Japan

Japan

Sake Event Schedule (Oct-Nov 2019)

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The Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center is home to a slew of sake-centric events all throughout the year. On occasion, we like to pool that info together in one place to share with our listeners so that locals are in-the-know and lucky visitors don’t miss out on a great opportunity to further (re)discover exciting realms of sake, shochu and awamori.

Sake Salon #23 – Fushimi Sake Night

  • Date: October 28 (Mon)
  • Time: 19:00-21:00
  • Location: Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center
  • Guests: Tokubei Masuda (President of Masuda Tokubei Shoten, makers of Tsuki no Katsura brand sake), Yukihiro Kitagawa (President of Kitagawa Honke, makers of Tomio brand sake)
  • Seats: 30 people
  • Details: Event will include presentations from both breweries along with tastings and light food to accompany.
  • Registration: HERE

Shochu Day Celebration w/ Live Jazz

  • Date: November 1st (Fri)
  • Time: 19:00-21:00
  • Location: Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center
  • Guests: YoYo the Pianoman
  • Details: Celebrate International Shochu Day with open tastings of over 30 varieties of shochu and awamori accompanied by live jazz.
  • Reservation: HERE

Sake Salon #24 with Urakasumi

  • Date: November 7th (Thurs)
  • Time: 19:00-21:00
  • Location: Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center
  • Guest: Benoit Champagne (International Sales Representative for Saura Shuzho, makers of Urakasumi brand sake)
  • Seats: 20 people
  • Details: Event will include presentation from Mr. Champagne along with a selection of tastings from Urakasumi and light food to accompany.
  • Registration: HERE

Sake and Finnish Food Event

  • Date: November 22nd (Fri)
  • Time: 19:00-21:00
  • Location: Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center
  • Guests: Representatives from the Finnish Embassy in Tokyo
  • Details: A special event to commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland. Enjoy a selection of sake together with various light fare representative of and inspired by classic Finnish cuisine.
  • NOTE: This event will be hosted and conducted primarily in Japanese. Non-Japanese speakers are more than welcome to attend. Please just note that English language support will be limited.

Serving Up Sake

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Across a pair of recent episodes of Sake On Air, Wolfgang Angyal, CEO of the Riedel company  in Japan, has prepared a brilliant workshop, an opportunity to understand Riedel’s methodology for devising and determining the shape of a glass vessel, as well as sample a selection of sake in Riedel glasses (wine glass, daiginjo glass, junmai glass) … and a traditional guinomi

The tasting setup during the recent Sake On Air recording at Riedel Japan in Aoyama

The point was not to settle upon what is “best” for sake, but about experiencing how the choice of the vessel impacts the tasting, through a number of factors:  temperature, position of the head and shape of the mouth, flux, aromatic intensity.

As a follow-up to the recent episode, I wanted to to take a moment to reexamine some of the things we know about the history of sake-related glassware in Japan.

Until the beginning of the 18th century, glass had to be imported into Japan. Remember that this transparent material is not part of Japanese traditional architecture. While the first glass material was probably brought in from Korea, there are signs that an active glass-shaping craft took root across the Japanese archipelago, to produce comma-shaped beads for example, whose design is unique to Japan (one of the imperial regalia) and Korea, as early as during the Yayoi period (300BC to 300AD). 

In the 8th century, one of the Silk Roads’ branches was ending in Nara, the then Imperial capital of Japan. The Shosoin Treasure Hall has splendid and precious glass-made drinking and serving ware which arrived from Persia around this time.

From the 16th century, Portuguese, Spanish then Dutch merchants brought European glassware into the country through their Nagasaki trading post (including wine glasses, bottles and decanters for daily use). Japanese were enthralled by such products, and glassware soon became popular items for upper class society.

Japanese started manufacturing glass in the 18th century using Chinese knowledge and technique, with the inspiration of Western design. By that time, the first Riedel family member had entered into the trade of luxury glassware in Europe, in Northwest Bohemia.

At a recent exhibition of selected inspiring ancient craft at Suntory Museum in Tokyo, glassware actually had a remarkable presence. I remember a gorgeous sake ewer with a handle and small series of beautiful blue, freely blown sake bottles dating from Edo times (1600-1868). They were almost perfect in shape, although not identical, showing that no mold was used. In addition they do not show the scar of the pontil rod, a tool used by European glass makers, that facilitates the production of blown glass. Such a rod enables the artisan to work on the mouth or handle of the piece while holding the shaped glass from the bottom. Because such technique was unknown in Japan, one can understand that these blue bottles, produced in large quantities, required considerable skill from the artisan! These bottles are known as “bidoro”, coming from the Portuguese work “vidro” (glass).

