However, there was another building across the yard beside the roofed BBQ site. In this cabin-like building, there were a few tables with seats, some of which were still vacant. In this place, visitors could enjoy a shooting game. A player of this game was to mount on a machine horse back like one known as the brand name of Rodeo Boy. This machine, moving up and down, right and left, and back and forth, makes it difficult for a shooter to aim at a target. You can shoot three times for 300 yen. If you hit a target, you will be given a can of food.

By the way, I saw an acquaintance when we left Sawanoi-en, and she recommended wasabi croquette sold at Rengado Akatombo. So, I bought it and ate it.

This croquette was like a usual potato croquette but it included wasabi stems and leaves. In addition, the woman at the shop spread a lot of green wasabi paste on it before giving it to me. The croquette was spicy and tasty.

At the table, while eating the wasabi croquette and drinking Ichiban-gumi Nigori, which was a special version of Ichiban-gumi and sold only at this place, the president of the brewery appeared. Since I often go Sawanoi-en and attend various sake-drinking events held by the brewery, I have acquaintance with him. So, he kindly brought us some delicious gyozas. By the way, these gyozas were sold by a restaurant, which is usually operating near Okutama Terminal Station on JR Ome line. Once, I went to this restaurant, but all the seats were occupied at that time and I couldn't eat any. So, I was happy that I could eat these gyozas this time.

Also, women sitting in the place just beside me kindly gave us a food can, canned mackerel boiled with miso soybean paste. They said they tried a shooting game, successfully hit a target, and won this can. Thanks!

We ate this canned food after boiling it directly with a spirit lamp. Hot boiled mackerel was nice with Sawanoi sake. Maybe, I want to try this style for myself later.

Nov 1, 2011

"Ichiban-gumi" and "Shiboritate"

I got to Sawanoi-en at around 10 o'clock. It was a bit rainy.

On October 22nd, Ozawa Syuzou, the brewer of Sawanoi sake, held an open-brewery event. Many people who love Sawanoi sake gathered at brewery for the brewery's sake including this year's new brew.

Since I saw many people getting off the train at Sawai Station and they were undoubtedly heading for the brewery, I expected the brewery would get crowded soon. I knew many of these people would first buy tickets for the sake tasting. They could enter a brewery's building, where every type of Sawanoi sake bottles was placed on tables so that they could taste the sake. However, I decided to skip the sake tasting this year. I passed by the ticket selling place, headed for the Sawanoi-en rest station, bought a small bottle of warmed sake and oden, and occupied a table, because I anticipated that my friends would join me later.

Warmed sake with oden was a good starter for this day's long lasting "drinking party."

It is a bit cold and warmed sake is especially nice in such conditions.

Soon, the rest station began crowded. People, apparently a family, came to my table and asked if they could share the table with me. When a drinking place is crowded, people must make mutual concessions and have a good time over sake. So, of course, I let them sit at my table with pleasure. Saying they were from Mitaka City, they were admiring a beautiful Tama River running by the pavilion of the rest station. Actually, the water was murky due to the rain and it was not very beautiful to me. I somewhat in a roundabout way said, "In fine weather, the river is clearer." Nevertheless, the young woman, seemingly a daughter of the middle-aged couple, seemed to be satisfied with the sight, saying, "The river is beautiful all the same."

I thought maybe they were great lovers of nature.

Later on, my friends, acquaintances, and those who came with them joined me. Now, we were five people and our table became crowded and lively. The place was a bit cramped for room but it was pleasant to drink with many people.

On this day, we chiefly drank Shiboritate and Ichiban-gumi. Both were non-pasteurized new sake. Many said that they liked Ichiban-gumi better than Shiboritate, but I preferred Shiboritate. However, as we continue drinking or as we got drunk, the difference between them became insignificant.

(To be continued)

Oct 24, 2011

Tokyo Sake Train

The Tama Monorail line, crossing JR Chuo line at right angles near Tachikawa Station, runs north to south. It is quite a short line and, actually, it takes only 36 minutes to travel from Kamikitadai, the north end station, to Tama Center, the south end. The event of "Tokyo Sake Train 2011 Autumn," which chartered a monorail train of this line, was held on October 1. The participants could enjoy the ride of this train while drinking various sakes brewed in Tokyo. I was among the participants on this day, the sake day, a perfect day for enjoying sake!

My friend and I, after going through the acceptance procedure At Kamikitadai Station, got on the train, found our specified seats, and got seated. The cars were just ordinary commuter cars having long benches on which passengers were to be seated their backs facing against the windows. However, this time, tables had been brought in each car, and arranged between the benches. Placed on the tables were bottles of Tokyo sake.

After leaving Kamikitadai Station, the train was to go to Tama Center Station, and it was to turn back and reach Tachikawa Kita Station. Then, the event was to be over. The travel time between Kamikitadai to Tama Cneter is 36 minutes and Tama Center to Tachikawa Kita is 24 minutes. So, actual time of our ride was only 50 minutes. Don't you think this time length is too short to enjoy sake to your heart's content?

