Dec 28, 2012

Walking along the Okutama Mukashi-michi -- Off-the-beaten Track in Tokyo

Okutama Lake, nestled among mountains in Okutama Town, the western part of Tokyo, is an artificial lake backed up by Ogochi Dam. The construction of the dam started in 1938, and was completed in 1957 after having been interrupted by the war for a period of several years.

From the Okutama Station to Ogochi Dam, you can take a bus, which drives along Japan National Route 411. The road in this section goes along the mountain stream of Tama River, passing through sporadic tunnels. This road is of course essential for people living in this area, but before this road was constructed, they were using an old road, which is now called Okutama Muakashi-michi (literally, old road in Okutama).

Okutama Mukashi-michi, an about 10-km community road, was made in 1899 to replace the about 14-km mountain path connecting the Hikawa district and Ogochi district, and this Okutama Mukashi-michi became a very important path for people in the area. Along the path, there were shrines, temples, teahouses, water vessel for horses bringing baggage or people, etc.

In 1945, the new road, which had been constructed earlier originally for transporting material for the construction of Ogochi Dam, became open to the public, and people became able to use this road for their living. Consequently, the importance of Okutama Mukashi-michi reduced and people became to use the new road more often than this old path.

Some sections of the Okutama Mukashi-michi path are paved with asphalt, and we can see cars and trucks go up and down in these sections. However, some sections are very narrow paths, some sections consist of only a few flights of stairs, and even some sections are mountain trails. There were guideposts at every key location and it is easy for visitors to stay on the right track, and there are benches to take rest and well-maintained public restrooms along the road. So, anyone can enjoy a holiday walk at ease.

It seemed there were many interesting spots to see, and I decided to go for a walk along this road on a late autumn day.

(Start point of the road)

With some food and drink in a daypack, I started Okutama Station about 10:00 a.m., and soon reached the start point of Okutama Mukashi-michi. From the beginning, I needed to walk up a steep asphalt-paved slope, called Haguro-zaka. Halfway on the slope, I found a tori gate on the right. There were stone stairs behind the tori gate. The stairs had to lead to a shrine and I thought I should pay respects to the god enshrined, so I started walking up the stairs, which was longer than I expected. When I finished two flights of stairs, I was in a small open space, and it turned out that the stairs I had been struggling up was just a part of the long approach to the shrine, because I found across the open space a guidepost indicating the way to the shrine. So, I gave up visiting the shrine and went down the stairs back to the main route.

After leaving the tori point, soon the route entered a narrow path. Soon, this walkway began to run along a defunct railroad track on the left. This track was used in the past to transport material for the construction of the dam. I walked on the walkway along the railroad track for a short while, and then the walkway curved rightward to leave the railroad and then leftward to gradually climb up, reach the railroad track, and go over the tunnel through which the track was further extending.

(Defunct railroad track)

Then, the narrow path connected to a wider asphalt-paved road, and soon I reached the point where a well-maintained house of public facilities. Inside the house, there is also a place for walking passengers to take a rest.

(Well-maintained public restroom along the walkway)

The walkway went through mountains and I walked admiring beautiful autumn leaves here and there.

(Road in mountains)

At some points, I could see some part of that railroad track. In a small community called Sakai, I found a railroad bridge above my way. The railroad seemed to have been running almost parallel to the walkway, and I could see its remnants while walking.

(Railroad bridge)

The walkway was generally very comfortable to walk, relatively even, not hard to walk (just a short part in the beginning and about an-hour part in the last were mountain trails).

After leaving the Sakai community, I soon reached the Shirohige Shrine. In this small shrine, a big rock is enshrined as the object of worship. In summer, sanbiki shishimai dances (a type of local performing arts performed by three dancers with headgear resembling the heads of lions, other dancers, and musical instrument players such as bamboo flutists) are performed in the precincts of this shrine as offerings to the god. I have seen their performance before, and it was very interesting.

(Stone stairs leading to the Shirohige Shrine)

(The tilted huge rock on the right of the shrine house is the object of worship.)

In a few-minute walk distance from the shrine, I found a maple tree beautifully decorated with red and yellow leaves. The colors of this tree seemed to be brightening up things around this point.

(Iroha-kaede: Japanese maple)

The photo below shows a water vessel for horses to drink. According to the description on the board, there were three teahouses around here so that passengers can rest for a while. The teahouses were selling snacks, udon noodles, bean-paste buns, tobacco, etc. Guests could even drink cups of sake.

(Water vessel for horses to drink)

I had been walking for over three hours since I started walking when it was around 1:30. I felt very hungry and I had been looking for a nice place to have a rest and eat my lunch. And, I finally found a perfect place for my lunch. The place was overlooking the valley, and there were tables and benches surrounded by trees with yellow, orange, red-colored leaves.

(Lunch place!)

After having the lunch, I started walking again and soon the walkway left the asphalt-paved road and turned into a trail in mountains. The walkway was most arduous in a section beginning from this point. However, I like walking on a mountain trail while seeing beautiful trees and leaves. I think this part was the most interesting for me.

