Friday, September 28, 2012

Dassai is being made in a remote spot in Iwakuni

Centrifugal machine to separate sake and lees
Asahi Brewery is unique. It has often been featured in the media. They've received more orders than they can currently produce. They are building another factory near the present one and expanding operation. 

They only produce refined Junmai-shu or the sake made purely from rice without adding brewer's alcohol. 

The factory's temperature and humidity are controlled and they produce all the year round. 

Their quality control is extraordinarily meticulous. They should have accumulated volumes of data.

Their very premium uses the rice milled down to 23 % of the original weight. 

Centrifugal machine in addition to an ordinary pressing machine is used to separate final mash to sake and lees, which is a rare practice and the machine is more than twice more expensive than the typical accordion-like press. This way sake does not contain any possible smell from cloth bags which is used for ordinary sake pressing machines.

Pasteurization is done only once after bottling, not twice.

Their dassai brand is exported and can be enjoyed somewhere in NY and LA as well as in Taiwan and maybe some other places.

These are some of the facts I discovered through the factory tour. It was worth going, taking 1.5 hours by car from my place.

They have a web site in Japanese, English and French. Here's their site.

I bought two bottles; one is the most expensive Junmai Dai-ginjo, and the other is a sparking cloudy type sake.

They will be served at the home party coming in two days.
Most common pressing machine
to produce sake from final mash

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Flanked by Geiko & Maiko

Maiko-san, left & Geiko-san, right
and me in the middle!
I had a little fun at a former Ochaya or Kyoto's private party venue. It is now converted into a French restaurant and there I attended a "seminar" for professional tour guides. It really was a fun seminar!

Ride a bike and see Hiroshima architecture

Castle moat and architecture
My fellow guide and cyclist, Yoko, has prepared a splendid tour plan. The excursion first takes you around downtown, giving you a chance to visit Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Japanese garden. Both are related to Hiroshima's waters, using the river water for their moat and pond, respectively. Then you can get to pedal along one of the six rivers in Hiroshima. You also see how two rivers join and a discharge channel,which looks exactly like a natural river.

Hiroshima has been developed on a large delta area and people's life was once much closer to the waters. There's a movement that Hiroshima rivers be appreciated again to revitalize the city.

Besides feeling the waters and river breeze of Hiroshima, the tour gives you a great chance to see Hiroshima architecture; old and new at the same time.

In the photo stand Hiroshima Castle, the Motomachi High-rise apartment complex (my real favorite, designed by OTAKA Masato), and Motomachi High School (on the right behind the trees; designed by HARA Hiroshi, who also did the Kyoto Station Complex).

Without cycling around the castle, I would never have had a chance to see them from this angle, Thank you, Yoko (she took me along the tour route by bike).

She has her blog with lots of good pics. I feel like riding a bike and touring when I look at them. Here's her blog.

While riding along the river, we passed the Motomachi apartment complex on the right. And I saw its star houses within a close range. I saw them from the rooftop of one of the wings of the Motomachi apartment but never expected that I could be this near.

Come join us. Bike ride in town is fun and will be an eye opener, giving you another perspective. You'll know Hiroshima more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This is the OSAKA

Tsuten-kaku is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The present tower is the second one, built in 1956. The original tower along with Luna Park which stood around the tower were completed in 1912, exactly 100 yeas ago. The tower and the park were connected with aerial cable cars.

The new tower was designed by NAITO Tachu, who was nicknamed Dr. Tower. He was asked to build the tallest tower by local Osaka merchants but immediately knew it would be impossible, considering the small area for the tower construction site. But the Osaka store owners begged and Tachu made the height of the Tsuten-kaku observatory highest in the country in those days. It was one meter higher than the tower in Nagoya. Tsuten-kaku became a fun tower with its unique bold design.The most famous tower designed by Tachu is no other than Tokyo Tower.

When Japan was struggling after the Great East Japan Earthquake which shook the country on March 11, 2011 and was saving electricity as much as possible, Tokyo Tower lit up one message by using solar energy and eco-friendly LED bulbs: Ganbaro Nippon (Work on, Japan). Tears on my cheek. 

The Tsuten-kaku tower is the OSAKA. When you are there, don't forget to eat KUSHIKATSU cutlet. Many kinds of veggies, fish, seafood, etc. on a skewer are deep fried. They taste really Osaka. 

Here's the official site of Tsuten-kaku for your convenience.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Artwork @ Kamotsuru

Kimono at Kamotsuru
Light plays a trick, especially for photography. The cotton kimono looks more interesting when seen in a photo. The artwork was displayed in the area of the premises usually off limits. The area makes a fantastic gallery and the event was a great stage for local college students studying art.

Four Seasons exhibited @ Fukubijin

Four seasons of Japan at Fukubijin
This is one of the artworks exhibited at Fukubijin Brewery for Art in Sakagura. 

Hot summer days are going away and fall is almost around the corner. We live in a beautiful country with four distinct seasons. 

