KANPAI NY A Celebration of Japanese Food, Drinks and Culture!
We added our (22) Top Sake for Winter to our sake reviews page today. If you weren't sure which sake to drink this Winter, we've selected some of our favorites for Winter, with an emphasis on rich, medium-to-full-bodied sake. We included some of our favorite nigori sake, which have a snowy aesthetic, and are always perfect for Winter. We also included a selection of sake from Japan's northern prefectures, where snowy Winters are a way of life. And we included some sake that are light, clean, and crisp--just like snow itself! Please take a look!
Happy First Day of Winter! Although December 1st always feels like the beginning of Winter, today it's official! And it was a rainy and mild first day of Winter! The mild Fall weather is still here this week, which is unusual since the year is almost over. We haven't seen any snow yet this year, and it doesn't look like we'll see any until the New Year. The beginning of Winter is always a special time of year, since it's the peak of the holiday season. And I'm eagerly looking forward to the New Year at this point. It's always nice to "start over" which is what the New Year brings--an opportunity to start a new year with a clean slate so to speak. My least favorite aspect of Winter is the freezing temperatures. But, ironically, the freezing temperatures also produce my favorite aspect of Winter--snow flurries! Snow flurries falling from the sky are one of nature's most beautiful creations. Even as I get older, I still enjoy seeing snow coming down. I've been fascinated with snow my whole life, and thankfully I still feel that way. I'm looking forward to seeing the first flurries falling out my window. I'm also looking forward to seeing pine trees with a coating of snow. And frozen lakes with a pristine layer of snow! But, I also wouldn't mind having a mild Winter this year! That would be nice too! I'm looking forward to it! Here's to a great Winter! Today calls for a glass of nigori sake, which looks like liquid snow! Konnichiwa Fuyu-san, hisashiburi desu!
Today is the last day of Fall. Yes, it's still Fall! Can you believe it? And, surprisingly, the Fall weather has stayed with us this far into December. It was a beautiful Fall this year. It's been relatively mild, and we had lots of beautiful days to spend outside. We went for a memorable drive up to the country, and saw some spectacular Fall foliage throughout the trip! We also visited our favorite waterfall, which gave us some nice inspiration that we can take into the New Year. And, although we didn't go on as many drives as we were hoping to this year, we had a nice time enjoying the Fall foliage close to home throughout the season. After all, the Fall is a time to stay a little bit closer to home, as we get ready for the colder weather that's on the way. Today calls for a glass of rich junmai sake. Arigato to sayonara Aki-san!
We announced our long-awaited Best of 2015 Awards today! Our Best of 2015 is our way of recognizing the best Japanese food, drinks, and culture that we experienced throughout the year. And this year, we included a lot more award categories than ever before (76 to be exact)! In addition to restaurants, stores, and sake, we also included food, drinks, and culture. And, for the first time, we announced the Best Sake of the Year! Please take a look at our new "Best" page for our Best of 2015 Awards! Congratulations to the winners!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Tooi Rooi Hoshi (The Planet Far Far Away)" is our December image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (38x24) and is from 2008. The painting features Yumiko's heroine flying (or perhaps "swimming") through space, towards "The Planet Far Far Away," where perhaps it's a little kinder and safer for her and her animal friends. She is joined by dozens (or perhaps hundreds or even thousands) of camels, crocodiles, dolphins, frogs, geese, leopards, polar bears, squirrels, and wolves. She is wearing a red bikini and inflatable floats, ready for a holiday season beach vacation! Yumiko's signature assortment of sakura and ume frame the edges of the painting. This is one of Yumiko's more conceptual pieces, and has a colorful, festive theme that is perfect for December and the holiday season! December is always a special time of year, for many reasons. It's a time to spend the end-of-year holidays with family and friends. It's also a time to reflect on the year that has passed. And it's a time to prepare for the New Year, which will be here soon! Here's to a great December! Happy Holidays!