(Point where the asphalt road ends and the mountain trail starts)

(Trees with autumn leaves)

(I like walking on fallen leaves.)

At a point close to the end of this walkway, there is a nice lookout platform beside a teahouse named Aome-fudoson Rest Station. From the platform, I could overlook Okutama Lake. I enjoyed a nice lake view.

(Guidepost indicating Aome-fudoson Rest Station)

(Lake view from the lookout platform)

From here, I got to the Mizune bus stop in 30 minutes or something to end my walk this day. It was fun to walk along this old path while enjoying nice views of the valley, mountains, and autumn trees, and giving more than a passing thought to life of people who lived in this area in olden days.


Nov 5, 2012

Yudofu and Matsutake-sake party

Recently, I bought an interesting sake product from the shop of Reijin Shuzo (麗人酒造) in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture. This is called Matsutake-sake, a bottle of sake with matsutake mushrooms in it. Matsutake is very popular and expensive mushroom and Japanese people like matsutake so much that they import the mushroom from China, Canada, and other countries.

In the bottle, there are cut matsutake. So, I thought, we could grill and eat the mushroom while drinking this sake, and I called some friends to held a party.

Another theme of the party was yudofu. Yudofu means boiled tofu. We place pieces of tofu in hot water to warm up them, and enjoy tofu hot. To enjoy the original taste of tofu at the maximum, we boil tofu just with a piece of kombu (kelp, or Laminaria japonica), and no complex recipe is necessary. We dip the warmed tofu in soy-based sauce and eat it.

And, to make the party more attractive, this time I introduced a new device for yudofu, which is called yudofu-oke (wooden pail for making hot tofu). The pail is made of sawara cypress and equipped with a brazier in which burning charcoal is to be placed. When you put water in the pail and burning charcoal in the brazier, the heat of the charcoal warms the water. So, you put cut tofu pieces in the water to warm them up.

However, I had some problems about the yudofu-oke. The opening of the brazier was small and I can put only small pieces of charcoal in the brazier. Also, the brazier itself is not very big to contain much charcoal. Maybe, yudofu should not be eaten at so high a temperature, or I can preheat water with another pan or kettle.

By the way, the small pot with handle set on the yudofu-oke (see the picture below) is for warming the sauce for yudofu. You just put some sauce in the pot and set the pot on the yudofu-oke. However, if you love warmed sake, I think you can put your sake in the pot and set it on the pail to warm it.

Well, what about the matsutake sake? The sake was in a 1.8-litter bottle, and I had some difficulty to take out the mushrooms. The mushrooms were first floating in the upper part of the sake, but later they sank deep in the bottle. So we need to empty the bottle first. We were five people, and some kindly brought 720-ml bottles of sake. So, we had another three 720-ml bottles. After emptied these three bottles, emptying another big bottle was hard for us. After all, I needed to move some of the sake to an emptied small bottle.

The matsutake sake has a slight smell of the matsutake mushrooms. The mushrooms, which we grilled and ate, tasted alcoholic from being soaked in the sake for a long time. 

Oct 9, 2012

Kamisuwa drinking tour

October 6, the sake breweries of Maihime, Reijin, Honkin, Yokobue, and Masumi held a sake drinking event called "Kamisuwa Kaido Aki no Nomiaruki" (autumn sake-drinking walk along the Kamisuwa Kaido street). These five breweries are located along Route 20, close to JR Kamisuwa Station.

Incidentally, we were a six-people party and the five except me were women, with a high lady rate of 83%. I don't have so many male acquaintances who love sake, and I think I drink sake with women more often with men. As to my recent association, I feel women drink sake more than men.

Well, I get back to the original topic. Each of us first paid 2000 yen for a tag ticket and a kikichoko, Hanging the ticket from the neck, we walked along the street to visit the breweries. At each brewery, we could drink prepared sake as much as we want using the given kikichoko. There were some food stands from which we could buy some snacks to pair with sake.

We started walking from the brewery closest to Kamisuwa Station, in the order of Maihime, Reijin, and Honkin. Then, we skipped Yokobue (since the brewery was on the opposite side of the street to the first three breweries) and went to Masumi. On the return path toward the station, we visited the last brewery of Yokobue.

The Miyama-nishiki version of Maihime Junmai Ginjo Suiro Namazazke (舞姫純米吟醸翠露生酒) had a very mild taste, and I liked it. My companions liked the Bizen-omachi version of this sake, but I feel my preference is leaning toward Miyama-nishiki.

At the Reijin brewery's shop, they were selling special sake, Matsutake-zake (sake with mushrooms loved by the Japanese in it) although this was not prepared for drinking in this event. The bottle of this sake contains some Matsutake mushroom. I dropped in this shop on my way home next day, and purchased a bottle of the sake. I want to drink this sake warmed, while grilling the sake-steeped mushroom on burning charcoal and eating it. The pairing of this sake and grilled mushroom would be fine.

