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Tokyo Jizake Strolling (To Niigata prefecture reopening after the Coronavirus Pandemic)

By Ryuji Takahashi

Restrictions across Japan, enacted following the state of emergency declaration due to the coronavirus outbreak, and preventative measures to prevent the virus from spreading were all lifted in March. As the warm spring weather in March signaled the beginning of rice and sake production season in Niigata prefecture, I paid a visit. Driving from Tokyo on the Kan-Etsu Expressway takes approximately three hours to reach my destination, Nagaoka city. First, I stopped in at the Takasaka Service Area of Saitama prefecture to enjoy a Char Siu Rice Bowl for breakfast. The meat was tender and the sauce was not too rich, very delicious. Service areas in Japan serve delicious food!
My delicious breakfast confirmed to me why more people are said to stop in at service areas on their way to their destination. After the rest stop, snow on mountaintops started to emerge from the Akagi Kogen in Gunma prefecture. Exiting the Kanetsu Tunnel revealed a snow-covered landscape with rice fields near Uonuma city still covered in snow. The arrival of spring was noticeable in Tokyo, yet still seemed a distant future for Niigata prefecture from the road.
This trip to Niigata prefecture is not to visit a sake brewery unfortunately, but a trip to attend a gathering with drinking buddies since a close friend and chef returned home with his family. After arriving at my destination in Nagaoka city, I greeted the chef’s family and went out to lunch with just my drinking buddies. We went out for “Ginger Shoyu Ramen,” representative of Nagaoka city, Niigata prefecture.
The most popular restaurant for this ramen is Aoshima Shokudo I wrote about before. However, we heard about another competing ramen shop also popular, and headed to ramen shop “Taichi.” Apparently, Ginger Shoyu Ramen fans in Nagaoka city are largely divided between Aoshima ramen and Taichi ramen. Only a few customers were seated at Taichi besides our group, seated at a table after approximately ten minutes.
Since this was our first visit, I ordered the standard Ginger Shoyu Ramen that turned out to be more voluminous than I anticipated. I quickly became full since I had Char Siu Rice Bowl only two hours before. Just the right amount of ginger flavor and smooth noodles were very delicious. Looking around the restaurant, I noticed many customers were ordering large portions of noodles. Even ladies finished a large bowl of ramen approximately 16 inches in diameter.
Leaving the ramen shop with a full stomach, we noticed a long line had formed in the storefront, no doubt a popular restaurant. We still had time before meeting up with the chef’s family, so we headed to Ponshu Kan at the Nagaoka Station to purchase snacks to accompany Japanese sake to drink at the hotel after dinner.
Despite my work pertaining to Japanese sake and my countless encounters with various regional sake brands, I can never ignore labels that read, limited edition released only in Niigata prefecture, etc. I bought several snacks and three bottles of Japanese sake, and then headed to the meeting point for the group to dine at a popular yakiniku (Japanese-style Korean BBQ) restaurant for dinner.
I’ll elaborate on our moving dining experience at yakiniku restaurant “Stamina-En” in Nagaoka city in the next issue.


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Harmony of Sake and Cuisine

By Yuji Matsumoto

Especially when it comes to pairing Japanese sake with food, many people likely think, “What’s with the exaggeration…? It doesn’t really matter.”
In this issue, I’d like to pass on to our readers a trick that enhances one’s abilities to pair sake with food.
First, please select three brands of sake with very different properties. The differences in properties are hard to tell without drinking the sake, but first, let’s select the sake according to the information listed on each label.
For example, please select a Junmai Daiginjo, Tokubestu Junmai, and Junmai Kimoto, all produced in different regions like Akita, Niigata, and Hyogo prefectures, etc. Sake produced in the U.S. are reasonably priced, for including a few of these brands in the mix may also be fun. Please be sure to use the same shaped glass for each of the three sake brands. It’s best to store the glasses in the refrigerator for approximately 3 hours and to maintain their temperature at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. (white wine glasses are better)
And now, for the cuisine. There’s no need to stick with Japanese cuisine, for it’s fun to also pair sake with Chinese and Italian (please avoid excessively spicy or strong garlic-flavored dishes) cuisines. Please be careful to compare the balance between the sake and the food upon consumption, the changes detected in the umami flavors, and any changes in the aroma particular to that food, and aftertaste. If these factors in the pairing are satisfying, then it’s safe to say the pairing was a “success.”