Happy Thanksgiving! Today is one of my favorite holidays. It's the first major holiday of the "holiday season" and is a day of celebrating Fall (and life) with family and friends. It's also a day of "giving thanks", which is an opportunity to reflect on all of the things that we are (or should be) thankful for. As I'm getting older, I try to think about the "true meaning" of holidays more than the fun aspects. It's nice to have some moments of fun with family and friends, but ultimately holidays are meant to remind us of the important things in life. And so this Thanksgiving I've been thinking about the things that I'm thankful for, while also taking a moment to thank some of the people who have been there for me this year. I'm most thankful for the amazing miracle of life that I experience every day! Every day, I remind myself how special life is, and how important it is to appreciate every moment. And every day, when I step outside, I'm reminded of how amazing and special life is. I'm particularly thankful for the beauty and "magic" of the natural world, which I find to be endlessly inspiring. And, of course, I'm thankful for the family, friends, and acquaintances who are in my life. This was a particularly good year, and I'm thankful for the experiences that I had throughout the year! And lastly, I'm thankful for everyone who made a contribution to Kanpai NY this year! I really appreciate the samples, product info, photos, feedback, and enthusiasm that I received this year. And I'm thankful for everyone who visited the site, and took the time to read some of the things that I wrote! Arigato!
This evening, I enjoyed a glass of Hatsumago Shozui Junmai Daiginjo. Shozui is our Featured Sake this month, so I picked up a bottle at Mitsuwa yesterday. It's the second time that I had Shozui this year, and it's one of my favorites of the year. One of the things that's interesting about tasting sake is the subtle differences you notice each time. After all it's a natural product! Although I opened the previous bottle in September, it was actually brewed more recently than this bottle. I know that because Hatsumago puts a date of bottling on their bottles. This bottle was bottled in September 2014, so it's been "aging" throughout the year. This time, I noticed a hint of "violets" in the aroma, which I didn't notice last time! The violet aroma/flavor is relatively uncommon, so I'm always fascinated when I notice it. It's quite similar to "peach" flavor, which might be a better way to describe it. I've only noticed the violet/peach flavor one other time this year. Arigato Hatsumago-san!
We Love Sake Cups! Today, we wrote about sake cups on our "Love" page. Sake cups come in many different shapes, sizes, and materials. They are typically ceramic or glass, and in some cases are made of wood or bamboo. The four main types of sake cups are ochoko, guinomi, masu, and sakazuki. The most common (and iconic) type of sake cup is the (tiny) ochoko. Ochoko are the smallest type of sake cup (typically 1-2 ounces). Their small size is meant to encourage the friendly gesture of pouring small amounts of sake for friends and companions (often) throughout a meal. Guinomi look very similar to ochoko, but are typically twice the size (3-4 ounces). Masu are unique among sake cups, because they are square boxes, rather than the typical round cylindrical shape. Masu were once traditionally used to measure rice, and come in standardized sizes. Read more about sake cups on our "Love" page!
We added a new feature/page to the site today called Favorites! It's a new interview series, in which we ask some of our favorite people to tell us about some of their favorite things. And I'm thrilled that our first Favorites is with artist Yumiko Kayukawa! Not only is Yumiko an amazing artist, she's also a Japanese food and tea connoisseur, so it's great to hear about some of her favorites. She talks about her favorite green tea, fish, sushi, rice, soy product, vegetable, seaweed, noodle, snack, and dessert! It was fun to read about her favorite Japanese food and drinks, and I was happy to see that we have some favorites in common! Please take a look at our new Favorites page! Arigato Yumiko-san!