At the beginning of October, Saijo celebrates Sake Festival for two days. When it's over, the town begins its serious sake making of the year. The breweries are busy but it's a good season to visit Saijo and feel their vibration. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

ART in SAKAGURA is fun

At the stairwell of Shusen-kan
Some of my favorite artworks I saw today happened to depict animals. Loved the eyes of the blue, red, and green guys. The cat and sunflowers seem to be a tribute to passing summer.

Besides seeing artworks, another advantage you will appreciate is that you can enter where it is usually off limits on the premises of the breweries.

This time my friend and I took off our shoes and went in to the detached Japanese style house of Kamoki Brewery, their private area. The rooms and windows formed a gallery. Gorgeous. 

These are part of ART in Sakagura (ART in Sake Breweries), Saijo, Higashi-hiroshima. Remember this; this could happen next year again around this time of the year. 

So much fun.
Tribute to passing summer, I felt.

Mr. & Mrs. Maegaki @ Kamoizumi

Mr. & Mrs. Maegaki, Heart of Kamoizumi 
Energetic President Maegaki of Kamoizumi and his indispensable wife stand in front of Shusen-kan, one of the buildings which consisted of the former Saijo Branch of Hiroshima Prefectural Sake Laboratory. Shusen-kan is now owned by Kamoizumi and used as a sake cafe and sake library. The second floor can be rented and hold a variety of activities. 

Today, my friend and I went up to the second floor to see ART in SAKAGURA artworks. It was much better than an ordinary art museum visit. I much preferred the Sakagura site than the museum setting and fully enjoyed art by local college students.

Besides on the second floor of Shusen-kan, there are other places on the sake factory grounds where artworks by students are exhibited. 

So much fun to tour around the area where eight sake breweries stand. 

This program was held last year too. The second year has been attracting more people of many age brackets. Power of youth and traditional sites interact.

Tomorrow, I'm visiting a rural district called Uyama, where artists display their site specific works. 

Be aware and it's easy to find beauty just around your corner.  Your neighborhood is your living museum.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Matsushima has amazing gulls

Someone's shoulder in the left bottom corner
photo taken while cruising on a boat
Matsushima, known as one of the three most scenic places in Japan since the 17th century, revived itself swiftly after the great Tohoku earthquake which shook East Japan on March 11, 2011. A few people were sacrificed in Matsushima Town and the tsunami waves attacked the stores and pleasure boats for bay cruising. But compared with the neighboring communities like Shiogama and Higashi-matsushima, the town was spared from the total devastation. By the end of April, 2011, all tour boats resumed their operations.

Lots of black-tailed sea gulls live in the area and they fly to the boats for snacks. Bags of food is on sale on the boat. They are originally for humans and sold at supermarkets or many other places but here at Matsushima the food is used to feed the gulls. They are amazing. They can take food from your fingers or catch it in the air.

Thanks to some 260 islands in Matsushima Bay, the tsunami waves must have been mitigated. The great Zuiganji Temple survived the quake and tsunami with slight scar. All 1300 tourists managed to evacuate to higher places.

Matsushima got a story to tell; not an easy job to talk about the disaster but the locals have to let people know, and pass down the lesson learned.

Matsushima is particularly reputed to be an inspiring place for the moon viewing. Albert Einstein came to Matsushima in 1922. Local story has it that he was speechless, seeing the moon of Matsushima.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Kosaka mine had Koraku-kan theater for workers

Former Kosaka Mine Office
The theater was completed in 1910 for part of the welfare of mine workers. Originally the theater accommodated 800 people. Now the capacity is reduced to 607 due to fire safety regulations.

Performers and audience can be close enough so that the stage should be truly exciting and engaging. The theater is busy and active.

Click here to see the theater photos.

The office building of Kosaka Mine standing next to the theater expresses the idea of “East meets West.” It looks western at a glance but the interior has traditional tools and equipment just like the theater for Kabuki plays. In addition, the design for balconies is Islamic and its open work motif is associated with the company, Fujita, that once owned the mine. It was provided with electric power, a rare case in those days.

Odaira Namihei, the founder of Hitachi, worked for the Kosaka Mine where he, as a young engineer, was assigned to build an electric power station and related facilities. He did it well and hopped jobs to climb up the ladders for starting his own company in 1910 where he developed Japan's first 5-horsepower electric induction motor.

Kosaka Mine first dealt with silver, then switched to copper. Now no mining is conducted but rather metal recycling has been done making the best use of the technology nurtured while the town was thriving as one of the three largest copper mines in Japan. 

Restored roof of the former office
shingled with cryptomeria slates
faithful to the original 

Everywhere in Japan, there are legacies that would lead to the future. What was done in the past leads to the future, whether it was a good deed or not. Face the past and go ahead!
Spiral staircase at the office
built with advanced techniques

Friday, September 7, 2012

Know Shirakami Mountains?

Ao-ike or Lake Blue
Due to refraction, the lake looks mysterious 

In 1993, nearly 17000 ha of the Shirakami Mountains was recognized as a World Heritage Site. It was one of the first designations in Japan along with Horyu-ji temple, Himeji Castle, and Yakushima Island.

