NEWS

New and old stories about Japanese Crafts. 

Encounter with the new talent

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As promised in our previous blog, continuing with our visit to Kyushu and especially Saga Prefecture and our visit with up and coming porcelain artist Tsukasa Momota.

We arrived in Arita, a town famous for ceramics on January 3, right in the midst of the three day New Year Holiday in Japan. This does not mean outdoor festivities. It means most people are at home with family and friends, relaxing, eating great food and maybe having a glass or two of sake, usually from the region. Wherever you are in Japan, you can’t go wrong with the seasonal food and sake.

Oldest shrine in Arita village

Oldest shrine in Arita village

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Traditional Japanese New Year decoration 

Traditional Japanese New Year decoration 

We strolled the streets of the picturesque old Japanese town, and as I wrote previously, it felt like being on a movie set and we were the unwitting, but very interested actors. One Japanese native and one gaijin (me) who has been to Japan many times. We didn’t go into this ignorantly -- we knew most of the town may be closed, but we also knew Arita is famous for a certain type of ceramics - porcelain. And this is porcelain painted in various colors, often blue and likely inspired many centuries ago by artisans from Korea and probably China as well. This particular type of porcelain became known as Arita-yaki. It gained fame when European traders, who were the first to be allowed into Japan, through Nagasaki (the only open port to “Westerners” in the Edo period) brought them back to Europe.

 

So, as we walked the streets, we found a few places open and admired the crafts. As we walked, we happened to look into a storefront window and saw somebody working. He looked up and motioned us in. That was our introduction to Tsukasa Momota, a Fukuoka native who spend several years in northern Florida pursuing his love of surfing. Yup, we just happened to find a local Japanese guy who moved to Florida to study art and fell in love with surfing and antiques.

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Thus began Tsukasa Momota’s journey into traditional Japanese crafts. Or, maybe I should say, it evolved as many would argue that surfing is a form of art in itself. We spent a really enjoyable afternoon talking with Momota-san, hearing his story and telling ours, while he showed us his works and served us oshogatsu delicacies with very good regional sake.

Arita craftspeople have been making a concerted effort to reinvent Arita-yaki to make it more contemporary and have recently shown here in New York and around the world. Momota-san prefers to take a slightly different approach. His work is more subtle, evolving without losing the beauty and usefulness of the centuries of work that his forbearers created.

We are now featuring his works here. Please take a look.

Experiencing a memorable holiday in kyushu

Year of the dog by Kayo Kokubun

Year of the dog by Kayo Kokubun

Traditional Kyushu New Year Appetizer with Mountain veggie

Traditional Kyushu New Year Appetizer with Mountain veggie

A bit late, but we wanted very much to post some belated words and images about our trip to Kyushu to celebrate the New Year Holiday in Japan. A quick, very quick primer: In Japan, New Year is a three day event from Japan 1-3. And, of course there are preparations that go into making all of the foods and festivities associated with Oshogatsu. And pretty much all businesses are closed. Yes, we knew this going in.

We took a shinkansen to Fukuoka and spent two days and nights exploring the vibrancy that this now third-largest city in Japan exudes. This was during the two days leading up to Oshogatsu. Fukuoka had a lot of energy and we really loved our time there.

At Shrine in Hakata

At Shrine in Hakata

From there, we went to Nagasaki -- a place we have wanted to visit for a very long time, and it was akin to venturing into a home away from home in another world. It was all and more than we expected. We knew that many places would be closed because of the Holiday, but we found  much to do and see and explore and soak up. We spent New Years day with two longtime friends of Ria’s in the hills above Nagasaki with all of the food that symbolizes and makes New Year so special in Japan - osechi. It was an amazing afternoon and evening, eating and drinking sake with Ria’s old friends and my new ones. The food was amazing, the sake delicious and the company perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

For our last few days in Kyushu, we ventured into the countryside, which required me to drive for the first time in Japan. I’ve been there a few dozen times, but never had to drive, but I grew up around Detroit in Michigan, so I’ve done my share of driving -- it was just that everything is opposite. Once you get your brain to think opposite, you’re fine. At least it was for me.

On our next to last day, we went to Arita in Saga Prefecture, which is famous for ceramics, especially porcelain with elaborate painting -- likely an influence from China and Korea as Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners in the Edo Period and before. The town was empty. It was like walking on a movie set depicting Japan 100 years ago.

We don’t want to give too much away on this post about this part of the trip, but we literally stumbled on a budding artist and great guy working in his closed shop who motioned us in. We spent the whole afternoon there.

Thoughts and wishes for many at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka

Thoughts and wishes for many at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka

His name is Tsukasa Momota. We will talk more about our time with him and introduce his works in our next post. Stay tuned.

 

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From there, we went to Nagasaki -- a place we have wanted to visit for a very long time, and it was akin to venturing into a home away from home in another world. It was all and more than we expected. We knew that many places would be closed because of the Holiday, but we found  much to do and see and explore and soak up. We spent New Years day with two longtime friends of Ria’s in the hills above Nagasaki with all of the food that symbolizes and makes New Year so special in Japan - osechi. It was an amazing afternoon and evening, eating and drinking sake with Ria’s old friends and my new ones. The food was amazing, the sake delicious and the company perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

For our last few days in Kyushu, we ventured into the countryside, which required me to drive for the first time in Japan. I’ve been there a few dozen times, but never had to drive, but I grew up around Detroit in Michigan, so I’ve done my share of driving -- it was just that everything is opposite. Once you get your brain to think opposite, you’re fine. At least it was for me.