Actually, this train had a long stop of 55 minutes at Tama Center. During this stop, the participants could continue drinking at their seats, visit other cars to find any good sake or people to talk with, or get out of the train to move onto the platform. On the platform, a live concert by President Ishikawa of Ishikawa Brewery, the producer of Tamajiman Sake, was being held. So, this event was more enjoyable than I expected. When the train was stopped, we could easily walk around in the cars and had no difficulty to pour sake

After dark, somewhere before Tachikawa Kita, the lights in the train were turned off, and we could enjoy the nightscape from the train running on the raised monorail track. It must be a rare opportunity to look down the nightscape from the inside of a dark train.

Oct 8, 2011

After having a look at the Saru-hashi Bridge, I want to drink Gokyo.

September 9, 2011. Heavy rainfall that was brought by Typhoon 12 to various areas in Japan had changed the water of the Katsura River, which I suppose usually is a clear stream, in to a murky torrent. The flow was crushing with roaring sounds into rocks and cliffs of the gorge. Above the torrent, against a background of a clear blue sky, is some elaborate structure connecting the cliffs on both sides. This is a bridge called Saru-hashi, one of the Japan's three unusual bridges.

The Saru-hashi Bridge is a wooden bridge spanning the Katsura River running through the Ohtsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture. This bridge has uncommon structure. The following explains how this bridge was constructed:
1. Holes were bored on the cliffs on both sides of the river.
2. Square timbers were inserted in the holes so that the timbers jutted out from the cliffs slightly upward.
3. The second timbers were laid on the first timbers jutting to the air. At this time, the second timbers jutted farther into the air than the first timbers.
4. Then, the third timbers were laid on the second so that the third timbers jutted farther than the second.
5. Thus, timbers were laid on timbers, and the jutting structures on the both cliffs grew close to each other.
6. When the jutting structures become close enough to each other, the upper part of the bridge was placed on them.
7. In this way, this bridge was constructed.

This beautiful wooden bridge has tiny roofs on each of its beams and timbers to protect them from rain, boasting elaborate and splendid architecture.

By the way, when watching this bridge, I naturally came across the question that what are the rest two of the Japan's three unusual bridges. So, I conducted investigation and learned that one is the Kintaikyo Bridge in Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. As to the other, there seem to be several assertions. Some say it is the Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, others say it is the Kazura Bridge in Tokushima Prefecture.

Anyway, it seems that at least the Kintaikyo Bridge is counted as one of them. This bridge has four bridge piers, and three small wooden arches connect these four piers. Another two wooden bridges connect the outer-most two piers with the banks on both sides of the river. Thus, a total of small five bridges are connected, forming one long bridge. I have ever seen this bridge on TV, but I have never visited there to see it. Some day, I want to see it.

By the way, did you know that the Kintaikyo Bridge is also called Kintai Gokyo (Kintai Five Bridges)? Did you know sake named Gokyo produced in Iwakuni City was named after this bridge?

So, my thought started at the Saru-hashi Bridge and finally came to sake! Suddenly, I wanted to drink Gokyo. Yes, yes! I really wanted to drink it while thinking of that beautiful Kintaikyo Bridge.

I went out to the liquor shop nearby and got this sake.

Sep 27, 2011

Izakaya restaurant where there are many women customers

Before, customers of general izakayas were mostly men. Any special attention for ladies was not paid in the interior or service of a typical izakaya, which was not decorated very elaborately. Men seemed to be happy as long as they could drink nice alcohol beverages and eat good foods at reasonable prices. Lately, however, izakaya restaurants that have factors of beautifulness in interiors, spiffiness, cuteness, etc., which attract attention from women, are increasing in number. Such restaurants are easier for women customers to enter.

Asedaku Shinsuke in Tachikawa City may fall under the category of such izakaya restaurants.

This restaurant is operating at a small plot ten-odd meters off from a lively street. When opening a sliding door at the front, you are ushered into a space, which is furnished with a light-tone-veined woody counter and tables, creating a unified and cozy relaxing mood. When my friend and I were there, two men were working behind the counter and two or three women were working as waitresses.

After getting seated at the counter, an Italian-style bagna càuda was brought as an otohshi appetizer (an izakaya usually takes cover charges and gives you a small dish).

We could not find many names of sakes on the menu sheet, but when we asked whether they carried any sakes other than those on the menu, we knew they carried interesting sakes. At this time, we ordered Yamada (brewery unknown), Konaki Junmai (Chiyomusubi Shuzo), and Aki-tombo (Izumibashi Shuzo) and two dishes. Their foods used good-looking plates and dishes and were beautifully arranged on them, which seemed to be liked by women.

During my drinking, I suddenly notice that, to my little surprise, most customers were women and there were just two men, I and the other one, who was with a woman.

During my drinking, I suddenly notice that, to my little surprise, most customers were women and there were just two men, I and the other one, who was with a woman.