Aug 28, 2012

Ikioi-Masamune Sake Party

Over three years ago, on May 19 of 2009, there was a sake event named "Nagano Sake Messe in Tokyo" at Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka, where I tasted Ikioi-Masamune (勢正宗) for the first time.

At the booth of Ikioi-Masamune, Mr. Takeya Kodama, a friend of mine, was helping the brewery staff. He let me taste various types of Ikioi-Masamune including namazake (non-pasteurized sake) and hiire sake (pasteurized sake) of the year, namazake and hiire sake after one-year aging, futsushu (regular sake), and 30-year aged sake, and giving me detailed explanation of each sake. At that time, I was impressed with its rich and bold taste.

Later, Mr. Kodama started operation of his sake shop, Jizakeya Kodama, in Minami-otsuka, Toshima-ku. He has frequently been holding sake parties inside Tokyo, and he usually calls brewers from relevant breweries to attend such parties. I have been thinking of attending such a party, but the venues were usually in Otsuka, Yotsuya, or Kanda, which were a little far from my place, and I felt reluctant to attend such a party.

On August 7, he held a sake party of Ikioi-Masamune at izakaya LP2 in Kichijoji. The party was attended by Mr. Yasuhisa Seki, president of Maruse Syuzouten Brewery and Mr. Shinji Seki from the brewery. I thought it was rare that Mr. Kodama held his event in Kichijoji, and actually this was the first time for him to do so. Kichijoji is not very far from my place (50 minutes by train), so I decided to attend this party.

The attendees of the party could enjoy various types of Ikioi-Masamune while listening to interesting talks by President Seki and his son Shinji.

Friendly and likable President Seki quite kindly answered our questions about his sake making and related issues.

To make its sake, Maruse Syuzouten uses the mochigome yodan shikomi method (four-staged fermentation method using glutinous rice), which is a traditional method, and the atsugake yodan shikomi method (four-staged fermentation method using hot steamed glutinous rice), in which they add big balls of hot steamed rice to the fermenting mash. The resultant sake, which is carefully brewed through elaborate handwork, has a gentle sweet taste of glutinous rice.

According to President Seki, they add big balls of hot steamed rice to the fermenting mash at the final stage of the fermentation process of the atsugake yodan shikomi method. As a result, the temperature of the mash is raised from approximately 8 degrees centigrade to approximately 12 degrees. Then, the enzymes and yeast cells that have already almost stopped their activity are re-activated, enhancing the taste of the sake. However, relying excessively on this method is not recommended because it may generate acetic ether and the sake will often smell like an overripe melon.

President Seki seems to be sticking to sake making using glutinous rice. He said he would like to use glutinous rice also for koji rice.

By the way, I guessed that the sakekasu (sake-lees) obtained by pressing the fermenting mash of this sake contained a lot of half-melted grains of glutinous rice, and I asked President Seki whether it tastes nice. He said, "Yes, and narazuke (pickles preserved in sake-lees) using this sakekasu is especially nice."

At the party, the following sakes are served in this order.
1. Daiginjo
2. Tokubetsu Junmai Sake
3. Futsushu Shiboritate Genshu
4. Atsugake Yodan Junmai Nama Genshu
5. Atsugake Yodan Junmai Hiire Genshu
6. One-year aged Daiginjo
7. Two-year aged Daiginjo
8. One-year aged Atsugake Yodan Junmai Nama Genshu
9. Four-year aged Atsugake Yodan Junmai Hiire Genshu

All sakes had elegant sweetness (I felt like the sweetness gently permeated cells of the body) and a bold taste. Especially, Futsushu of No. 3 was very nice. It was so nice that I could hardly believe that this was regular sake.

One-year aged Atsugake Yodan Junmai Nama Genshu of No. 8 was also nice. This bottle had personally been kept for a year by Mr. Kodama in the refrigerator at his shop, and it is sold nowhere. This sake had a rich taste and bitterness, and it was so nice that the inner side of my both cheeks wanted another mouthful after I swallowed down a mouthful. It has a taste somewhat resembling a caramel sauce. A little bitter but sweet.

After drinking different types of Ikioi-Masamune, I thought that this sake tended to become nicer after an aging period of one year or so. Maybe, sake is usually gets better when it is aged for a proper period under proper conditions. I sometimes try to keep my sake in the refrigerator, but however strongly I am determined, I soon bow down to the lure of the sake and soon the bottle becomes empty. This is my problem.

By the way, the izakaya LP2, an underground restaurant, has a bright atmosphere. They say that the interior design is based on the concept of sunlight filtering down through the trees on a comfortable sunny day. On the ceiling and walls embedded are a lot of sliced cedar logs resembling bracket fungi, diffusing the smell of fresh timber. There are several counter seats and a few tables, and especially, the tables are non-linear shaped tables, providing customers with a relaxing mood so that they can feel like they are in a natural environment.

As to their foods, each menu item was made elaborately and was nice.

Today's video: My favorite kandouko sake warmer. I love warmed sake, and I use this device to prepare warmed sake.