On our next to last day, we went to Arita in Saga Prefecture, which is famous for ceramics, especially porcelain with elaborate painting -- likely an influence from China and Korea as Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners in the Edo Period and before. The town was empty. It was like walking on a movie set depicting Japan 100 years ago.

We don’t want to give too much away on this post about this part of the trip, but we literally stumbled on a budding artist and great guy working in his closed shop who motioned us in. We spent the whole afternoon there.

His name is Tsukasa Momota. We will talk more about our time with him and introduce his works in our next post.

 
At Yanagibashi Market in Fukuoka

At Yanagibashi Market in Fukuoka

Motsu nabe, staple in Fukuoka

Motsu nabe, staple in Fukuoka

Saga light snow strawberry

Saga light snow strawberry

On the Famous Road of Light at at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka...Well-Known for the beautiful sunsets.

On the Famous Road of Light at at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka...Well-Known for the beautiful sunsets.

Coming soon! — New ceramic works from Japan Suite

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We are preparing to introduce some beautiful ceramic works by Masako Niimi from Chiba, Japan. Niimi has been focusing on the crystallization of glaze, and we love the small universe in her tea bowls and sake cups. Please stay tuned!

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Hiyaoroshi - Another Autumn Treasure

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It still feels like summer out, but those days will soon be fleeting as fall makes it’s arrival. While we love and will miss summer, autumn has many charms that we embrace. The leaves change colors as nature weaves it beautiful magic, late season fruits and vegetables are in markets and stores — and being the sake lovers we are, it also makes us excited for the arrival of the Fall sakes, including one of our favorite kinds, Hiyaoroshi.

Sake brewing traditionally finishes in spring of each year, and a six month aging process helps smooth out the flavors, which is why the new batches of sake are usually released in the fall. Typically sake is pasteurized twice to ward off any unwanted enzymes that can spoil the taste. Remember, sake brewing goes back many centuries before the advent of refrigeration, so the extra measures to protect it were vital to a great brew. However, once it began to get cooler in the season, brewers would release a version that is only pasteurized once — this is known as Hiyaoroshi. Sake lovers eagerly awaited its arrival every fall. So do we!

In Japan, some prefectures like Nagano and Saga have set September 9 as their official day for releasing each year’s Hiyaoroshi.

Hiyaoroshi has a lively, clean flavor to it — very vibrant with wonderful aroma and a nice, smooth finish. We can’t wait to try some of this year’s versions and will be heading to one of our favorite sake stores in New York City — Sakaya in East Village — to enjoy some when they arrive in the U.S. next month. We're excited to find out what this year's winners will be.

We encourage and invite you to try this seasonal delight. But don’t wait too long. Hiyaoroshi is typically released in small batches, so the supply can go quickly. Kanpai!


Seasonal recommendation from Sakaya

Wakatake Onikoroshi Akino Ki-ippon Tokubetsu Junmai Namazume 
若竹 秋の生一本 ひやおろし 特別純米生詰め

Uraksasumi Tokubetsu Junmai Namazume 
浦霞 特別純米 ひやおろし 生詰め

Sake – Part one. Summer Sake

We’ve been enjoying our summer and many of the traditions that make summer so special – grilling, growing, late night walks, fresh food – and of course indulging in some of our favorite cold beverages. One of our top choices for a refreshing summer drink is sake. Okay, it’s one of our favorite drinks all year, but on a warm summer evening, a glass (or two…) of chilled summer sake is a wondrous thing to savor and enjoy. Sake has a depth of flavors and types probably unlike any other beverage. So, we wanted to spend some time talking about sake. After all, it is a craft made by artisans and one we appreciate wholeheartedly.

Consider this an homage to sake delivered in a few parts and, most importantly, we’d love to hear your thoughts on sake, so we encourage everybody to tell us what you think and join in the discussion.

There is a wide range of sake varieties and brands, each with it’s own characteristics depending on type of rice, where that rice was grown, the water, etc...These result in each batch having it’s own personality, flavor and aromas. It shares many similarities with both wine and craft beer.

Westerners often think of sake as rice wine, but that is not really accurate and also unfair to this unique beverage. In fact, sake is brewed from grain – yes, just like beer is, and there are certainly similarities to the process that takes place using fermentation to convert grains into an enjoyable alcoholic beverage. As a home brewer (of beer), I recognize and appreciate this. But I won’t go into science here other than to say yeast eats sugar, extracted from the grains, and the meeting of the two produces alcohol in various strengths and, more importantly, a multitude of tastes in various ranges and bouquets emerge. Okay, science lesson over. Sake is sake. It is not a wine or a beer.

Sake is typically classified in four types depending on the process of their creation. We will talk more about that in another post.

Sake is unlike most other alcoholic beverages in that it is served in a wide range of temperatures – from 40F to 140F (5-60C). Personally, we enjoy it chilled more than heated, but it depends on individual preferences. Most brands are pasteurized, which results in a clearer beverage. Unpasteurized sake is called namazake, and it must be stored chilled. It has a very fresh taste and is one of our favorite sakes, especially on a warm summer evening.

Interested? We will write more in our next post, but until then, let’s get the discussion going. We want to hear from you. We encourage you to tell us your feelings and ideas about sake. We look very forward to hearing from you and talking about this wondrous elixir – sake

Choko, or Guinomi for sake is generally designed very small. This makes friends drinking Sake together refill each other's glass more often as a "good friend" ritual.

Choko, or Guinomi for sake is generally designed very small. This makes friends drinking Sake together refill each other's glass more often as a "good friend" ritual.