#alljapannews #junmai #sake

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Sake Nation “Beijing Olympics & Paralympic Games and Japanese Sake”

By Kosuke Kuji

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics were held this year.
The festive mood seemed to continue as the games were held approximately six months after the Tokyo Summer Olympics was postponed a year ago. It was great to see the event held with thorough coronavirus measures in place.
Japanese athletes competed well. The greatest winner was ski jumper Ryoyu Kobayashi from Iwate prefecture, who garnered a Gold Medal when he ski jumped a normal hill.
One of the games that highlighted Japan during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics was curling.
Japan won a Silver Medal in Women’s Curling, a record-breaking victory.
Curling is interestingly linked to alcohol.
In Europe where curling is popular, many curling rinks have bars. After a game, local custom dictates the winning team buys the losing team drinks, which I found impressive.
Further, athletes consume snacks during breaks in the middle of a curling game.
In foreign curling rinks, spectators enjoy alcoholic beverages while viewing a curling game in some cultures.
Although sports and snacks seem not to be connected, I’m impressed by the connection between alcoholic beverages, bars, and curling.
In Japan, curling is widely popular in Iwate prefecture, where a local municipality is considering the construction of a curling rink. I hope a bar will be constructed onsite for spectators to savor Japanese sake while enjoying a curling game. Further, I hope the winning team will buy the losing team a round of local sake, a custom I hope will get passed on in the future.



#BeijingOlympics #Olympics #sake

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Yashiori (Pressed) Sake

Yashiori sake is the first sake mentioned in Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), “Kiki-shinwa” (Mythology) in “Yamatano-orochi: Eight-headed, Eight-tailed Serpent.” “Ya-” (eight) means “many times, repeatedly,” while “yashiori” means “to press.”

Rice and malted rice are prepared as fermentation-mash, filtered with a cloth before placing the rice and malted rice back into the fluid with the sake lees removed. This procedure is repeated several times to produce sake high in alcohol content.

Although a few disadvantages of this sake brewing method include high-viscosity of the fermentation-mash and the lengthy time required for the pressing process that warms the sake. Still, this sake brewing method is much more advanced than the “Amano-tamukezake.”
An even more advanced sake brewing method is the “Multiple Fermentation Method” (three-step preparation method for the fermentation-mash), widely used between the 11th ~ 12th century.


さらに進んだ醸造法としては、11~12世紀に一般に用いられるようになった「酸(とう)法」 (段掛(だんがけ)法:現在の三段掛も同じ)がある。 
#AmanoTamukezake #Yashiori #japanesesake #sake

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Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Sake Breweries Face a New Challenge)

By Ryuji Takahashi

Nakatani Brewing Co., Ltd. is a long-established sake brewery operating since the Edo period (1603-1867). Located in Yamato-koriyama city, Nara prefecture, the brewery’s sake product Mikka-odori garnered attention. Upon release, master sake brewers from other sake breweries visited my sake shop to purchase the Mikka-odori and study the flavor of this breakthrough sake product. The Mikka-odori was not entered into the Annual Japan Sake Awards as sake produced from sake rice, but as sake produced from regular rice instead. Still, the brewery’s extremely advanced brewing skills helped the Mikka-odori garner the Gold Prize.
Yamato-koriyama city, home to Nakatani brewery, was designated as a special zone to experience sake production based on the Structural Reform Special Area Act in December 2020. Following this designation, the Nakatani brewery decided to establish Yanagimachi Brewery in a separate location from their current brewery for tourists to experience sake production firsthand and to take a new step forward as the “first Japanese sake micro brewery & sake bar in Japan to offer firsthand experience in sake production.”
The current brewery is located in an area difficult to access by car, one reason sampling events typically offered during sake brewery tours cannot be organized here. On the other hand, the Yanagimachi brewery is close to the Kintetsu Koriyama station, easily accessible by train. After the sake production experience, tourists can walk into the adjoining sake bar and enjoy sake to their heart’s content before heading home safely by train. Although meals are not served at the sake bar, food can be brought in or delivered from the Jyokamachi Shopping District, revitalizing business for the shopping district as well.
Tourists visiting the brewery can produce very low volumes of sake in only several dozen gallons. Also, tourists can sample fresh sake squeezed daily, still containing carbon dioxide. Of course, not every aspect of this new business direction is pleasant. As concerns are raised over recent consumers growing distant from Japanese sake and alcohol, customers may gather when the product first garners attention, but maintaining the initial momentum in ways that generate long-term sales will require serious effort. Since the Kintetsu Koriyama Station area is not a lively area to begin with, the brewery must be feeling anxious. Also, the current brewery will temporarily halt sake production, meaning their classic sake products like Mikka-odori and Banjo will not be available, very disappointing news. However, we support the brewery’s new business direction regardless.
Nakatani brewery is crowdfunding to establish this new brewery. Past sake is named the last sake, while future sake is referred to as the first sake to be delivered to supporters. One tank of original sake can also be produced. Purchases have already started among many supporters. I also made a purchase to support the brand. I would also like to visit Japan’s first sake microbrewery in this area where Japanese sake originated. As a Japanese sake enthusiast, I would also love to see Nakatani Brewing Co., Ltd. pass on their high sake-brewing skills to future generations.