To change the subject, recently my YouTube channel, to which I have been uploading my video works since May of 2007, has reached the playback count of 200,000. Since I have uploaded a total of 611 works until as of today, this number may be no wonder. However, I am happy to see increase in the number of my channel viewers. Thank you, viewers. The video below was not shot at the izakaya Asedaku Shinsuke I described above but at Oumi, which I haunt. This time, my camera was out of order and could not record my and friend's voices, so I added a sound track that was provided by the YouTube site.

Sep 20, 2011

Sanbiki-shishimai--three-lion dance (2)

This is the sequel to the prior post of "Sanbiki-shishimai--three-lion dance."

Usually, a three-lion dance is performed by three men (they dance wearing headgears looking like monster heads while beating drums tied onto their waists) and four sasara players (hanagasa dancers) (they may be men, women, or children wearing headgears with imitation flowers and they dance while playing sasara instruments). In addition to these members, there are those who dance and shout for the lion dancers to be encouraged and some harlequins or clowns wearing funny masks. Some clowns dance with somewhat obscene objects in their hands such as one resembling a big penis. Also, there are bamboo fife players and singers. However, such an organization described above is a basic organization and there may be variations. The three-lion dances in every district vary in dance, music (fifes, drums, etc.), costumes, and other elements. I believe that knowing such differences adds to the pleasure of watching these lion dances.

This time, I will write about the lion dances inherited at the following shrines and a temple in three districts:
Aoki Shrine in the Ohtaba district in Okutama Town, Tokyo
Jofukuin Temple in the Kami-nariki district in Ome City, Tokyo
Suwa Shrine in the Shimo-naguri district in Han-noh City, Saitama Prefecture

At Aoki Shrine, their three lion dances are performed in late August and the Ohtaba district, where Aoki Shrine is located, is in the eastern part of Okutama Town, sharing a border with the east, adjacent city of Ome. Actually, there is a mountain path that runs from this place to the Kami-nariki district via Nasaka Pass (this route is also called Tokyo Metropolitan Route 202, Kami-nariki Kawai Line).

In the Kami-nariki district, there is a temple named Jofukuin. To the south west of this temple is Mt. Takamizu. Near the summit of this mountain stands the Fudo-do, a temple building dedicated to Fudo Myopo (Acala Vidyârâja). Every year, on the Sunday of April that is closest to April 8, which is believed to be the birthday of Buddha, three-lion dances are performed in front of the building. So, these dances are probably more widely known as three-lion dances of Mt. Takamizu than as those with the modifier of Jofukuin Temple or Kami-nariki. The ridge lying in the north of the Kami-nariki district borders Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture, and people in the Kami-nariki and Shimo-naguri districts in olden days intercommunicated with each other via Kosawa Pass on the ridge (modern people can drive cars to come and go through the Kosawa Tunnel that runs under the pass).

At Suwa Shrine in the Shimo-naguri district, three-lion dances are performed on Saturday and Sunday close to August 25. They perform their dances as rehearsal on Saturday and then real thing on Sunday.

These 3 three-lion dances are said to be in the same bloodline. The dances of Aoki Shrine were first started about 350 years ago. Then, the dances were brought over Nasaka Pass into the Kami-nariki district and handed to Jofukuin Temple in the place. Later, they were in turn brought over Kosawa Pass into Shimo-naguri district. So, they are like brothers and have many similarities. However, the dances of each district have acquired their own individuality in the course of time. I think it is interesting to compare the dances of these three districts.

Last year, I went to Aoki Shrine in the Ohtaba district to see their dances, the eldest among those of the three districts. At that time, a dance of Mt. Takamizu and dance of Suwa Shrine from Shimo-naguri were also performed as special performances. Since the dances of the same program "San-byoshi" from the three different districts were performed, the audience could watch these dances and compare them. Unfortunately, I was late for these programs and could not watch them.

Nonetheless, I visited these thee places at separate opportunities to watch dances, and shot video of these dances. So, I can now watch and compare these dances.

Among many programs of three-lion dances, "Mejishi-gakushi," or hiding of the female lion, is one of my favorites. This usually lasts for about two hours and is one of the longest programs. In the story of this program, the two male lions scramble for the female lion. First the younger male successfully takes the female to his place and gets her alone. Wondering where the female is, the older male looks for her to find what is happening. Then, he tempts her to join him, and he successfully takes her to his place and gets her alone. Then, in turn, the younger lion finds what is happening and tempts her. In this way, they scramble for the female.

Especially, I like scenes where a male tempts the female and I consider these scenes to be important high points. The female, who first hesitates to go with a new male, is gradually moved by the new male, and finally leave the old male to go with the new one. I think these scenes well express a woman's mind that is not easily settled between two males.

I have picked up such scenes from those different three programs and have got together them in one movie. So, please watch and enjoy the three-lion dances of Aoki Shrine in Otaba, those of Mt. Takamizu, and those of Suwa Shrine in Shimo-naguri.