Jul 24, 2012

Shiromaru Dam Fish Pass--a nice summer resort

A fish pass is a construction built at a dam so that fish can swim upstream or downstream through it.

On a recent Saturday, I visited Shiromaru Dam Fish Pass. This is one of the Japan's largest fish passes, with the vertical interval of 27 meters and the allover length of about 330 meters. On the downstream side, the fish pass lies on the surface of the earth. However, as the fish pass goes upstream, it halfway goes into a tunnel underground.

When fish swim upstream along the fish pass, they first swim up in the part that is build as a series of close-spaced baffles placed along a long slope (I think this is something called a baffle fishway). Water flows through the space between the channel walls and each baffle. Each baffle of this structure slows down the water flow providing resting places for fish. Then, fish get in the tunnel and reach a relatively big pool. This pool provides a resting area for fish, and I saw trout swimming in the pool before although I didn't find any fish here this time. After leaving the pool, fish continue swimming upstream through another part which consists of a series of partition walls. Each of the walls has holes in the lower part of them so that fish can go through the holes.

(Baffle fishway part

(Partitioned part

By the way, visitors to this fish pass can go down underground through a big vertical shaft to see the underground part of the fish pass. A spiral staircase along the inside wall of the shaft leads you to the bottom of the hole, where you can easily come to the pool built in the middle point of the fish pass. You can also walk on the passage along the fish way.

I parked the car in the parking lot in front of the janitor building of the fish pass, and then enter the building, in which a janitor booth was found. Sometimes, there is someone in the booth, and sometimes there isn't. Anyway, visitors can see the fish pass free of charge. Inside the building, the big shaft was wide open, waiting visitors to come in.

Visitors circle down along the spiral staircase inside the big vertical hole. This hole seemed very deep. How deep is this hole? The vertical interval of this fish pass is 27 meters, which must be the difference between the water level at the entrance on the downstream side and the water level of the upstream Shiromaru Dam. I felt the hole was over 30 meters deep. Since the janitor building is placed at a place that is quite higher than the dam water level, I think my guess is not an exaggeration. Going down deep underground seemed somewhat thrilling.

Because of such a deep vertical hole, it is of course very cool inside even in midsummer. Shiromaru Dam Fish Pass is a nice place to visit on a sizzling day.

Today's Sake
Shiroyama-zakura and Sawane (しろやま桜 and さわ音)
Recently, I purchased Kisho Junmai-ginjo Namazake Shiroyama-zakura (喜正 純米吟醸 生酒 しろやま桜) and Sawanoi Junmai Namzake Sawane (澤乃井 純米生酒 さわ音) at a nearby liquor shop. I took the photo below long before, and it seems that this time I also purchased these bottles of Shiroyama-zakura and Sawane together. This means that I love the bold taste of Shiroyama-zakura while I want some airy refreshing factor like one Sawane exhibits in summer time?

Jul 13, 2012

Tokyo sake, Tamajiman Josen Honjozo

In my opinion, Tamajiman sake brewed by Ishikawa Brewery is on the full-bodied side among sake products made by breweries in Tokyo. Especially, the brewery's namazake is characterized by its boldness, bringing a strong impression home to me.

Of course, junmai sake and ginjo sake are nice for me, but for those who drink almost everyday, it is a fortune that there are sakes that are relatively low priced and tasty. Tamajiman Josen Honjozo is sake that fulfills this requirement.

The sake, made from rice milled down to 65 and in the yondanjikomi (四段仕込) method, exhibits a fully developed taste, and my impression of the first sip is "this is nice!" Moderate palatability without too much sweetness or dryness.

I drank this sake at room temperature, but I want to try this warmed next time.

By the way, Ishikawa Brewery is located at a distance of a 20-minute walk from JR Haijima Station. On the premises of the brewery, there are several old wooden buildings and thick-mud-walled buildings. Many of them have been registered as tangible cultural properties of Japan. There are also a Japanese restaurant and Italian restaurant run by the brewery, where you can drink Tamajiman sake or local beer Tama-no-Megumi, which is also brewed by this brewery. On the premises, where big keyaki trees offer visitors comfortable shade, there is a pleasant breeze in summer, and many people visit this place to have a holiday's relaxing time.

I shot the movie below when my friends and I visited Ishikawa Brewery about five years ago. Now, JR Haijima Station has been rebuilt, and the ticket gates are quite different in appearance from those you see at the beginning of the video.

Jul 9, 2012

Kanban-musume no longer on shelves?

Kanban-musume (燗番娘: missy in charge of sake warming, literally) from Fukumusume Shuzo is sake packaged in a can, and this can is a self-heating container allowing sake drinkers to easily enjoy drinking warmed sake without any special sake heating device anytime and anywhere.

This is an interesting product, and I wanted to introduce this sake worldwide by making and uploading the movie below. In spite of my effort, I don't lately see this product in liquor shops. Have they discontinued making and selling this product? Is the sake longer on shelves?