#NakataniBrewing #Nara #japanesesake #sake

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Perceptional changes

By Yuji Matsumoto

While sake and food pairing is now the norm, why not try to change your perception in your approach?

While comparisons are made regularly, wine is compared to other wine, sake is compared to other sake, and shochu is compared to other shochu. This is great to compare the subtle differences in flavor with other brands. Why not try a fun food pairing that invokes a mind-blowing reaction like “I never imagined this type of pairing!” from consumers. For example, serve fresh oysters with champagne and sparkling wine together to have consumers compare the delicious flavors of both pairing.

*Try pairing red wine with cheese, along with Kimoto sake, aged sake.
*For salads, try pinot grigio and flavored sake (yuzu, blueberry)
*For sashimi, try pairing with chardonnay, pinot grigio and Daiginjo
*For main meat dishes, try pairing with Junmai sake or red wine
*For fried dishes or creamy pasta, try pairing with Barley shochu and white wine.

Try pairing with these combinations and have your customers sample them.

While these three types of beverages (wine, sake, shochu) differ greatly in brewing method and ingredients, each are no doubt successful in boosting the dishes they’re paired with. By trying these combinations, why not try to find creative ways to bring a moving culinary experience that would invoke reactions like, “What is this!? This is delicious!” from customers?




#sake #shochu #wine

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Sake Nation “Praying for World Peace”

By Kosuke Kuji

Shocking news of Russia invading Ukraine rattled Japan in the end of February 2022.
A nation that relinquished war based on the three non-nuclear principles and Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, Japan advocates for peace. Therefore, it never occurred to the Japanese that a major invasion and war would start during the Reiwa Era (2019~).
We pray this conflict will end quickly for peace to return.
To enjoy “alcoholic beverages” like Japanese sake, beer, and wine requires peace.
Needless to say, no one would drink alcohol on the battlefield.
Recently, I’ve contemplated how our family business of sake production passed down through generations requires “peace” to operate.
Japanese sake exports are purchased in high volumes by nations such as the U.S., China, etc. and also Russia.
The Consulate-General of Japan in Vladivostok was planning to organize a remote Japanese sake seminar and sampling event in early March.
After thorough preparation including a rehearsal was complete, Russia invaded Ukraine a day later, causing the event to be canceled.
Our disappointment over the canceled event was overpowered by our agony over the sad plight of Ukrainian refugees and the agony of Russians protesting the war.
We sincerely pray for peace to return as soon as possible for Ukraine and Russia to enjoy delicious cuisine and sake.


#JapaneseSake #Russia #Ukraine #WorldPeace #sake

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Kuchi-kami sake

Kuchi-kami sake is produced by chewing grains such as rice or seed in the mouth, spit out, and left as is, documented in the “Oosumikoku-fudoki.”
Geographically, kuchi-kami sake spread from the South Pacific Ocean to the northern/southern American continents, thought to have spread from the southern islands to Japan.
Sake ingredients are not limited to rice, but all grains, such as foxtail millet, barn millet, corn, etc.