Sep 17, 2011

Ge-ge-ge no Nemurizake

Recently, when I went to Yamanashi Prefecture for picking grape in a grape farm, I dropped in Sasaichi, a sake brewery in Ohtsuki City. There, I bought a bottle of sake named "Ge-ge-ge no
Nemurizake" (the bottle has a label on which a picture of the Japan's cartoon or anime hero Ge-ge-ge no Kitaro is drawn). Sasaichi is selling several types of sake that have characters from anime, movies, TV programs, etc. on their labels. For example, there are Ken-oh (an alias name of Raoh from the action anime "Fist of North Star"), Alien Baltan (an alien who has a head resembling a cicada and big claws like a lobster from Ultraman, an SF TV drama), and others. It is interesting to me that I can see such characters on sake labels.

Well, "Nemurizake" literally means sleeping sake, so will I get sleepy if I drink this? Or, was this named so because it had been sleeping? Actually, this junmai ginjo sake had been sleeping in a wine barrel for aging (Sasaichi is also producing wine and they used their wine barrels for aging sake).

By the way, one of my problems is that I often get sleepy when I drink sake, even when I was with a good-looking lady. It doesn't mean I drink too much and get sick. I am just having a doze for a short break. Usually, I will get awake in 30 minutes to an hour, and become able to continue drinking normally. I remember my grandfather, who was a heavy drinker, also had a similar drinking style, often having a doze when drinking, and starting drinking after a while. So, maybe, I inherit my grandfather's drinking style.

Now, I will write about my experiences that somewhat troubled me due to my being prone to have a doze while drinking.

The first story I am telling you occurred when my friends and I were drinking in an izakaya. At that time, I got sleepy as usual, while the others were enjoying chat over sake. I was sleeping comfortably with my head in my arms at the table, faintly hearing the friends enjoying sake.

According to my friend, the izakaya mistress came to our table while I was sleeping and said,
"Oh, this man is sleeping."
One of my friends answered,
"He is all right, just having a short break, and we will continue drinking here and order other foods and sake." (She was suggesting that we did not intend to use this restaurant just as a sleeping place and were willing to order additional foods and sake.)
Then, this mistress insisted,
"A person who falls into a doze while drinking tends to get sick badly, so you should leave this place with him now."
In this way, we were driven out of this izakaya, although we had not drunk enough. I feel sorry for those who were with me at that time. Anyway, the izakaya had to be more generous to allow me to have just a short doze, hadn't they?

At another time, I went to another izakaya for some sake with a lady. We sat at the counter and started drinking. Then, I got sleepy as usual. Although I felt sorry for her, I had just a short doze.

It seemed that she, being bored having no one to speak with, ordered various foods and sake, and drank and ate and drank and drank.

When I woke up, I knew she had completely got drunk and couldn't make even a step. It took maybe more than 20 minutes to reach the station dragging her while it would take just a minute or so under normal conditions. So, I had such a hard time then. And, I learned I should never make a lady drink alone in some ways.

Anyway, as to this Ge-ge-ge no Nemurizake, in my personal opinion, I felt it was somewhat gaudy in taste and not easy to drink. Maybe, there is a good food pairing or good way of drinking for this sake.

Sep 8, 2011

Sanbiki-shishimai--three-lion dance

Sanbiki-shishimai, or three lion dance is a form of local performing art that is usually performed to pray for bountiful harvests, security and prosperity of the nation, protection from disasters and epidemics, etc. in precincts of shrines and temples as offering to Shinto gods or Buddha. This performing art has been handed down from generation to generation for several hundred years.

In Japan, especially in the Kanto area, there are many districts, where three lion dances are performed. Tokyo also has such districts and many of them are in the western part in mountainous places such as Okutama Town, Ome City, Akiruno City, Hinohara Village, and so on.

A typical three-lion dance band consists of three persons wearing headgears resembling lion heads (actually they do not look like lions, but people in olden days, who had never seen the lion, used their imagination to make these headgears), four sasara players (a sasara is a musical instrument made of bamboo and is used to make rubbing sound), several to over ten bamboo fife players, and clowns, and other members. However this constitution is a typical example and a slight or significant variation may be seen according to the band (e.g., six sasara players instead of four).

Now, let's see how these dances are performed:

You can see there are various costumes, various types of music, and various movements.

August is probably the high season of three-lion dances in Tokyo. Actually, I visited three places to see theses dances last month (August). And, August is the hottest month of the year, and they perform these dances with heavy headgears. This must be very, very hard work! Anyway, August is over now, the summer heat has been softened, and a new sake season is just around the corner. Now, the cooler it becomes, the more delicious sake becomes, and I suddenly want to have warmed sake.

Aug 31, 2011

Four Tokyo Sakes

Recently, I drank four types of sake that come from my neighboring three cities of Fussa, Akiruno, and Ome. The sakes are Tamajiman (多満自慢), Kasen (嘉泉), Kisho (喜正), and Sawanoi (澤乃井). They are all namazake (nonpasteurized sake) of honjozo or tokubetsu honjozo.

These sakes are those I often drink without paying any special attention, but this time I compared them with each other, and could find differences between them. Interesting.

Ishikawa Brewery Tamajiman Namataro (石川酒造 多満自慢 生太郎) Honjozo Namazake
Tasty sake with a rich namazake flavor, slight sweetness, and meaningful taste

Tamura Shuzoujou Kasen (田村酒造場 嘉泉) Tokubetsu Honjozo Nama
Dry sake with a flinty clean-cut taste. It also exhibits a flavor of koji, giving a bold impression.