This afternoon, we went for a walk in the park near our neighborhood. It's been a couple of weeks since the last time we were there, so it was amazing to see the difference a couple of weeks makes! The last time we were there the Fall colors were peaking, and some of the trees were still green, but this time most of the trees were bare. The bright red maple tree that we were admiring last time is now completely bare, with no signs that it was once red. The oak tree that was bright yellow is now brown, yet still has its leaves. And the sakura that were red are now bare. Surprisingly, the two sakura that we sit under, which were mostly green last time, are now almost bare. They went from green to brown in two weeks! As we sat under the two sakura, we admired the various shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown sakura leaves that were all around us. Although it was a little chilly today, the sun was shining, and it was nice to sit there for a little while. As we sat there, we couldn't help but notice that the grassy area in front of us, which was alive with animal and insect activity throughout the Summer, and even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, was now motionless and quiet. The animals and insects are already thinking about hibernation. Fall is a melancholy time of year.
We Love Cup Sake! Today, we wrote about cup sake on our "Love" page. Cup sake are small, portable cup-shaped containers of sake. Their cup-like design allows you to drink straight from the cup sake itself, eliminating the need for a sake cup or glass. Essentially "sake-on-the-go", cup sake are typically consumed outside or in casual settings, and are ideally suited for events, picnics, and daytrips. Cup sake uniquely combine practicality and novelty, making them both easy to drink and collectible. Ozeki One Cup was the first cup sake, introduced in 1964, to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics. It was a huge success, and now lots of sake breweries produce cup sake. Read more about cup sake on our "Love" page!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Kitsune No Te (Fox Hands)" is our November image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (16x12) and is from 2012. The painting features Yumiko's heroine sitting on a wooden floor next to a shoji screen door, looking a little tired as a holiday gathering is winding down. She is joined by a family of red foxes, two adults and six pups. The heroine and the foxes are enjoying a game of "fox hands" behind the screen, while two of the foxes are already taking a nap. Some Fall fruit and nuts are sitting on the floor, while branches with red berries are framing the top of the image. It's a whimsical image that reminds me of Fall holiday gatherings, spent with family and friends. Now that it's November, it's officially the "holiday season", which is always one of my favorite times of the year. The cold Fall weather forces us to stay in at night, where it's warm and toasty! Speaking of toasty, here's to a great November!
A kabocha patch, Looking for the perfect one, For dinner tonight!
The oni are out, Hiding in the dark places, Hoping to scare you!
Which costume to wear, Oni, ninja, samurai, Happy Halloween!
It was a beautiful day today! It started out overcast this morning, but turned out to be sunny and mild. This afternoon, we went for a walk in the park near our neighborhood. It's been a few weeks since we were there, so it was interesting (and a little sad) to see the impact of the Fall weather. Most of the trees are turning yellow, orange and red, but there's still some green, as well. The tallest sakura tree is completely red now, but the two smaller sakura that we sit under are still mostly green. The large oak tree is turning yellow, while the large maple tree is bright red. Most of the smaller bush-like plants are brown now. What was once a wall of green at the edge of the woods, is now brown, revealing the woods behind them. Sadly, the tall wildflowers that we enjoyed throughout the Summer are now brown, yet still standing tall. Some of them now have fluffy white seeds, which are blowing into the wind. As I sat under the two sakura, I noticed a tall tree in the distance, which has already lost all of its leaves, standing bare while the surrounding trees still have leaves. I think it's interesting that each tree is on its own schedule, reacting differently to the Fall weather. As we were getting ready to leave, we were looking up at the red maple tree, and suddenly a hawk flew by, above the tree! I'll take that as a good omen for Fall!