Jul 6, 2012

Two sakes from Tokyo

Junmai Ginjo Tamura (namazake) (純米吟醸田むら )
Tamura Syuzoujou based in Fussa City, Tokyo, started sake-brewing operation in 1822. The brewery has been making sake with the brand name of Kasen (嘉泉). In a recent year, the brewery started making junmai ginjo sake with the new brand name of Tamura (田むら).

According to articles in back numbers of the brewery's mail magazine, Tamura was first planned in collaboration of the brewery and Maishu Center in Hamamatsucho, Minato-ku, and it was first sold in November of 2004. Then, in June of the following year of 2005, it appeared on shelves of general liquor shops. The brewery was regularly issuing the booklet Hinerimochi for its sales promotion, and I remember that an issue of the booklet featured an article about how this sake was born. The article told that the brewery head, master brewer, and sale manager collaborated to realize "ultimate sake." The brewery, whose sake brewing had adopted techniques of Nambu tojis (master brewers of Iwate Prefecture), selected sake rice Ginginga (吟ぎんが) harvested in Iwate Prefecture, milled it down to 55%, and used sake making techniques equivalent to those for daiginjo sake making to produce Tamura.

The namazake (non-pasteurized sake) version of Tamura seems to be shipped two times in a year (in June and in November?), and a liquor shop in Fussa City recently tweeted in its twitter site that it carried Tamura namazake, so I went to the shop and purchased one bottle.

The soft uwadachika (orthonasal aroma) of this sake makes brings me an impression of sweetness of rice, and a sip of the sake enters the mouth very smoothly. Palatability spreads on the tongue and it turns seamlessly into moderate acidity. The taste gently fades out. This sake is not very brilliant sake but it leaves me an elegant impression as a whole.

Junmai Ginjo Kisho (純米吟醸喜正)
Itsukaichi-kaido Street ends at a point close to JR Musashi-itsukaichi Station. The road that runs westwards from here is called Akikawa-kaido Street, and it soon changes its name to Hinohara-kaido Street, further extending westward. If you go along this street to westward about ten minutes by car, you will get to the place called Tokura, where Nozaki Syuzou is located.

By the way, the district around the JR Musashi-itsukaichi Station including Tokura was formerly called Itsukaichi Town, which is now included in Akiruno City. Itsukaichi developed as a trading center of charcoal yielded in the nearby Hinohara village, and the town was also known for its cloth products named Kurohachijo. So, the place enjoyed its prosperity and I guess that people in this district have been drinking Kisho, which is made by Nozaki Syuzou since olden days.

Nozaki Syuzou seems to be a small brewery with relatively small sake production. You can find liquor shops selling sake from the brewery in Akiruno City and other towns, cities, and villages in the vicinity. However, it is difficult to find such shops in the urban area of Tokyo and in other prefectures.

Sake whose consumption is limited to its production place and nearby areas is surely influenced by the taste of people living there. So, such sake should probably be called jizake (local sake). Whenever I drink Kisho, I feel a yearning for something unsophisticated, unaffected, and ingenuous that is implied by the word jizake.

As to Kisho, usually, I prefer drinking junmai sake to more high class sake, but the other day, I got and drank Junmai Ginjo Kisho enjoying some luxury.

This Junmai Ginjo Kisho has a very gentle and mild taste. Most sake tastes better at room temperature rather than when chilled. The taste of this sake is also better at room temperature than when chilled. So, I warmed it up lukewarmly to make nuru-kan (ぬる燗: around 40 degrees C (104 degrees F)). Elegant sweetness and flavor and gentle aroma expanding in the mouth are well balanced wonderfully. A faint banana-like aroma is consistently harmonizing with the palatability of the sake as if moderate background music were playing.

Jun 25, 2012

Hakata Nerizake

Amazake is a sweet beverage, which is often made by preparing mixture of water, sugar, and sakekasu (sake lees) and then heating it. Another method of making amazake, traditional method, is to use mixture of rice koji, rice, and water, and amazake made in this method has mild sweetness deriving from rice koji.  

People tend to think this beverage is something to be drunk in winter, but people in old times drank it in summer because it was considered to be very nutritious and to be a good cure for summer weariness. Actually, the beverage, being rich in vitamins B1, B2, and B6, folic acid, dietary fiber, oligosaccharide, amino acid such as cystein, arginine, and glutamine, and a large amount of glucose, is often referred to as "drinking drip infusion."  

By the way, I recently found some interesting beverage being sold in a nearby liquor shop. It is called "Hakata Nerizake." Hakata is the name of a place in Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, and Nerizake can be interpreted as sake made by grinding or kneading something. According to the description on the packaging carton, Nerizake is made in the following way: Prepare mixture of rice and glutinous rice, and make lactic acid fermentation occur in the mixture. Add rice, rice koji, and water to the fermented lactic acid mixture, and further ferment it. Then, grind the fermented mixture with a mortar and strain it with silk cloth. The made beverage has 3% of alcohol. It tastes very nice with a sweet and sour flavor.