Situated in the mountains of Tohoku, this trackless site includes the last virgin remains of the cool-temperate forest of Siebold's beech trees that once covered the hills and mountain slopes of northern Japan. The black bear, the serow and 87 species of birds can be found in this forest.

The Shirakami Mountains comprise a maze of steep sided hills with summits rising to just over 1,200 m. Many streams have their sources within the area and it is an important water catchment area.

The beech forests were already formed some 8000 years back. It is believed that the beech forests grew soon after the end of the glacial age. They have never been cultivated, mainly because beech trees were useless.

However, the trees came to be processed into musical instruments in the 1970s and logging projects were proposed. The construction of a forest road started in Akita but was halted due to active opposition. People in Aomori were fiercely against the projects, which changed the attitude of the Aomori Prefecture. In 1988, the construction was suspended.

The thirty three lakes which form the Juni-ko area are considered to have been formed from the rivers isolated by the landslides in 1704. Juni-ko means twelve lakes but as already mentioned there are thirty three lakes. But at least there seems to be a specific point from which the exact 12 lakes can be seen. That’s where the large scale landslide happened and its trace is still visible.

Serious alpinists will try some of the peaks but casual easy forest walk is also possible.
Wear comfortable walking shoes and explore the Juni-ko area, hopefully with a local guide (and me as an interpreter). Fantastic lakes, trees, air, wind, soil, sky, light and shadow.

The Japanese beech, Siebold's beech, or buna:
A deciduous tree of the beech family Fagaceae. Native to Japan and one of the dominant trees of Japan's deciduous forests.
Walk the beech forest and breathe the fresh air

Shamisen Tsugaru style is soulful

Professional and amateur; both were fantastic
Shakuhachi flute and great folk song
At a hotel in Aomori where my guests and I stayed, there was a great shamisen performance starting at 9:00 pm and lasting more than 30 minutes. Very soulful. The performer invited a few of the audience to come forward and try the drum while he played the musical instruments and sang traditional folk songs. Later toward the end of the show, a gentleman asked to let him sing along the shamisen tune. The whole venue was full of Tsugaru spirit. I didn't completely understand their Tsugaru or Tohoku dialect but even that was fun and impressed me.

Once blind female shamisen performers visited households and played tunes when asked. That was the way they made income. The music had to be loud since they sometimes performed on snowy days when the family would not be able to hear well if the shamisen only made ordinary levels of sound. 

The Tsugaru Shamisen, pronounced Tsugaru Jamisen in Japanese, is powerful and soulful. No doubt about that. 
The performer plays the Tsugaru Shamisen
The lady was invited to come forward to try out the drum

Five-storied pagoda at Kaijusen-ji, Kyoto

Notice the Mokoshi eaves at the lowest level.
The pagoda standing in Kamo Town, Kidugawa City, Kyoto, was built in 1214, relatively short but delightful to your eyes. The location of the temple is not convenient for modern visitors but this remote settings are essential to retain the serenity and peace of the temple. 

The shinbashira central pillar stands from the ceiling of the first floor, one of the six examples among the historical five-storied pagodas in the country.

The pagoda has Mokoshi eaves at the first level. This pagoda and the one at Horyu-ji temple have this type of eaves. Only two examples of this style.

Loved the temple. Quiet and breezy. Talked with the lady who received me at the main hall of the temple. Appreciated the statues enshrined in the main hall.

A combination of this temple, Joruri-ji temple, and Gansen-ji temple are highly recommended. They are all in Kamo Town. Transportation between this temple and the other two is a bit of trouble. Bus services are not frequent at all. But taxis are available.

Five-storied pagoda in Aomori

Notice the reduced dimensions
toward the top

Saisho-in temple has a particularly beautiful, well-balanced five-storied pagoda. The temple is one of the two major among forty six temples standing to the south of Hirosaki Castle, the other being Chosho-ji temple. Saisho-in originated in the Buddhist halls built and dedicated by a warlord in 1532. When the castle was built at the beginning of the 17th century, the temple was relocated to the northeast of the castle to stop evil influences from entering the castle grounds from that direction. The temple was patronized by the fiefdom, and supervised temples and shrines in the Tsugaru Domain in the Edo period. However, the temple suffered and forced to come to the present site where Daien-ji temple once stood but moved out at the beginning of the Meiji period when the Meiji government made Shinto the national religion and made little of the Buddhist temples. Many of the temples were discontinued at that time.

The pagoda once belonged to Daien-ji and was built in 1667 to honor the sacrifice of those who died in battles, regardless of friends or foes. More than ten years had passed when the tower was finally completed. The Shinbashira central pillar of the pagoda is square and stands from the ceiling of the first floor. Note; the five storied pagodas are practically one-floored, the upper space being a vast attic.

Across the country, there are six historical five-storied pagodas whose central pillar stands from above the first floor. Except the one at Honmon-ji temple in Tokyo, I saw them all. Hey I’m a tower hunter.

The temple premises are accessible free of charge during the day.