Nozaki Syuzou Kisho (野崎酒造 喜正) Honjozo Nama
Sake with a flavor of namazake and meaningfulness. Impressive sake.

Ozawa Syuzou Sawanoi (小澤酒造 澤乃井) Honjo Nama
A dry and clean taste with acidity.

I don't intend to say which one is nice or which one is bad. However, in terms of my preference, I would choose Kisho. I myself usually do not think of pairing with foods and just drinking sake without food is also O.K. with me. In such a case, flinty clean dry sake with rather strong acidity like Sawanoi Honjo Nama may not be suitable for drinking it singly. However, such sake is maybe nice when you are eating various foods.

Aug 10, 2011

Yamatogawa Shuzouten and Grilled "Basashi"

Recently, my friends and I visited to the Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture. We stayed at Hotel Fujiya located in the Atsushio-Onsen district, which we could reach after driving the car northward from the center of Kitakata City for about 10 minutes. The hotel was a typical Japanese onsen ryokan, where we ate, drink, and slept in tatami-matted rooms, wearing yukata, and enjoyed onsen hot spring.

We arrived at the hotel quite early at around 11 o'clock. Someone from the hotel was to bring us to Yamatogawa Shuzouten (大和川酒造店) in Kitakata City.

After leaving our car keys with the hotel, Mr. Takahashi, front desk clerk, gave us a ride to Yamatogawa Shuzouten. On the way to Yamatogawa, however, we wanted to have lunch. Kitakata City is famous for its Kitakata ramen, and, in addition, there seemed to be anything to eat that could be recommended.

We didn't need to waver in our decision, and decided to eat Kitakata ramen at Kiichi as recommended by Mr. Takahashi. According to him, Kitakata ramen generally uses soy-sauce based soup. However, he recommended Sio Ramen of this restaurant, which is salt-based. He said they were using special salt, which was contained in the hot spring waters springing somewhere in the mountains beyond the Atsushio-Onsen district.

After being seated at the counter, I ordered Sio ramen according to his recommendation, and Sio ramen came after a while. To my surprise, the ramen included five slices of pork in spite of the fact that it was not a char-siu-men but a mere ramen (char-siu-men is a ramen topped with sliced roast or boiled pork, while an ordinary ramen usually includes one or two slices). "Just a ramen includes five slices. Then, how many does a char-siu-men of this restaurant?" "Fifteen? No way! I don't think people want to eat that many. Maybe, special pork?" These thoughts were my light-minded guesses. Anyway, this ramen was nice. The rather thick curly noodles well caught the salty pork-based soup, and the noodles and soup came together in balance to my mouse.

After lunch, Mr. Takahashi took us to Yamatogawa Shuzouten. This brewery is making sake under the brand name of Yauemon (弥右衛門). I had already drunk this sake and I knew it was rich in taste with a flavor of koji.

To be precise, the place we visited was "Yamatogawa Hoppou Shiryokan" (大和川北方風土館). These facilities were once used for sake production but are currently used as facilities for sake brewery study tours for visitors and a concert hall. The facilities also include a sake tasting corner and souvenir shop. According to the guide, their sake production place has been moved to another place, which is called Iide-gura (飯豊蔵).

The guide woman ushered us into the facilities, giving us a routine explanations about their brewery and sake making. The building was divided into three major parts: Edo-gura, Taisho-gura, and Showa-gura. In the oldest Edo-gura, the thick, long pine beam supporting the roof seemed to be something they boasted of. Anyway, her courteous and comprehensible explanation during this tourism-focused sake brewery tour was somewhat boring. However, this was a necessary time for us to undergo before reaching the sake tasting corner, where we could try various types of sake from this brewery for free. Thus, finally, long-awaited tasting time started.

Kasumochi Genshu Yauemon from this brewery was brewed by using almost twice the amount of koji rice than average sake, and its rich graceful sweetness deriving from the koji rice left a quite pleasant impression. However, I didn't want to drink sake with such sweetness too much. Instead, I rather prefer Junmai Karakuchi or Honjozo Chohkarakuchi. And, I bought Muroka Junmai Ginjo Nama Omachi as a souvenir.

By the way, Mr. Takahashi wrote a blog article about our visit to Yamatogawa Shuzouten.

After returning to the hotel, we took a hot spring bath, and then gathered in a small room, where our dinner had been prepared. The hotel kindly allowed us to bring sake bottles that we got this day in the room and we could enjoy our favorite sake with the foods. I had heard Aizu was famous for basashi (raw horse meat), and the hotel, knowing we were heavy drinkers, prepared basashi for us. However, I am not very good at raw meat, and I asked our waitress to grill my meat. They kindly accepted my request.

In addition, of course, that bottle of Muroka Junmai Ginjo Nama Omachi that I bought several hours before was completely emptied on the same day.

Jul 28, 2011

Drinking party in Tachikawa City

Our first beer garden party of this year was held at the open terrace of a restaurant of Tachikawa Washington Hotel on July 9.