Amazake is something made by fermenting (saccharifying) rice and rice koji while sake is made by fermenting (saccharifying) rice and rice koji, and generating alcoholic fermentation with help of yeast. So, this Nerizake, having sweetness and acidity with a low alcohol content, can probably be placed somewhere between amazake and sake.

Incidentally, the label on the bottle bears an indication of "清酒" (sake), telling that this beverage is classified as sake according to the Japan's Liquor and Tax Law.

I hardly feel alcohol in this sake because of an alcohol content as low as 3%, and enjoyed it like soft drink. However, this is priced at 1575 yen for 500-ml bottle, which means over 2200 yen if it bottled in a 720-ml bottle. So, this can be said to be quite expensive sake. If this was less expensive, I could probably drink it quite often.

Jun 10, 2012


A convenience store in my neighborhood carries the junmai sake named Kabatobi Gokukan Junmai (加賀鳶 極寒純米) made by Fukumitsuya Sake Brewery. Fukumitsuya, based in Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture, is known for its adherence to making of junmai sake, and I hear the brewery is making only junmai sake (no brewing alcohol-added sake).

A 720-ml bottle of this Kagatobi is sold at a quite reasonably price of 1050 yen, but its flavor is never cheap. At the first sip, I felt that this was sweet sake. Then my taste buds began to recognize its acidity, and the salivary glands were stimulated. Now, my palate was awoken and tasted the sake flavor happily and sufficiently. Then, shortly, the taste of sake faded away quickly. Oh, I knew this is the junmai sake!

This sake is also nice when warmed.

Kanzake (warmed sake) temperatures
Hinaka-kan (日向燗, "sunbathing warm"): Around 30 degrees C (86 degrees F)
Hitohada-kan (人肌燗, "body warm"): Around 35 degrees C (95 degrees F)
Nuru-kan (ぬる燗, "lukewarm "): Around 40 degrees C (104 degrees F)
Joh-kan (上燗, "nicely warm"): Around 45 degrees C (113 degrees F)
Atsu-kan (熱燗, "hot"): Around 50 degrees C (122 degrees F)
Tobikiri-kan (飛び切り燗, "piping hot"): Around 55 degrees C (131 F) or hotter

Jun 7, 2012

Warmed sake -- finding another charm of sake

I sometimes read articles about sake seminars or events held outside Japan, and it seems that they drink sake chilled or at a room temperature in most cases and drinking sake warm is not very popular overseas.

The Japanese have been enjoying warmed sake for a long time, or they even thought that sake was a beverage to be drunk warmed. In recent years, premium sake such as ginjo, junmai ginjo, or daiginjo sake became widely sold in the general market in Japan, and people began to enjoy these high-end sake products. In most cases, they loved to drink these sakes chilled, while many people continued to drink low-priced regular sake warmed.

So, which is the better way to drink sake, warmed or chilled?

Well, let's think of what happens to sake when it is warmed.

When sake is warmed, it sometimes increases in its foreign, objectionable taste, sometimes increases in its sweetness, sometimes increases in its acidity, and sometimes increases in its good flavors. So, if you warm sake successfully, you may be able to enjoy it better.

Premium sake, especially ginjo sake, is delicately made and such sake is difficult to warm properly, because warming sake tends to detract from its good flavor balance. In addition, ginjo sake, generally, is sufficiently enjoyable without being warmed because it has a clear flavor and a less foreign, objectionable taste. So, people tend not to venture to warm up such sake.

Thus, izakayas or restaurants do not serve warmed premium sake in most cases, and they serve their sake chilled or at a room temperature, instead. In this way, people began to think that only cheap sake is suitable for being warmed and premium sake should not be warmed.

Of course, there is no rule that ginjo sake should not be warmed. There must be beautiful ginjo sake that can be good warmed sake if warmed carefully. Warming up sake may bring about an unexpectedly fascinating flavor (or may ruin delicate balance of flavor).

Actually, I have some successful experiences about warming up sake. For example, I warmed clean and elegant-taste ginjo sake to make it nurukan (lukewarm sake at a temperature of around 40 degrees C or 104 degrees F), getting a result of enhanced acidity, which made better pairing with food. This is a kind of "discovery," and I am often excited at such "discovery," realizing the profundity and charm of the sake world.

By the way, the following expressions are sometimes used regarding warmed sake:

  • kan-agari (燗上がり): The state in which the sake taste has been enhanced by warming it
  • aji ga hiraku (味が開く): The taste of sake that is not recognized very much when it is cold becomes discernible by warming it.
  • kaori ga hiraku (香りが開く)The bouquet of sake that is not recognized very much when it is cold becomes discernible by warming it.
As a flower bud which is very firm in the coldness of winter loosens slowly to open in the spring sun to finally enchant us with its fragrant bloom, when some sake that has been stored at a low temperature is warmed, its virtues including its bouquet and flavor that have been confined in itself become more discernible and enhanced.

Since I have experienced fascinating phenomena such as kan-agari, aji ga hiraku, kaori ga hiraku, I have arrived at the conviction that drinking warmed sake occupies a major part of sake drinking pleasure. I even feel that if you miss chances to experience the virtue of warmed sake, you cannot experience half of the virtue of sake.

