Still can’t forget

It has been more than a week since I left Daimon-san and the rest of the brewers at Mukune.  After japan I went straight to Beijing to discover another amazing country.  Now I am back in Vegas, back in the grind.  Everyone asks me about my trip… ‘How was it?”, “Did you drink a lot of sake?” and at that moment I always stop and think… how can I describe the magical time that we all shared at Mukune?  How can I explain how much I learned about sake… working hard, hands on in the brewery every day?  How can I explain how much I learned about the culture… living amongst all the locals, sharing their walks on the streets and the local supermarkets? When thinking of the generosity of Daimon-san and all his staff, the way he welcomed strangers to his kura with open arms and, above all, an open heart…. I realize that there are no words.  I am still amazed of the whole week and although it is nice to be back in the comforts of home, I really do miss it! And I think that is what brought all six of us there from all over the country, we all agreed that with something as technical and precise as sake, there really is no other way to grasp it besides to make the trek that we did and actually make it yourself.  I know that I am blessed to have been able to experience it.  I know for certainty that it has changed me and that my life will take a different path because of this internship.  I am sad to be away from the great company of everyone…some of the most inspiring, charismatic, and adventurous people I have ever met.  I truly hope that all of our paths will cross again in the future.  1 year until Italy!??

To Daimon-san… Thank you for letting us all into your world.  Thank you for staying up late every night to entertain us, for taking us to that ONE last bar, karaoke, or late night noodles, and still being the first one up the next morning (How do you do it??!) But above all, thank you for teaching me more about a true passion of mine, you have truly inspired and motivated me to take it to the next level…and to follow my dreams.

dsc040991

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Departures and Arrivals

mgz-75_arrivals-departures_center-image

well, the members of session 4 have departed and gone their separate ways.  some have returned home, while others have continued on in Japan, China, Palau, …

i arrived back in California yesterday.  

tired, sad, worn, spent.  

buzzing, content, renewed, enriched.

tomorrow i will visit my parents and try to recount all that has happened in the past 2 weeks.  i’m sure many details have slipped from my mind, but the experience will never fade away.

thank you Beau for opening True Sake in SF and giving me access to sake, your knowledge and the connection to the Mukune International Sake Brewing Program.

thank you Daimon-san for opening your door, mind and heart to sake enthusiasts from around the world and allowing me to be part of it.

 

 

six strangers enter

water, rice, yeast, passion, work

team mukune, son

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back in the states

well, here i sit at SFO awaiting my next leg on my journey home to san diego and most importantly my wife. it’s funny that i don’t feel as poetic as i did while at Mukune. my pen seems to have dried up, my writing skills little as they were have all but, dwindled. funny how every night at Mukune, i dreamt of making sake, yet, last night as i slept in my aft-facing seat upstairs(thank god for the upgrade) my dreams were almost a state of confusion. i think my brain was trying to accept the fact that it was really over and prepare for the reality of leaving a memorable experience…

early yesterday morning i took a solemn walk throughout the neighbor looking trying to imprint as much as i could into my psychi. i was blessed with masses of sakura petals blanketing the little roadways and drainages.

sake-float

i was able to silently experience little snipets of people awaking to a sunday morning. gone were the hoards of students passing by or crowding the conveni. just the silent awakening of a village on a sunday morn.

beacon

beacon

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Like Mike said in his blog, we too, like the sequoia, have bloomed. But, for you future interns you will find the seqouia as not only a land mark while traipsing through the village, but, also as a beacon, beckoning yours and our return.

At the bottom of the sequoia, will be a man, eloquent in speech, humble in manner and generous in spirit. Yasutaka Daimon, thank you for the knowledge, experience and generosity. how can any of us truly thank you?