Only I was wearing kimono in spite of the fact that this party was planned by my kimono friend and the party was intended for kimono lovers. Anyway, we can enjoy beer whatever outfits we are in.

We were anxious about the weather at first because of an open-air terrace. However, it was the day when the Meteorological Agency announced the end of this year's rainy season of Tokyo, and the weather was not so bad. The sky was somewhat cloudy, but it never started to rain. And, although we expected a humid evening, it was cool on the evening open terrace.

In addition to beer, this restaurant also carries other various alcohol beverages. You can reserve a seat with the all-you-can-drink course for two hours at 2000 yen per person (prices for foods are not included).

Since the all-you-can-drink course includes four Tokyo sake brands from the Western Tokyo, which is to say Sawanoi (澤乃井), Kasen (嘉泉), Tamajiman (多満自慢), and Chiyozuru (千代鶴), sake lovers can enjoy nice sake as well as cold draft beer. Nevertheless, beer is of course a main attraction of a beer garden.

With a concept of "local consumption of local foods," the restaurant uses delicious vegetables harvested in the vicinity of Tachikawa. Local vegetables are basically boiled or steamed and served to garnish main foods, scarcely seasoned, but fresh and rich in taste.

After leaving the beer garden, we dropped in an izakaya, Wagaya Uobei for some sake.

A waitress ushered us to an upstairs table, from which we could look down the hall over the railing.

The red paper lanterns hanging down from the ceiling were lightening the hall dimly and softly. In a good relaxing mood, I could see waitresses moving briskly from table to table to treat customers. They were wearing short kimono. The bottom edges of their kimono were as high as their knees. They were pretty in such outfits.

This restaurant has a fairly sufficient number of sake brands. On their menu, I found the sake names of Kokken (国権), Kid (紀土), Murayu (村祐), Denshu (田酒), Juyondai (十四代), Urakasumi (浦霞), Shichiken (七賢), etc.

Besides the menu, I found a brochure, which has an article about Kamoshibito Kuheiji (醸し人九平次). So, I thought this restaurant might carry Kuheiji. Then, a member of our group asked a waitress whether they had Kuheiji, and in turn the waitress asked her which we liked, "Omachi" or "Yamadanishiki." This was a nice response of the waitress, wasn't it?

Well, I myself enjoyed the tasting set of Juyondai, Kokken, and Kid.

The foods of this restaurant, which use fresh seafood as main ingredients, were nice. Incidentally, the appetizer was prawn grill. The fresh skewered prawns were actually live, jumping on the grill while they were being grilled.

Jun 30, 2011

Beer restaurant Neu Frank

In a series of sizzling, muggy days like these days, even I, who usually prefer drinking sake, want to go for some cold beer once in a while.

So, my friend and I went to beer restaurant Neu Frank in Kunitachi City, Tuesday.

It was a small restaurant that had about 20 table seats and several seats at the counter. They are carrying various types of beer from Belgium, Germany, and other countries. I think I like German beer in this hot season.

We ordered sausages, souerkraut, baguette and patty, salad, etc. and drank different beers. Beers came with different glasses or mug that had original shapes and designs for each brand.

Maybe, when I suddenly want to have some beer, this is a good place to go, because there are counter seats. While nibbling baguette with patty, I would drink alone.

Today's Sake
Kamikokoro Tokubetsujunmai Tokagen (Kamikokoro Shuzo)
This is rich, full-bodied sake. I can discern a flavor of koji in this sake. It can be enjoyed at a room temperature, or with warmed or a bit cooled down after being warmed.

Jun 28, 2011

Tani-izumi party

Last Saturday, friends and I visited izakaya Hakobune in Shinjuku Ward to attend the Gathering for Surrounding the Brewery Head of Tsuruno Shuzoten, the maker of Tani-izumi brand sake.

Tsuruno Shuzoten, operating in Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, uses a fune-shibori method or fukuro-shibori method to press sake, instead of using a modern yabuta sake pressing machine that is widely used by sake brewers in the country. According to Mr. Jinichi Tsuruno, brewery head, it is impossible to make sake that exhibits such round sweetness as Tani-izumi sake does if they use a yabuta.

That figures! Having a mouthful of the sake, I discerned that delicate, tender sweetness rippled to permeate my tongue. Especially, the mild and rich taste of the regular sake of this brewery was very uncommonly impressive. (Moreover, every participant was given a one-cup regular sake when returning home. So, I can enjoy the Tani-isumi regular sake again later.)

And, when I drank the nama-genshu sake, of course my tongue felt that pleasant waxy sensation, which is peculiar to the non-pasteurized sake. If you are a big namazake fan, you would like it. I drank this genshu paired with charcoal-grilled Japanese wagyu steak, and I would have had some difficulty to stop drinking this sake if there had been enough steak.

The nigori sake was also nice. It was quaffable with a flinty, sweetish taste.

This time, they had prepared various types of Tani-izumi including the regular sake, honjozo, genshu, daiginjo in plenty, and the participants could drink to their heart's content. Also, foods to be paired with were also gorgeous. So, I was quite satisfied.