Antique sake warmer "kandouko"

I never intend to give you assertive instructions regarding how you drink sake. However, I would like you not to declare that ginjo sake should not be warmed, and if you are interested in warmed sake, I want you to try warm up various sake and drink it by yourself. I believe you can find nice ginjo sake that increases in its beauty when warmed. I really want you to have exciting fascinating experiences with warmed sake.

May 12, 2012

Went to Kawagoe and retuned with Kagamiyama happily

I heard they were holding a spring festival in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture. So, friends and I went there for a walk and sightseeing.

We met around at noon at Honkawagoe Station. First, we wanted to eat something for lunch, and one of us made a phone call to a restaurant Furin, where we often eat sushi and drink Kagamiyama sake, the sake brewed in Kawagoe. Unfortunately and as I expected, their seats were fully reserved. The restaurant seems to have a lot of customers at festival time.

On a shopping street close to the station, we found a sushi restaurant and entered it. Since they carried neither Kagamiyama sake nor Coedo beer, we did not drink any alcoholic beverages there, and just ate sushi and went out. When we went out of the restaurant, there was a sprinkling of rain on the street. We went northwards along the shopping street, and saw the commercial compound of Kurari ahead on the right, where defunct Kagamiyama Shuzo brewery (different brewery from current Koedo Kagamiyama Shuzo) used to be making sake. On the premises of this compound, a festival float called Iemitsu no Dashi was exhibited.

(Kawagoe Spring Festival -- video shot on May 5, 2011)

We entered a building of Kurari and I bought some sweets for a souvenir. Then, I drank Coedo beer and Kagamiyama sake at the drinking stand.

I want to drink Coedo beer and Kagamiyama sake whenever I visit Kawagoe City except for when I am driving a car. First, I had white beer made from wheat, and then Kagamiyama sake. Three of us tasted sake of this brand but each had a different type so that we could share and taste three types. One friend ordered Bizen-Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu, the next friend ordered Tobindori Daiginjo Muroka Nama Genshu Shizukuzake, and I ordered Yamadanishiki Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu.

(Kagamiyama sake tasting)

The daiginjo sake tasted like milk and had a very beautiful flavor, while my junmai gijo sake was a little cloudy and slightly bitter (this bitterness may have derived from the Yamadanishiki rice used). And I liked the Omachi tokubetu junmai sake. This sake had a vivid and well-balanced taste and left a strong impression.

After getting out of Kurari, it was still raining and did not seem to stop raining soon. We walked for a while, but finally entered a coffee shop and had some coffee to wait until it would stop raining. I ordered a cup of Mandheling coffee, which has a pale brown color, but it tasted thicker than it appears, having plenty of body. After we chattered for a while, the rain seemed to have become light.

So, we got out of the coffee shop, and soon the rain became strong. I didn't know why, but we were not very lucky about the weather on this day.

Anyway, I encountered that super nice sake, Kagamiyama Bizen-Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu, and could buy a bottle of it. So, I was very happy.

Apr 20, 2012

Sake "Sugi-no-mori" of Narai Inn Town

Narai is an old inn town located in Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture. The town is on the Nakasendo that connected Edo (Tokyo in the present day) and Kusatsu-juku (Kusatsu City, Shiga Prefecture in the present day). The roughly 1-km-long main street of the town is lined with inns and various shops including local food shops selling oyaki, goheimochi, buckwheat noodles, or sweets, lacquer ware shops, Japanese pickle shops, liquor shops selling local sake, and craft shops.

The sake brewery Sugi-no-mori Shuzo is also located on the main street of this inn town. I searched for a Web site of this brewery but could not find such a site. Maybe it does not have one. This company seems to have gained in popularity through word of mouth.

Recently, my sake-drinking friends and I attended a bus tour that traveled to Narai and other sightseeing spots. In this tour, we stopped at this old town for about 50 minutes, so we dropped in this brewery.

There was a big cedar ball under the eaves of the brewery building. I think this type with a straw festoon is very rare.

I bought a bottle of Junmai Ginjo Suginomori at this shop. At this time, the shopkeeper gave me some plastic cups so that we could enjoy the sake in the bus on the way home.

After leaving the last sightseeing destination of Takato Joshi Koen, an old castle ruin park, which is famous for its cherry blossoms, the bus traveled from Takato Town to Chino City.

In the bus, when I opened the cap of the sake bottle I bought at Narai, the bus was running along the winding road that climbed up to Tsuetuki Pass. My sake cup in which I poured some sake, sometimes slid on the tiny table attached on the backrest of the seat in front of me. I had to be very careful and needed to hold my sake bottle and cup to prevent them from toppling or falling down. I gradually began to feel dizzy from the bus movement on the road with frequent curves and it became difficult to continue drinking the sake. What is worse, after passing Tsuetsuki Pass, the descending road was much steeper than the ascending one and it had many hairpin bends. I was sure that this was the most unsuitable condition for drinking sake.

