Monday, September 24, 2012

Kyoto: Magic City of Serendipity & Nihonshu

I very much liked my arrival in Kyoto yesterday. I can now cross a few more items off of my Japan "bucket list", but I was unprepared for the serendipity that came my way last evening.

I have arrived in Kyoto last night and fell in love with the city. Kyoto is much more like San Francisco or or Barcelona, whereas Tokyo is faster and more commercial like New York or Madrid. In fact, a good hybridization of the two is London, but that's a post for another day.

I am most pleased with the lodging, though I imagine it is not for everyone. I stayed in a capsule hotel last night! Though my capsule is more like a container and less like a coffin. It is reminiscent of the European style of hotels that I have always loved, such as the Ace Hotel in PDX/SEA/NYC: 

Not that I am spending much time in my hotels anyway!

The serendipity was almost too much to process, as I know so very few people in Japan, but I made new friends last night, the first of which is Chris Pellegrini. Neither Chris nor I had been to Kyoto before, though Chris has been here for years. After two hours at the sake bar, we get around to asking each other our names and we both recognize the other person from following each other on Twitter!! Go figure! 

Chris and I both chose to go to one of my very favorite bars in the Universe and a bar I can't recommend highly enough: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Yoshihito-san is very intelligent and passionate about nihonshu, and can demonstrate this gift easily for beginning and advanced students of sake. I left his bar last night not only learning something about sake, but appreciating his service to his customers. I can't recommend him highly enough and it is my strong encouragement that more westerners have a chance to meet him and listen to what he has to share.

He gave me a new appreciation for koshu! I tried a 16 and a 20 year old koshu that tasted so close to a fine sherry that was remarkable. Key point made to me: europeans, men and women, who hale from a wine region in Europe find passion and common ground between the sexes on koshu than any other type of nihonshu -- according to the Asakura's experience in his bar.

I enjoyed a 40% polish daiginjo that was so unlike most any daiginjo I have had, due to the dry/earthy/mineral taste -- a delicious taste! Asakura hunts down unusual sakes and uses them to challenge perceptions about what sake is, or should be.

I also greatly enjoyed three bottle of sake brewed from Watari Bune rice -- none of them from Ibaraki! Lo and behold, watari bune rice was identified growing in other prefectures, too. It's funny how the full story behind watari bune rice isn't told, but then again, what should we expect from salespeople who care first and last about sales goals and who don't have a commitment to selling and marketing with integrity? Trusting some sake sales people is like trusting the car dealer to be honest with you about your car. Does this work for anyone anymore? Unfortunately, some people just blindly follow the so-called experts due to a lack of information or at least checks and balances.

The night ended with more yamahais, kimotos, muroka namazake genshus than are photographed here. It was a grand tour of sake, with these bottles really shining through. The only sad thing, to me, is that virtually none of the sakes i have enjoyed in Japan are available in the US. In Oregon, consumers see 300 when Japan sees 10,000. In New York, consumers fare better -- I have heard that 2,000 sakes are registered in the state of New York. Someday this will change, but only through effective and honest exportation, distribution, marketing and sale of sake outside of Japan. 

I can't wait to learn more from Asakura-san, starting with dinner and a party tonight. Please visit his bar when you come to Japan. Nihonshu is his "ikigai", his great passion, and I would do well to follow his example in the earnest promotion of nihonshu -- in English and Japanese no less. What a sake stud (pictured in white below).


1 comment:

  1. Gordon, Greetings from the Ginkakuji area of Kyoto. If you have time--and an interest in the best sake vessels(shuki) in Japan, please stop on by my gallery, Gauntner and I used to do all kinds of seminars in Tokyo. Okini, enjoy Kyoto! Robert(