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Girl Watching

Since the weather has warmed up and is so nice this time of year we started taking our lunches outside. Several of the guys enjoyed watching the high school girls in uniforms parade past the brewery in what seemed like a continual, endless stream. One of the guys in particular enjoyed sitting on the street in front of the brewery and interacting with the students and passersby. The Japanese also seem to find him the most entertaining out of all of us. One day a pretty 15 year old rebel and her friend stopped by at chatted for a while. Her clothes were disheveled clearing reflecting her bad attitude. She jeered and trash talked her peers as they walked by. “That guy is a nerd. She is crazy. That boy stupid,” she said calling out their names. Her friend said that the rebel was a bad girl but she was the good one. The rebel said “I like mugi shochu, beer, and awamori.” The good girl said, “I like juice.” When they said good bye they called out, “Come back tomorrow. I love you, I love you.”

Two Japanese School Girls

Two Japanese School Girls

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No Bye Bye’s… Mata Ne!

mukune_tei

yesterday was our last day working as kurabitos at Daimon Shuzo. we steamed rice in the morning, loaded the third addition (tome) of rice and koji into the moromi, cracked our final batch of koji for the “Ferrari”, scraped some more kasu from the Yabuta, put labels on boxes and then cleaned up the kura one last time.

in the late afternoon, it seemed that everyone needed to find a bit of “self time” before the farewell party. i think all of us were a bit sad that our stay here was coming to an end and we all were in an introspective and reflective mood. i put my headphones on and listened to some music as i watched trains go by, school kids and cars parade past the kura, kids playing baseball across the field and some of the few clouds we’ve had this week roll through the sky.

clouds

at 6pm we all met in the room that has been our “command center” for the past week. an amazing spread of food was brought in, many of the dishes featuring bamboo root that may have been picked from the grove just behind the kura. before eating though, we all took turns sharing our thoughts about the experience of working at Daimon Shuzo. i sort of knew what most of my fellow gaijin kurabito felt as we had spent each night hanging out and talking with each other about anything and everything, but it was great to hear what Uei-san, Arai-san, and Daimon-san and his family felt.  they all had the sense of amazement and happiness that we did and i think that made us all feel extremely relieved, happy and maybe even a bit proud.

i can’t say i was expecting to have an epiphany during my stay here, and i’m not sure that i did (or have had it yet), but it was definitely one of the best experiences i’ve had in my life. the fact that Daimon-san allowed this program to take place in his kura, knowing that all sorts of things could go wrong, that he was letting (for the most part) random people from around the world into his business, that his kurabito were going to have their extremely efficient work flow altered, that other kura owners and tojis might think he was crazy, … Amazing.

and despite all the ways that things could have gone wrong, nothing did! was it blind luck or good karma that made this work so well? maybe. i think i’m going to give credit to what brought all of us here in the first place though and that is this fabulous concoction made from rice, water, yeast, a lot of hard work, passion and artistry: SAKE

sakekanji

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I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

Confucius nailed that one. The only way to truly understand how Sake is made. Is to make it. Luckily that’s what we’ve been doing for the last week. Here are some snapshots.

RICE A RONI IT AIN’T:
The Kura is  a spa for rice. It incredible how pampered Japanese sake rice is. The richest women in the most expensive spa does not get this much attention.It is Milled (liposuction). Then washed in a machine( Jacuzzi?). Then washed by hand(Body Scrub?). Then steamed (steam room?). Cooled on a conveyer belt and declumped (massage). Then off to the moromi(cold pool) and on and on and on. Additional treatment include koji rice declumping ( massage in a sauna). But the treatments work. A simple grain of rice becomes sake, that elegant beautiful lady.

MOTTAINAI
Such a beautiful concept. Not wasting anything. Like water,rice,energy. But not in a bottom line  way. It is about respect for everything. Everything is part of the chain. We’re all in it together.

HOW MANY JAPANESE SCHOOL CHILDREN ARE THERE?
I sit by Daimon front gate , have lunch and watch sunsets. It is a great view over a farmers fields with a train that runs through it. The city is in the distance and the mountains beyond. It’s a very pleasant place to sit and think. But a very peculiar think happens every day. A steady stream of schoolchildren ,dressed in uniforms with beautifully polished shoes, march by from 7am to 9pm. Any time of day.7 days a week. I talk to them in English. The boys shy away but the girls seem more interested in learning English. Most speak some English and seem happy to use it with an actual gaijin. They laugh,giggle and smile as they reenter the relentless stream of student. On there way to where ever.