Tall tree in the sky, Has already lost its leaves, Clouds are passing by
Looking at the sky, Leaves are twirling in the wind, Falling to the ground
A large dragonfly, Flying low above the ground, On a warm Fall day
A red maple tree, Its leaves blowing in the wind, Hawk flying above
We Love Nama! Today, we wrote about nama on our "Love" page. Nama sake is unpasteurized or partially pasteurized sake. Most sake is pasteurized twice, once before bottling, and once after bottling. Pasteurization involves heating the sake, which kills the active yeast and bacteria that are present, giving the sake a longer shelf life. Nama sake are unpasteurized, or in some cases pasteurized only once, which allows the yeast to remain alive in the sake, giving it a unique "fresh" flavor. There are three types of nama sake (namazake, namazume, and namachozo). The most common nama is namazake, which is unpasteurized sake. Since it contains living yeast and bacteria, it must be refrigerated in order to keep the yeast and bacteria in a dormant state, giving the sake a shelf life. Namazume is pasteurized only once, before bottling, whereas namachozo is pasteurized only once, after bottling. Read more about nama on our "Love" page!
We went for a drive up to the Berkshires today, and saw some spectacular Fall foliage throughout the trip! When you're driving into the country for Fall foliage viewing, the drive itself is the best part. There's nonstop yellow, orange, and red everywhere you look! Similar to sakura viewing in the Spring, Fall foliage viewing has to be timed perfectly. The peak time is a little bit different in every area. As we were driving north, it was interesting to see the transition of Fall foliage from pre-peak, to peak, to post-peak. When we started there were still a lot of green trees. But when we drove out of Westchester into the next county, we were suddenly surrounded by nonstop yellow, orange, and red. Then as we drove into northern Dutchess, we started seeing a lot more bare trees and brown colors. But luckily, there was still a lot of spectacular color in the Berkshires when we arrived! It was a mild day today, so we thought it would be a nice day to visit Bash Bish Falls. It's up at the top of Mt. Washington, but luckily you're able to drive to the top. Then you have to hike down to the bottom of the Falls. As we were driving up the mountain, we saw a group of wild turkeys by the road! They're always fun to see! It's been a dry Fall this year, so one side of the Falls was kind of a trickle, but it was spectacular nonetheless! It's always awe-inspiring every time! And not only the Falls, but also the areas below the Falls where the water has carved through the rock over thousands of years! I love just looking at the water moving over and around the rocks! It was good to see some raw natural beauty, and get some inspiration before the cold season starts. Hopefully, we can make one more trip before the end of the year!
Trip to the country, Yellow, orange, and red trees, Everywhere you look!
Leaves are falling down, Covering the ground below, Yellow, orange, red
We Love Nigori! Today, we wrote about nigori on our "Love" page. Nigori or nigorizake (as it is known in Japan) is unfiltered or coarsely filtered sake, which contains rice particles, giving it a milky appearance and a creamy texture. Nigorizake means "cloudy sake". Nigori is one of the oldest types of sake. A style of (unfiltered) nigori known as "doburoku" has been brewed and offered at Shinto shrines for more than a thousand years, and is used in ceremonies. Since it is unfiltered, doburoku is very thick, and is traditionally very sweet. One of the first commercially-produced nigorizake was Shirakawago, which is made by Miwa Shuzo, a Gifu-based sake brewery. Shirakawago was originally commissioned by Shirakawa village, the site of the famous Doburoku Festival. Although traditionally reserved for ceremonies and festivals, the village wanted to create a doburoku that would be available year-round (as an everyday sake). Read more about nigori on our "Love" page!
I opened a box today, and saw something beautiful--three perfectly placed bottles of Kurosawa (Daiginjo, Junmai, and Nigori)! I have to admit I stood there briefly admiring the bottles before picking them up! They were a gift from a "secret admirer" who obviously knows that I love Kurosawa! Or maybe they just noticed that Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto is our Featured Sake this month! Or perhaps they saw that we wrote about kimoto on our "Love" page yesterday! Either way, I feel like a lucky website editor today! Since we're featuring Kurosawa this month, it's great to see the entire line together at once. There's something for everyone! First of all, the Junmai is a classic! It's made with the "old school" kimoto method, which will appeal to experienced sake drinkers, but it's also an easy drinking (and affordable) "first sake" for beginners! Then there's the Nigori, which contains only 8% alcohol, so it's great for those who want to try sake without the usual 15-16% alcohol. And then there's the Daiginjo, which is for special occasions! We're featuring the Junmai this month, because it's a perfect medium-bodied sake for Fall. Those slightly earthy flavors are perfect for cool days, as you're watching the leaves falling outside. If it were up to me, I'd have a glass of Kurosawa every night this month! Well, now I have enough to get started!