Jun 27, 2011

Visiting Buaiso, the Former House of Shirasu's

On one Saturday in June, I visited Buaiso (武相荘), the former house of Mr. and Mrs. Shirasu. Mr. Jiro Shirasu was a prominent personality who played an important role in the Japan's negotiation with the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers over various post-war processes, in the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace with Japan, and in other critical tasks that had a great impact on Japan after the war. Mrs. Masako Shirasu was an essayist and loved antiques. The house stands at a distance of an about 10-minute walk from Odakyu Tsurukawa Station.

After paying for my admission and entering the premises, I found a building that looked like a stable or garage. There was a black-bodied vintage car, Paige Fleetwood Six-38, in the stable. The car is a collection of Wakui Museum, a classic car museum in Kazo City, Saitama Prefecture, and had been brought to this place for exhibition.

I hear that Jiro was given a car of the same model of this exhibited car by his father and was driving it around when he was still a junior high school student. Equipped with the wooden steering wheel, rear seat with an enough clearance for the passengers' knees, black-leathered interior, and other beautiful parts, there were stateliness and an inspiring aura about this car.

After seeing the car, I went through the front gate of this house, and found a big persimmon tree behind the gate. This tree was said to be as old as about 200 years. The main house was seen beyond the gate. This thatch-roofed house has the structure that was quite common to general farmhouses in old days. The roof appeared to have been thatched recently, because the edges of the eaves looked so sharp against a background of the cloudy June sky that I could discern the clear shear cut of each stem of pampas grass used for thatching.

On the east end of the roof ridge, inscribed was the kanji character "寿," which means to celebrate auspiciousness. Incidentally, on the west end, they inscribed the character "水" (water), a charm against fire disaster, at which I missed having a look.


The main house was open to public and you can enter the inside to see the interior and exhibited items, but unfortunately taking pictures is forbidden inside. I went into the house from the entrance on the right of the south-facing building, and I was in the guest room, which had formerly been a space called doma (earthen floor). Mr. and Mrs. Shirashu laid a floor and converted this space into a Western-style room. When you face west from the doma, there were a room with an irori hearth on your left and another room on your right. And, there are two other rooms beyond these rooms. This is a typical floor plan of a farmhouse in old days.

One of the basic characteristics of old-days Japanese houses is that rooms are not connected by corridors but they are partitioned by thin sliding doors made of wood and paper. And, I could see how Mr. and Mrs. Shirasu had been adding their taste to the house based on this simple structure of the building so that they could make the house convenient and enjoy living. I think that it is enjoyable that I can adjust my living environment flexibly by reforming the interior or newly adding new items to the house according to my needs that change as I live there, instead of designing my house plan fixedly and defining specific use for each room from the beginning. Also, I will become more attached to my living environment if I have such a way of living.

In the front garden, several types of flowers such as gillyflowers are in bloom. The gray, cloudy sky finally began to shed its tears. The rain, which didn't seem to stop so soon, was wetting flowers and grasses, and the comfortably moist space extended to the bamboo grove behind. Hearing raindrops on persimmon leaves and looking up, I saw leaves and young persimmon fruits, which appeared freshly glistening with rain. Visiting Buaiso was a pleasant experience even in a rainy, damp season.

Today's Sake
Yamahai Junmai Katanozakura Muroka Nama Genshu (Yamano Shuzo)
I recently found this sake at an izakaya in Tachkawa I frequent. The sake has a meaningful taste with moderate acidity. This is definitely one of my favorites.

Jun 15, 2011

Recently tasted sake--Sawanoi, Aramasa, Tenryo

Sawanoi Junma Ginjo Namazake Nigorizake (澤乃井純米吟醸 生酒 にごり酒)
Usually, I don't drink nigorizake very often since I think nigorizake is somewhat sweetish and I don't like the sweetness in sake very much. However, this sake is quaffable and OK with me. It is slightly fizzy.

Tokubetsu Junmai Aramasa Rokugo Namazake (特別純米 新政六號 生酒)
This sake is dry sake and, at the same time, meaningful with a rich taste and clean bouquet. Sweetness, slight bitterness, and moderate acidity exist in harmony. I drank this sake in big gulps.

Daiginjo Tenryo Koshu (大吟醸 天領古酒)
A 720-ml bottle of this daiginjo sake is sold at the price of 1,575 yen, which I think is a reasonable pricing. And, I am satisfied with the quality of the sake. The word koshu makes me to think of yellowish to amber-colored sake with a special fragrance, which results from aging and somewhat resembles the Chinese Shaoxing rice wine. However, this Tenryo Koshu, a product that has been aged at a low temperature for three years, hardly has little aging bouquet. This sake has a very pleasant taste, which is mild, smooth, and moderate. I like this sake.

May 28, 2011

Mitake Ravine Walk and Sawanoien

In the upper reaches of the Tama River, friends and I enjoyed walking along a ravine in verdancy.