The first book describing glass making in Japan was published in 1829. In 1834, artisans developed a beautiful cut glass technique in Tokyo (known as Edo kiriko; Edo was the name of Tokyo before the Meiji Restoration), followed by Kagoshima in 1851 (known as Satsuma kiriko; Satsuma is the pre-Meiji name of the Southern Kyushu region, the name of the ruling clan). Satsumo kiriko is well known for its magnificent transparent red material (color produced by copper), and diverse motif compositions. European cut glass (Bohemia, England …) influenced the design, however, as often is in the world of arts, local craftspeople went one step further and developed a unique style. The Satsuma glass making workshops were burnt to ashes during the Anglo Satsuma war of 1863. Glass making was restarted in 1872, with beautiful objects sent to the Imperial Household, however specialists judge that Satsuma kiriko never fully recovered from this 10-year long interruption. The exhibition presented this boat shaped bowl with a bat on the stern (a symbol of good fortune), its wings outspread, and a tomoe motif (yin-yang double interlocking comma) on the prow. It probably had different usages, including this of a haisen, a bowl filled with clean water, placed between people drinking together, so that one could rinse (i.e. clean) the sake cup before passing it to the other.

In 1910, Gekkeikan, a dynamic sake brewer from Fushimi (in Kyoto) introduced a small transparent bottle in the shape of a tokkuri, with an attached ochoko cap made from the same material, which was sold to passengers at train stations of the government-owned railway authority. According to the brewery, it gradually expanded nationwide over a few years, contributing to spreading the Gekkeikan brand, eventually becoming Japan’s largest sake producer. Until railways unlocked Kyoto sake from the former Imperial Capital’s limits, Nada sake (Kobe today) was the dominant sake “exporter” to the economic and political capital Edo. Today we can find sake bottles in many different colors. From the sixties, brown and green became most popular. Gekkeikan introduced brown sake bottles before 1927, to protect the drink against ultraviolets.

Gekkeikan pushing the envelope

The use of large glasses, and stemware in particular, was inspired by the wine culture and is a recent phenomenon. Stems are rarely seen in Japanese table arts. The tradition remains influenced by the low tables where multiple plates are placed next to each other. 

More to come on Sake On Air.

– Sebastien –

Reference: 1998BriefHistoryOf JapaneseGlass

Follow up to “Talking Terroir” (EP 18)

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On a recent overseas sake promotion project guiding wine experts around breweries in Japan, one term that popped up more times than I care to remember was terroir. Not from the wine experts, but from the breweries, who were using it in their marketing spiel.

However, what I later learned from the feedback of the participants is that very few were really using the term correctly. They were claiming there was a terroir where perhaps there wasn’t. I realized that in the sake world, the concept, if it even existed, or needed to exist, was blurred. Many breweries think that throwing in words from the wine world instantly makes their sake more familiar overseas, but in reality, very few people really relate to or understand these buzzwords that they are using.

Where does ‘terroir’ start from?

Despite having recently acquired a high-level wine qualification, I myself didn’t have a perfect grasp of the terroir concept. As you may have noticed in this podcast, I couldn’t even pronounce the word properly. I learned that there is even a debate in the wine world about the true definition of terroir. If the wine world is still not sure what terroir is, then surely its adoption by the sake world is a little premature. The more research I did on the topic, the more it became clear that the timing was right to get a podcast on this topic out in the open.

The intention was never to conquer the topic in one episode. This episode is simply laying the groundwork for future exploration. I went into this podcast on the fence about terroir. And I remain on the fence. Terroir definitely helps the smaller breweries stand out, but I am not sure it is the right word they should be using to talk about what is essentially just regionality.

We didn’t really talk much about the protective purpose of terroirs with regards to geographic indications, etc., but this always felt to me like an entirely different debate. Some of our listeners may already have made their mind up about the terroir of sake, but whatever your feelings about this topic, I definitely think more debate and more analysis is needed before we jump to any conclusions. In future episodes, I think we will need to include more insight from the actual brewers and representatives of the wine world to help flesh out the discussion. 

No Rice No Life
Indeed!

Directors cut: we also talked about the relationship between local cuisine and sake, Japanese beer production, and the concept of jizake, but these segments all sort of felt like they lost focus a bit, so they didn’t make it into the final cut. We may (likely) revisit any or all of these one day.

– Chris H. (aka Big Chris) –