We Love Kimoto! Today, we wrote about kimoto on our "Love" page. Kimoto is the old (labor-intensive) method of making sake that was developed during the Edo period. The kimoto method is defined by the use of kai (poles) to perform "yamaoroshi" when making the shubo (yeast starter), which produces naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria. This differs from the modern method of making sake, which involves the addition of artificially created lactic acid. During yamaoroshi, the steamed rice, koji, and water are mashed into a paste with the kai. The yeast is added to the mixture (or it may be naturally occurring), and it is painstakingly nurtured for a month (twice as long as usual), which allows the naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria (and the yeast) to grow. Read more about kimoto on our "Love" page!
Now that it's October, it's really feeling like Fall! For the past few days, it's been cold, overcast, and rainy. Did I mention cold? All of a sudden, it's sweater weather! Apparently, the change in weather is due partly from a "tropical storm" that's passing through this week. But it doesn't feel very "tropical" here in NY. Normally, I like a little bit of bad weather. I like putting on my rain shell and going for a walk. But, this week, the chilly weather came a little sooner than expected, so I've been staying in. Perhaps I'm feeling a little less adventurous now that I'm 40! We had some nice warm soba (from Nagano) for dinner tonight, which was perfect on a cool Fall evening. This soba was the lightest-colored soba I've ever seen! But, Mie assured me that it was in fact soba. Interestingly, she said that it was lighter because of the polishing rate. I'm still learning about soba! But most importantly, it was warm! Which is just what we needed tonight. The soba also had some vegetable tempura (green pepper, kabocha, and onion). Kabocha are small green pumpkins, and are perfect for October! Oishii!
Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto is our new Featured Sake! Kurosawa is a Nagano-based sake brewery, founded in 1858. Kurosawa is the fourth of The Seven Sake that we're featuring this year. Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto is one of my all-time-favorite sake, so I'm excited that it's our Featured Sake this month! It has a nice, slightly "earthy" medium-bodied flavor that is very easy to drink. It was one of my early favorites when I was first learning about sake, so it always brings back memories of the "old days". It was also the first kimoto sake that I ever tried, which is also significant, since kimoto is probably my favorite style of sake. I remember buying it for the first time at Shugo, the late great sake store where I bought many of my first sake, and thinking that "Junmai Kimoto" sounded pretty cool. It also came in a box at the time. Those were the days! It's also hard to mention Kurosawa without thinking about the legendary director Akira Kurosawa, who directed the best samurai movies ever made (including The Seven Samurai). Coincidentally, I was also watching many of Kurosawa's classic films for the first time at around the same time that I discovered Kurosawa sake. I would imagine that many people make the connection between the two, which is great branding for Kurosawa, since both the sake and the director are associated with samurai! Speaking of branding, Kurosawa is interesting, because it's a really high-quality kimoto-style sake that is also one of the least expensive premium sake in the U.S. The bottle retails for around $20, which is considered inexpensive as far as premium sake is concerned. It's also very widely-distributed, making it easy to find at many restaurants. For those two reasons, I would imagine that Kurosawa is many people's "first sake". Perhaps the importer should create an advertising campaign called "Remember your first Kurosawa?" Arigato Kurosawa-san!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Momiji (Japanese Maple)" is our October image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (20x12) and is from 2010. The painting features Yumiko's heroine enjoying the Fall foliage, as yellow and orange momiji leaves are falling from the trees above her. She is joined by a pair of squirrels, who are sleeping (or perhaps hibernating) in her scarf. It's a beautiful and relaxing scene that is perfect for the first full month of Fall! It reminds me of the momiji tree, which is next to my house, and is bright red this time of year! It's a stunning tree, and it's always surprising how many leaves it drops by the end of Fall! Enough to make a giant pile, where you can take a nice Fall afternoon nap! This image also reminds me of the beauty of the Fall foliage season, which always captivates me as we go for drives into the country. It's always fun to see the different assortment of Fall colors, and I enjoy how you can see the transition from green trees to red, orange, and yellow as you're driving north! Let's go this weekend!
