Joining Kurosawa's "bijoukai"
For me, my first experience with Sake was at a Japanese restaurant I worked at in Orange County, California. I often drank sake after work with the other employees. From these days I began to enjoy the taste of Japanese Sake.
One day, my boss introduced a new Sake for customers who wanted a more expensive taste. This sake was called Kurosawa. "It's Kurosawa,like Akira Kurosawa" my boss said. After that I never forgot the name of that Sake.
I quit that job, and became a university student. 4 years later, I moved to Japan to teach English. I could not choose where I wanted to go, so I was placed in Yachiho-mura, Nagano.
My first day in Yachiho the head of the board of education gave me a tour around Yachiho. One of the first things he showed me was Kurosawa Sake factory. I couldn't believe my eyes! I couldn't believe that this little factory in this little village was the same factory that made the sake I had served in California 4 years before, but it was! That is when I decided that being placed in Yachiho must be destiny!
To me, the beauty of sake is in its simplicity; its subtlety. When making sake you do not add many spices or flavors. Unlike many major beer companies you do not add preservatives or chemicals. Yet at the same time, just by slightly changing the process in which you make sake and/or the kind of water or rice you use can make a huge difference in the final taste of the sake. Because of this you can really tell the quality of ingredients and the skill with which the sake was made in a single tasting.
Of course this is also true with other alcohols too, like wine or spirits.
Sake is often called Japanese wine or rice wine in America.
However one big difference I see between wine and sake is the subtlety of the ingredients. Grapes have a very distinct taste. It easy to compare grapes and say "this one is sweet, this one is sour, this one is good or this one is bad". But with rice, especially for unaccustomed westerners, the difference between good rice and bad rice is much more difficult to tell. The other main ingredient in sake of course is the water. Obviously there is good and bad water, but again the difference is much more subtle than that of grapes.
For these reasons, I feel that through the flavor of well made Sake, along with other Japanese cuisine like Miso, you can really taste the "flavor" of Japan. Through the high quality water and rice still able to be found and grown in some areas of Japan, you can taste the great nature of Japan, which is one of the main places in which the "essence" of Japan can be found. The other place in which the "essence" or "spirit" of Japan can be found is in the everyday people and their culture and traditions. Unlike huge Sake companies making mass quantities of mediocre Sake, it is in the small companies where the spirit and traditions of making sake, and the taste of the surrounding nature can still be found, and therefore tasted.
Since coming to Yachiho I have been lucky enough to join the Kurosawa family in making some delicious sake. I have been able to experience the whole process of making sake, which is such a rare experience, especially for a foreigner. Joining Kurosawa's "bijoukai" has honestly been one of the most important parts of the cultural exchange I have experienced in Japan.
Written by Mr.Mike Daivs
supecial thanks Kae & Chiho