Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hamakawa Shoten “Sake that the locals will drink”

The new Bijofu labels, released in October,
use photographs taken locally.
Bijofu: Out of the Depths
   “Bijofu,” which has won Gold Prize for each of the last 5 years at the Annual Japan Sake Awards, is the most popular brand of sake produced by Hamakawa Shoten, located in Shikoku’s smallest town, Tano, in eastern Kochi. “Bijofu” was first developed by Naoaki Hamakawa, the fifth-generation CEO of the company.

   Hamakawa became CEO at a time when the future of Hamakawa Shoten was in doubt. The company had to sell 70% of its product to larger sake companies in order to make ends meet, but it finally pulled through the rough patch. Around that time, Hamakawa first encountered ginjo (special brew) sake in Tokyo. At the time, ginjo sake was only being made for contests, but more and more voices were calling for this delicious variety of sake to be released for regular sale. Enchanted by ginjo, Hamakawa thought, “I want to make this sake with my own hands!” Following this powerful urge, with no tanks, no technology, and no rice appropriate for ginjo sake production, he began to fumble his way through a field of “no” toward an entirely different kind of sake that his company had ever made before.

Tsukasabotan Brewery “A True Classic”

The 90m long sake storehouse built around 1850.
A Time-Warp Back to the Edo Period
   Walking just a few minutes from the JR Sakawa Station, we noticed a large building with white plaster walls. The sweet, faint aroma of sake drifted over from the open brewery, and it was like we were immersed in the nostalgia of an old film. We were at the Tsukasabotan Brewery, a veteran business founded in 1603. This particular white-walled building is a sake storehouse called “Warehouse No. 1”, and it has around 160 years of history. Chief Brewer Asano said, “Ryoma Sakamoto likely visited this brewery when he left Tosa. Ryoma liked to drink sake.”

Mutemuka “Local Sake with a Twist”

Entrance to the brewery.
They steam chestnuts in the large stoves inside.
Chestnut Shochu for Rural Revitalization
   In the mountainous region of Western Kochi lies the town of Taisho, Shimanto-cho. There can be found a brewery dedicated to local sake since its inception: Mutemuka.

   Mutemuka, which began as a simple sake brewery, started making their signature chestnut shochu “Dabada Hiburi” roughly 30 years ago. They got their start when the mayor of Taisho at the time asked them if they could help revitalize the town by using locally-grown chestnuts. They heeded the call, got a shochu brewing license, and got to work making chestnut shochu. At first they were committed to only using local chestnuts, but their rising sales outpaced local chestnut production, so they currently do not follow that requirement. However, Dabada Hiburi, which is made from over 50% chestnuts, still uses only domestic chestnuts.


Kochi Life Q&A: Important Occasions "I’ve been invited to a wedding…"

   Wedding banquets in Kochi are grand affairs, with long guest lists, lots of alcohol, and classic Kochi-style sawachi ryori (large platters of food). If it’s your first time at a Japanese wedding, you may be surprised to see that the couple changes their outfits several times, and that the bride and groom’s friends put on performances as entertainment.
   As for attire, men should wear a suit, and women, a pretty dress. Women should also wear a bolero or shawl over their shoulders, and take care not to draw attention away from the bride and groom by wearing anything too eye-catching. Avoid wearing white, since it’s the bride’s color.