We Love Daiginjo! Today, we wrote about daiginjo on our "Love" page. Daiginjo is the highest-level grade of premium sake, above ginjo. Daiginjo grade sake is made from rice that is polished down to at least 50% of its original size, and the highest-end daiginjo sake are typically made from rice that is polished down to at least 40% of its original size. Daiginjo sake are considered by most people to be the ultimate sake (and are therefore more expensive than other grades). Daiginjo sake are typically lighter in flavor and smoother than ginjo sake. As the rice is polished down to at least 50% of its original size, it loses its outer layers (leaving just the inner core), thus creating lighter and smoother sake. Read more about daiginjo on our "Love" page!
We added our (22) Top Sake for Fall to our sake reviews page today. If you weren't sure which sake to drink as you celebrate the holidays this Fall, we've selected some of our favorites for Fall, with an emphasis on rich, medium-to-full-bodied sake. As the days get shorter and colder, you'll want to drink rich sake with "warm" flavors, so we included some of our favorites with hints of brown sugar, butterscotch, cedar, hazelnut, pumpkin, and sweet potato. We also included some of our favorite earthy kimoto and yamahai sake, and a sake which includes the word kiku in the name (in honor of Japan's iconic Fall flower). Please take a look!
This afternoon, we went to Mitsuwa for our weekly Japanese food shopping. We bought many of our usual favorites, and had a fun time as always. But, unexpectedly, the exciting part of the trip happened when we left the store and were walking in the parking lot back to our car! As soon as we stepped out of the store, we heard an unusually loud bird noise, which could best be described as "squawking" rather than chirping, followed by a flurry of birds flying past us. When we got to the car, Mie said that there were "green" birds flying around the parking lot. I looked up and saw something I've never seen before, a wild (green) parrot sitting in the tree next to our car. And then I saw a group of parrots flying past us, which is when I realized that there was a large flock of parrots all over the parking lot (in the trees and flying around)! They were eating some sort of small fruit that is growing in the trees. It was an amazing experience! I've been to tropical countries before, and don't recall ever seeing wild parrots. Instead, I saw my first wild parrots in Edgewater, NJ (in the Mitsuwa parking lot of all places)! I realized soon after seeing them that these birds are related to the group of (non-native) wild "Monk" parrots that are living in and around NYC. About 10 years ago, I heard about wild parrots that were living in Queens and other areas of the city, but I never saw any in person. And I haven't heard anything more about them, since that time. I guess they're in Edgewater, NJ now! Wow! Now we have another reason to go to Mitsuwa! Check out the photos on our photos page!