Mythical Sake
Rice sake in Japan is documented in “Kiki-shinwa” (mythical tales documented in “Kojiki” and “Nihonshoki” about the beginning of heaven and earth, and the gods that led to the birth of the first and legendary Emperor of Japan. Both documents were written around the same time as the “Gishiwajinden,” written in China).
Mythical sake is produced from malted rice and rice or rice porridge, prepared together, saccharified and fermented. Apparently, mythical sake was low in alcohol content, closer to unfiltered sake than amazake (sweet sake).


#Gishiwajinden #Kuchikamisake #MythicalSake #sake

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Tokyo Jizake Strolling (operating a sake shop for 6 years)

By Ryuji Takahashi
Sake shop Ji Sakeya opened in the neighboring town of Hatsudai in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo six years ago. Our sake shop is still surviving while many businesses closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. We owe many thanks to our restaurant clients continuing to place orders despite the difficult economic circumstances, many regular customers who continue to check in, and sake breweries. When we first opened, we had few businesses with restaurants and customers, leaving many including myself wondering if we’d survive the first year in business, and how long we would last afterwards.
During the initial hard times, sake breweries helped us out with over-the-counter sales, posting, and introduced restaurants they received inquires from, while our regular customers referred us to restaurants they frequented, which gradually increased our business. Customers started to come in from these restaurants, which helped us establish our footing as the town sake shop. Eventually, we received requests to hold seminars and consultations to revitalize business for sake breweries, which helped to expand our business outside of selling sake.
However, our business is still not stable, which is likely true for all sake shops. Before our sake shop opened, I once attended a seminar held by a sake shop. The lecturer was the owner of a renowned sake shop, who commented at the end of the seminar, “I’m speaking in front of you today, but I don’t know what will happen to our shop by next year. The sake industry is facing difficult times. We’re always thinking of ways to survive,” which left a lasting impression.
I realized then there was no easy way to sell sake, feeling uneasy about opening my sake shop.
I’m not a son of a sake shop owner, but a complete novice to the industry. Maybe that’s what helped me step forth to open my sake shop. What if I had directly felt the difficulties the liquor industry was facing at the time? The first three years in the business was hell on earth, working non-stop from morning to night. As business started to get easier in the fourth year was when the coronavirus outbreak happened.
However, our above clientele we built gradually over time was what saved us. I’m truly grateful to each of them is all I can say. I received help not only from the sake industry, but also from other industries like the Italian restaurant industry. Six years since we opened our sake shop, we’re still a beginner in this industry. I’d like to be prepared to welcome many customers and restaurant clients back as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is finally over, which will impact our business with sake breweries as well. The first step in the sake shop industry is to purchase many sake products from our sake breweries. By the time spring comes when the cherry blossoms bloom, I look forward to having a toast with all of our associates together.



#japanesefood #sake #sakebreweries

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Enjoy sake more casually

By Yuji Matsumoto
Japanese sake is still a largely unfamiliar beverage to American consumers.
Ninety percent of sake is consumed in restaurants, indicating the unfortunate reality that sake is still far from being casually enjoyed in private homes and parties.

One of the reasons is because the true flavors of sake and how they’re enjoyed is not widely introduced. Therefore, to American diners, sake is still a unique beverage to be enjoyed at local sushi bars. Also, because the prices can be at times higher, products may not be lined visibly on store shelves and information may be lacking on labels, which may be contributing to this issue.
In this issue, I will give you a simple overview of how to select sake.
First, it’s important to decide what menu selections to enjoy the sake with. Similar to how wine enhances the foods you eat, sake is also to be enjoyed during meals.

Meat dishes: Junmai or Junmai Kimoto is recommended (from Kyushu, Tohoku, Kanto, Hokuriku or Nada regions)
Chicken dishes: Ginjo class (from Hiroshima, Niigata, Nada, Hokuriku, and Kanto regions) is recommended
Fish dishes: Ginjo and Daiginjo class (Niigata, Hiroshima, Shikoku, Kyoto regions) are recommended.

Of course, flavoring and preparation methods will influence your choice of sake, but first, it would be interesting to sample sake by region.





#japanesefood #japanesesake #nihonshu #sake

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