NEWS

New and old stories about Japanese Crafts. 

Saying Goodbye to Summer With a Sip

 Ozaemon from Toki city, Gifu great balance of umami and acidity

Ozaemon from Toki city, Gifu great balance of umami and acidity

September signals the waning of summer and the inevitable change in seasons. It’s a profound time for all who love summer. In NYC, the days remain warm and mostly sunny. It’s a nice transition to what will follow. September is also a time when sake brewers everywhere debut their newest offerings. And for past five years, it’s also a time to welcome in a new batch of sake to New York City by a bevy a sake brewers who come to our fair city and show their latest wares at the NY Sake Expo. We happily accepted the task of checking out the Expo (as we have done the past few years) and enjoyed talking to many of the representatives and brewers from sakaguras all over Japan as well as some in the U.S. Please join us in recognizing and enjoying the magic that is sake...

 Kakeya from Unnan city, Shimane. Full of Umami, sooooo good!

Kakeya from Unnan city, Shimane. Full of Umami, sooooo good!

 Shochu maker Kyoya from Miyazaki, introducing Heihachiro. It goes well with fatty food, such as Tuna Tartar so well!

Shochu maker Kyoya from Miyazaki, introducing Heihachiro. It goes well with fatty food, such as Tuna Tartar so well!

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Namazake: A Fresh and Lively Early Sign of Spring in a Glass

 Shichi-hon-Yari Namazake in  Edo Kiriko  glass, by Kamata Kiriko, with typical  Girls' Day(Hinamatsuri)  sweets, Hina-Arare. 

Shichi-hon-Yari Namazake in Edo Kiriko glass, by Kamata Kiriko, with typical Girls' Day(Hinamatsuri) sweets, Hina-Arare. 

As we head into March and spring is getting closer, one of our favorite parts of the end of the winter road is here — namazake, which is the early spring sake that, like it’s fleeting cousin sakura (cherry blossoms), is best enjoyed fresh and savored while it is here. Namazake appears just after the sake brewing season ends, which happily is now.

Most sake is pasteurized twice to halt the work of the enzymes, stabilizing the brew for a long shelf life. Namazake forgoes the sterilization in favor of fresh, spring tastes. Once opened, namazake should be refrigerated and is optimal for two weeks or so. If unopened, you are good for around six months for optimal flavor.

 Shichihon-Yari in Edo Kiriko glass bt  Horiguchi Kiriko

Shichihon-Yari in Edo Kiriko glass bt Horiguchi Kiriko

So, on the last weekend of February, we knew it was time to head to one of our favorite places for sake, Sakaya, in the East Village of New York (a fine neighborhood and one with a decided Japanese presence among many eclectic influences). Sakaya is NY’s first and only shop totally dedicated to the elixir. Owners Rick and Hiroko are always welcoming and full of helpful advice.

We partook in a tasting of Shichi Hon Yari from the Tomita Shuzo brewery in Shiga Prefecture. It is a wonderful melange of fresh tastes, drier than your typical namazake in a really nice way — a good mix of earthy, grassy fruitiness. Yes, we bought some and are enjoying a small glass as this is writing. There are many great namazakes offered this time of year, so we encourage you to check out this year’s batch while it’s here and fresh.

Setsubun. Let's throw beans!

 Setsubun New York style in Motion Plate by  Kihachi Studio

Setsubun New York style in Motion Plate by Kihachi Studio

Today (Feb. 3) is setsubun in Japan. It symbolizes the day prior to the traditional start of the the lunar new year. Think of it like a New Year’s eve — before risshun, the beginning of spring from the old lunar calendar. It’s a time when the fresh new year is welcomed in and ceremonies are performed to chase away evil from the previous year and keep it away from the new one. A special setsubun ritual to cleanse evil spirits away is called mame-maki, which can be translated into bean scattering or throwing. Typically, soybeans are used.

Families use a handful or cup of roasted soybeans and either toss them about the house or sometimes at a family member dressed as a demon — shouting "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!", which means roughly, out with the evil and in with good fortune. They also open the windows and throw the beans outside. Another part of this tradition is to eat the same number of beans as your age to bring you good fortune in the coming year. Sometimes, an extra bean is added to increase this good fortune.

We wish you the best and most-rewarding year ahead...!