We started at JR Mitake Station, walked across the Ome Kaido Street in front of the station, and took the path beside a ramen restaurant to go down and pass through under the Mitake Bridge. Then, we walked upstream along the walkway on the left side of the river.

Fresh greenery, sunshine and shade, bright dry riverbed, green pools, bubbling water in white, and dark shallows. The ravine in May is really full of beautiful things.

Anglers, kayak guys challenging the torrent hard, young people enjoying bouldering on huge rocks here and there on the shore, BBQ people, and a couple having a nap on a rock, all such people are having a good holiday. I think it is certainly true that humans should sometimes play with the nature to refresh both mind and body.

Well, we walked along the walkway for about 20 minutes and walked across the Kamiji Bridge to get to the opposite side of the river. The Kamiji Bridge, literally meaning a bridge of a god road, has been constructed on the way to the front gate of Mitake Shrine. Actually, you would see a big red torii gate of Mitake Shrine across the Yoshino Kaido Street, if you walked across this bridge and went up the slope connecting to the street. However, this time, we took a trail leading downstream just immediately after crossing the bridge. This was a narrow trail on the right bank of the river.

Unlike the walkway on the left bank, which was relatively flat and full of a lot of sunshine, the trail on the right bank went up and down somewhat like a mountain path, and was in the shade of trees on the whole. However, we once walked on the sandy ground on the riverbed at a point when we passed near the building of hydraulic power plant. We quickly walked across the sandy ground, which was heated by the direct sunlight, to take sanctuary in the shade, feeling relieved. Then, we went through under the Mitake Bridge again but on the opposite side of the river at this time, and passed in front of the Gyokudo Art Museum to get to the restaurant Imotoya for lunch.

I had Okutama-yamame-trout Sushi for lunch. The Okutama-yamae is a triploid female of the yamame-trout. This female fish, created by the use of biotechnology and raised at a fish farm, never spawns and it grows very big and tasty without consuming its energy in growing roes and spawning.

Probably having been seasoned by being sandwiched between kelp sheets, slightly pinkish Okutama-yamame fish was firm and elastic, and tasted very nice. When you have a chance to visit JR Mitake Station or its vicinity, I recommend you to have a try of Okutama-yamame sushi.

After leaving the restaurant, we walked across the Mitake-kobashi Bridge to the left bank again. If we want to, we could walk to Sawanoien run by Ozawa Syuzou, the brewery of Sawanoi sake, in about a 20-minute walk downstream from this bridge. And, of course, we wanted to go there. Actually, Sawanoien was, if anything, our original destination, and the walking was something like a lagniappe.

I had beer Sawabii, which was quite nice after sweating a bit from the walking.

And, after drinking this bottle of beer and taking a break for a while, we together enjoyed Sawanoi sake, Junmai Ginjo Soten Name (純米吟醸蒼天生酒) and Junmai Namazake Sawane (さわ音).

May 17, 2011

Enjoying shishimai lion dance over sake

At Yakumo Shrine in the Kawai district of the mountain town of Okutama, sambiki-shishimai or three-lion dances are dedicated annually on May 5. I visited this shrine to see these lion-dances and had nice time there last year. So, I invited some acquaintances to this event this year.

We, four people including me, started walking at JR Kawai Station toward Yakumo Shrine. Although it was May, the weather was cool or rather chilly. Soon, we left Route 411 (Ome Kaido) to take a minor winding road leading to the shrine. Festival andons (lampstand with a wooden frame and paper shade) had been set on the side of the road here and there on the way to the shrine. We saw a picture representing a monstrous beast, stag beetle, or any other childish motif was drawn on each andon. Probably, these pictures had been drawn by local grade school pupils. We also saw festival paper lanterns with the crest of mitsudomoe (three comma shaped figures arranged to form a circle) on them at the porches of some houses. As we got closer to the shrine, two long poles standing high and flying shrine banners in the wind came into our sight. While feeling such an atmosphere of the festival, we enjoyed an about-10-minute walk until finally getting to Yakumo Shrine.

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. And, these dances of Yakumo Shrine in the Kawai district are especially recommendable.

I think I need to give some explanation on the architecture, setting, and atmosphere of Yakumo Shrine so that you can understand why I recommend the three-lion dances of this shrine.

The front approach to the shrine is a flight of stone stairs. If you look upward from the base of the stairs, you will find a two-story gate in the dimness of the cedar tree grove. The approach goes through under the gate leading you to an open space 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 performing arts. However the three-lion dances are not performed on this stage but in the open space 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 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.

As I described above, this shrine has a good atmosphere as a place for oblation of three-loin dances while the stone-walled tiers provides the spectators with comfortable seats where they can enjoy watching dances over sake and foods in a relaxing mood. For these two reasons, I recommend the lion dances of this shrine.

Thus, I planned a picnic theater party, and we brought foods and drinks including sake. We occupied some place on a stone-walled tier, set our foods and drinks and everything ready, and started enjoying lion dances.

The sakes we brought with us today were all Sawanoi bottles from the local sake brewery Ozawa Syuzou: Kamekuchi-shu, Soten Namazake, and Hanami-shinshu.