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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.

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

Tanabata — Story of Two Star-crossed Lovers

Today is a special day all over Japan where people celebrate Tanabata, the Star Festival. Tanabata is celebrated to commemorate the romantic story of two lovers represented by the stars Vega and Altair who are only allowed to meet each other once a year as long as the skies are clear. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, which is July 7th in the modern calendar. Some places in Japan celebrate Tanabata on August 7th in accordance with the older Chinese calendar, which is where the legend originated. The most famous of all the Tanabata festivals is celebrated in Sendai on August 7th, but most of Japan recognizes Tanabata today (July 7th).

On Tanabata, people write wishes on small pieces of colored paper called tanzaku and hang them on bamboo trees. These become beautiful wish trees. On the following day, the decorated trees are floated on a river or in the ocean and burned as an offering. There are many celebrations all over Japan, which also include parades, food stalls, colorful decorations, and fireworks.

Tanabata originated from a Chinese legend called Qixi and was brought to Japan in the 8th century. This is the story of two lovers. Princess Orihime, the seamstress, wove beautiful clothes by the heavenly river, represented by the Milky Way. Because Orihime worked so hard weaving beautiful clothes, she became sad and despaired of ever finding love. Her father, who was a God of the heavens, loved her dearly and arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder who lived on the other side of the Milky Way. The two fell in love instantly and married. Their love and devotion was so deep that Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander the heavens. 

Orihime’s father became angry and forbade the lovers to be together, but Orihime pleaded with him to allow them to stay. He loved his daughter, so he decreed that the two star-crossed lovers could meet once a year--on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime returned to her weaving. On the first day they were to be reunited, they found the river (Milky Way) to be too difficult to cross. Orihime became so despondent that a flock of magpies came and made a bridge for her. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies will not come, and the two lovers must wait another year to be reunited, so Japanese always wish for good weather on Tanabata. There are many variations of this story, but this version is the most widely held.

We hope for clear skies on Tanabata so the lovers can always be reunited.

市中繁栄七夕祭 by Hiroshige

市中繁栄七夕祭 by Hiroshige

Tanabata Festival in Edo (Hiroshige, 1852)

Tanabata Festival in Edo (Hiroshige, 1852)

Tanabata festival in Tokyo

Tanabata festival in Tokyo