It’s January – the days are short and dark and the nights are long and cold. It’s a perfect time of year for sitting around the fire, lighting candles and storytelling!
We’ve been enchanted by a traditional Japanese folktale from the Kyoto Heian era about a woman called Kuzunoha who is secretly a white fox. We’ve seen enchanting metamorphoses in Japanese stories before – we loveThe Chrysanthemum Spirit where the noble lady pines for the chrysanthemums in the palace garden so much that a nobleman appears who is the actual spirit of the flower.
Come with us as we take a closer look at Kuzunoha, to discover a little bit more about Japanese storytelling traditions, and also take a look at the symbolism of the fox in Japan.
Browsing London Sake’s expansive range, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by choice. Sometimes, even for an experienced nihonshu connoisseur, the best approach is simply to choose a bottle with a beautifully, striking label and hope that the contents measure up. This tactic (which has generally served me well with both unfamiliar sake and craft beer purchases in the past) goes a way to explaining how I ended up in the possession of Tamagawa’s 2019 ‘Red Label’ Heirloom Yamahai Genshu.
Japan has a fascinating and multifaceted culture. It is a culture that is steeped in traditions dating back thousands of years and at the same time in a constant state of rapid flux, with continually shifting fads, fashions, and technological developments. Yet, at times it seems that the more Japan evolves, the more it remains the same. Many of Japan’s traditional arts embody these characteristics as well and reflect the mutable society we have so often observed.
Japanese schools have many traditions that differ from most cultures. From elementary to high school, Simple, everyday habits are carried out by students and teachers to develop discipline and respect.
Whilst Kuncho’s English language online presence is unfortunately minimal, it’s clear that they’re a highly respectable brewery, extremely proud of their underground water supply, and wholly committed to producing excellent quality ‘old-fashioned, unchanging taste’ sake. Housed in a beautifully grand, late-Genroku period (1688-1704) building in Hita city, in the Oita prefecture of Kyoshu island, Kuncho also operate a sake museum and shop.
Bio: Monica St Hillaire is an aspiring writer with a love for all forms of poetry. She hopes to become a master of both traditional and modern haiku and her ambition is be the best wordsmith she can be.
I’m generally hesitant to recommend a sake based solely on the criteria of a drinker’s lack of experience with the category, and generally leery of any such recommendations, finding most “for first-timer” lists rather dubious at best. The reason is that, even if someone hasn’t had many previous opportunities to encounter sake, it doesn’t mean that they don’t bring a lot to the table. Everyone, whether they are conscious of it or not, comes packed with preferences based on all kinds of food and beverage experiences and influences. From my personal experience, there exists no single “starter sake” (or starter wine, beer, coffee, or any beverage, for that matter), but there does exist an entry point sake unique to each individual at any one point in time. The process of finding that is finding the joy, not just in sake, but across all kinds of food and beverage.
For this list, I’ve put together a few recommendations that I feel are not only reasonable starting points across the spectrum but are also sake that you’ll likely wind up continuing to come back to. Not just because they’re rather tasty, but because they have a lot of subtle character, as well; a lot of which will really become more apparent with time. You’ll get out of these sake as much as the time you’re willing to put into them, which is really true of any healthy relationship, no?
Whilst not quite as simple as pushing a fresh, floral and fruity junmai daigingo to the back of your cupboard and trying to forget it exists for the next five years, aged sake is indeed a real thing. Specially pre-aged nihonshu (known as koshu) makes up a tiny amount of total sake production and sales and as a result is hugely misunderstood, forgotten or ignored.
Considering Asahi-Shuzo is the largest sake producer in Niigata prefecture the washi paper label of its Kubota Senjyu (1000 Long Lives) is a charmingly personal touch. And whilst online retailers seem caught between the technicalities of whether to best market as ginjo or tokubetsu (special) honjozo, the brewery’s own website is happy to promote the Kubota range for its‘subtle flavo[u]r’ and ‘mellow… and gentle taste.’
The International Wine Challenge (IWC) judges can’t get enough of Takedo Shuzo’s Katafune range sakes, which scooped top awards in the 2013 and 2015 competitions. According to its website the brewery, located in the western port city of Niigata, was established in 1866 and is currently proudly managed by the ninth and tenth generation of its founder Seizaemon Takeda.
I chilled a bottle of Katafune Junmai and decided to forego the label recommendation (‘an excellent drink with dinner’), interested instead in how the sake carried itself.