Therefore, I shot the video I provided below while the bus was in rest in the parking lot of souvenir shop Oginoya that was located just close to the Suwako interchange on Chuo Jidoshado Express Highway (in a shaky bus, I need another hand to shoot video while holding a sake cup in my left hand and sake bottle in my right hand). I used my cell phone camera to shoot this, so picture and audio quality is not very good.

Although this is a junmai ginjo sake, its aroma is quite subdued, and flavor is unaffected. So, I recommend this sake for someone who wants to enjoy carefully a substantial flavor or acidity of junmai sake. Many people describe such sake as being flinty and dry, but this sake exhibits a bold and impressive taste deriving from koji rice, and just "flinty" or "dry" is not a right word for describing this sake.

Anyway, after the bus finally entered the express highway from the Suwako interchange, the seat is no longer shaky. So, we resumed enjoying the sake in peace. I like a bus tour because, unlike a drive trip, I don't need to drive a car and can drink sake freely.

Please watch other video works at Ichibay Channel.

Apr 9, 2012

The izakaya I really wanted to be in my city

Recently, I dropped in a cocktail bar, and ordered wine and some cheese. I liked cheeses with the red wine, especially Brie de Meaux and Camembert de Normandie were my favorites.

When enjoying my cheese with wine, the bar manager, knowing that I was a big sake fan, told me about a new izakaya in my city.

According to him, an izakaya opened recently on the opposite side of the railroad. "The opposite side of the railroad" for him means my side of the railroad because my house is on the side opposite to the bar.

He told me that the izakaya carried an unusually wide selection of sakes. Excited at the news, I could not help stopping wine to leave for that izakaya soon. So, paid for my two glasses of wine and cheese and left the bar. According to the instructions by the bar manager, I walked across the railroad at the nearest crossing and went to the T-junction, where I took the left. I could easily found the lighted sign of the izakaya "" (Kizuna) from quite a distance.

I could narrowly peep into the restaurant through a small latticework pane on the front door. I went inside, and there was no customer. There was a counter and a few tables. The structural design of the restaurant was like that of a bar or karaoke snack bar.

The interior wall was light-colored fake-wood-grain finished. You could tell the izakaya Kizuna had just started its operation from arranged flowers placed in corners of the restaurant.

Just the manager and I were there, and I could enjoy sake in a quiet environment.

When I looked in the menu, there was a long list of sake brands. There were Yukinobosha, Okunokami, Yuho, Dassai, Nabeshima, Juyondai, Oroku, Tensei, Jikon, Hoka, Mutsu Hassen, Yamayu, Gorin, Kudoki Jozu, Nambubijin, etc. According to the manager, the izakaya carries about 30 types of sake, focusing on Akita and Yamagata sake.

Being very happy with such a variety of sake, I thought this izakaya was a good place for going alone for some good sake. I thought I would be able to sit at the counter and enjoy talks with the izakaya manager if the place was not very crowded.

より大きな地図で 酒処の場所 を表示

Mar 26, 2012

Enjoying sake in various ways

I sometimes drink muroka or muchosei genshu (non-filtered or non-conditioned undiluted sake) after adding some water or some other dry sake to it. This is quite interesting. I quite recently found this way of "processing" sake interesting when I dropped in an izakaya, ordered a muroka namazake (non-filtered non-pasteurized sake) and some dry sake, tasted them together after mixing them, and found mixing two different sakes very interesting.

On the last 20, March, a Japanese national holiday, I received Sawanoi Asagake-no-sake. This sake was special sake sold on a subscription basis, which I had before asked a sake shop to deliver to me.

On that day, I had a short hike on a hill in Ome city, and then visited one of my favorite places, Sawanoi-en. There was the izakaya Sawanosuke, which was a half-open-air sake bar set up in Sawanoi-en. So, I sat there to cure my fatigue from the long walk, and had some beer and sake. After drinking some alcohol, I thought I should skip today's evening drink. However, when I returned home, I found the bottle of Asagake-no-sake had been waiting for me. So, quite naturally, I needed to reward the sake for its having been waiting for me so long by appreciating its taste.

This just-pressed, non-filtered, undiluted sake was still fermenting in its bottle, but since fermentation had not advanced very much, the pressure inside pushed up the cap just slightly when I opened the bottle.

I felt a rich taste and very strong alcohol when I had the first sip. The label on the bottle indicated the alcohol percentage was 19 to 20%. I feel many genshu sakes (undiluted sakes) from this brewery have relatively high alcohol content (when I made umeshu from a genshu of Sawanoi, it had 21 to 22% of alcohol).

On that evening, I drank about 1-go (180 ml) of this sake at a room temperature. Maybe, it will be interesting if I try on the rocks, with water, warmed, or blended with some other sake. I want to try it in many ways.

Today, I provide you the movie showing how I enjoyed the hike I mentioned above. I included the scene where I started walking, departing from Ome Station, to the scene I drank soothing beer at Sawanoioen. This is a relatively long footage of over seven minutes. So, if you have time, enjoy seeing it.