A GIANT TREE WILL LEAD THE WAY
Above the office there stands a giant double trunked Meta Sequia. It was planted after world war 2 in an effort to regreen Japan. Daimon father planted it. When we arrived it seemed dead. Just a black shape against the sky. But the weather has been picture perfect. And now it has beautiful fine green needles.We use the tree as a landmark to lead us back to the Kura. Like this session intern ,the tree is from united states, and we both started the week in the dark. But now after a week of making sake we too have bloomed.

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a haiku from session 4

mukune-internship-180

petals fall like snow
bamboo emerge from below
spring is upon us

mukune-internship-265

what a dork am i

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Mission Accomplished

We were so efficient today that we finished early. I felt a pang on taking off my white boots. I do feel very complete in my understanding of sake making. Thus there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that this is truly a “Mission Accomplished

I give Daimon-san another thank you for this wonderful education and inspiring exposure to the brewing process.

Hopefully, this will lead to more contact with my fellow kurabito and Daimon-san. This time of learning will certainly contribute to my better understanding and enjoyment of  the sake I will drink in the future.

Now to the train station with a bag and brain full of nihon-shu!

Japanese bullet train, shinkansen, pulling into train station, Japan

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Portrait of the artist as a Japanese Toji.

Old School

Old School

This Kura is 185 years old and it’s beautiful. 185 year old timber soar to hold the wooden ceiling. Walls of windows and open cantilever roofs let in a beautiful light. It is a place of shadows and light. Old and new.
It is also a place of contradictions. Rooms of intense heat and chilling cold. Old Edo looking tools, unusual modern machines and futuristic computers sit side by side. Tradition and technology waltzing together to make Sake.

Is that forklift fushia?

Is that forklift fuschia ?

But there is more going on. If you look closely. The pressing machine is periwinkle blue. The brush’s are  day glow green. Christ ,the fork lift is Fuschia. The colors have been chosen as carefully as a painter would put paint to canvas. An artist has been here.

That artist is  Yasutaka Daimon, Toji and owner Daimon Shuzo. Clearly his wonderful sake is a work of art. But why these details of color, like wildflowers,  in this traditional Kura? The more you get to know him. The more it all makes sense.

Born the first son of the brewer, he fled Japan to see the world. Opening up to the possibilities beyond Japan and sake. He lived in a floating world of Travel and spirituality until he decided it was time to return.Bringing back with him, souvenirs of the world: love of Art, Food , spirituality. Which he applies daily to the life in the kura.

There are surprising touches everywhere. Who would expect to see Matisse,  Rothko and Klee prints in this almost 200 year old  Japanese Kura. Or a Buddhist prayer affixed to a state of the art Koji computer. These touches humanize this building.Clearly he respect tradition, like hand washing the rice ( Ouch,my back!) instead of using a rice washing machine ,which he already owns. But he also believes in the modern. Using traditional methods combined with  a desire to shepard sake into the  future.

Like the modern artist’s he loves so much. They had a reverence for the past but were looking for a new way of expression. So too is Daimon-san.

Matisse,Rothko,Klee...Daimon.

Matisse,Rothko,Klee...Daimon.

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the sun sets on yet another session…

morning line up

morning line up

well, here we are all sitting around on saturday. we’ve finished early. a quick moment to re-collect on our week that has passed-by almost unnoticed, a blur. not all of it was as romantic as we expected but, very realistic and true. no “it’s a small world” rides, no bs. we worked, we learned, we enjoyed, we bonded and we’ve made yet another set of memories that will be shelved in our sake memoirs.

one last look from our hang out spot

one last look from our hang out spot

there were a few touching moments with the toji and kurabito. moments when the cultural and language barriers seemed to melt away and we all were just humans with a common interest. we even had a surprise visit from a neighboring farmer who took the time to serenade us with a very traditional song of spring from time long past. fueled with a sense of completion (and a quick trip to the conveni) we merrily sipped away and enjoyed an almost typical day after work…like we belonged.

toji-and-kurabito-enjoying-a-pau-hana
sunset-from-mukune

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