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.