Happy First Day of Fall! Although it's been feeling like Fall for a couple of weeks now, today it's official! Strangely, the last day of Summer (yesterday) felt very Fall-like, and the first day of Fall (today) felt very Summer-like! It was a beautiful day today, sunny and in the 70's! This afternoon, we went for a walk in the park near our neighborhood. After our walk, we sat under our favorite two sakura trees, which are side-by-side, creating a perfect canopy of branches and leaves to sit under. The sakura are still mostly green, but some of the leaves have started turning yellow, and even orange-red! And, of course, some have dropped already. After all, it's only the first day of Fall, but the sakura are getting ready for the Fall foliage season! As we sat there, we watched the dozens of bumble bees working hard on the tall purple wildflowers that are still there. And from time to time, an occasional white moth would flutter into the wildflowers. Then, to our surprise, a monarch butterfly appeared and fluttered over to the flowers! I haven't seen one of them in a long time! And we were also happy to see a couple of usagi where the grass meets the woods. As we sat there, I was thinking about the Fall. After the beauty, warmth, and long days of Summer, it's nice to have some cooler days as we transition into the end of the year. The days get cooler and shorter, which keeps us a little bit closer to home, where we can spend more time with family and friends. But, we also have some spectacular Fall foliage to see, which means we'll be making more drives into the country! I'm hoping to go apple picking again, and maybe even pumpkin picking! I'm also hoping to play golf a few more times, especially since I play my best golf in the Fall! And we're still hoping to make that trip to the Finger Lakes, which are beautiful in Fall. And, of course, Fall is the season of kiku! There's something very sophisticated about the Fall. It forces us to dress up, wear a jacket, and look our best! After the fun of Summer, the Fall always feels a little bit melancholy. I think of it as a reflective season. A time for thinking about the year, which has passed already. And a time for thinking about the New Year, which will be here soon. I'm looking forward to it! Here's to a great Fall! Today calls for a glass of rich, kimoto sake. Konnichiwa Aki-san, hisashiburi desu!
Sakura in Fall, Leaves turning yellow and red, But still mostly green
Today is the last day of Summer. Which is kind of a technicality, since it's been feeling like Fall for a couple of weeks now. And it was a cool Fall-like day today, kind of overcast and in the high 60's. I guess that means we're ready for Fall to start! Well, it was another beautiful Summer as always! And kind of a mellow, not-so-hot Summer, with most of the days in the 80's, and not too many days in the 90's this year. I had a great Summer, and we did most of the things that we were hoping to do. We went for some drives up to our favorite spots in Dutchess County and the Berkshires, where we went fruit and berry picking, visited our favorite waterfall, and even got back out on the golf course. Plus, we made it out to the beach on the east end of Long Island, and had a chance to look out at the ocean. We also went to The New York Botanical Garden, Innisfree Garden, and Hammond Museum's Japanese Garden. The highlights of the Summer were celebrating my 40th birthday and visiting Mohonk Mountain House! Mohonk Mountain House is one of the most spectacular places I've ever visited. I went there once as a child, and the experience left a lasting impression on me. And I finally returned for a second visit in July as part of my 40th birthday celebration! And once again it left a lasting impression on me! The only thing we didn't do this Summer was visit the Finger Lakes, but perhaps we can do that in the Fall! I'm sad that Summer's over, but I'm also looking forward to the Fall! Today calls for a glass of fruity ginjo sake. Arigato to sayonara Natsu-san!
We Love Ginjo! Today, we wrote about ginjo on our "Love" page. Ginjo is the mid-level grade of premium sake, above honjozo and junmai sake. Ginjo grade sake is made from rice that is polished down to at least 60% of its original size. Ginjo sake are considered to be the perfect "compromise" between junmai/honjozo grade sake and daiginjo grade sake (in terms of both quality and price). Ginjo sake are typically lighter in flavor than junmai/honjozo sake, yet not as light as daiginjo sake. Likewise, ginjo sake tend to be smoother than junmai/honjozo sake, yet not as smooth as daiginjo sake. As the rice is polished down to at least 60% of its original size, it loses its outer layers, thus creating lighter and smoother sake. Read more about ginjo on our "Love" page!
I went to Mitsuwa tonight, and bought a bottle of Azure Ginjo. Azure is made by Tosatsuru, which is a Kochi-based sake brewery. I tasted this sake in 2009 at Nishimoto's annual sake event, and I've been interested in trying it again ever since. This is a really unique sake. For one thing, the bottle is unique among sake bottles. It's very cool/modern looking, and looks more like a "spirits" bottle than a sake bottle. But, that's just the bottle. What makes this sake truly unique is the water that the brewery uses to make it. While most breweries use well water or spring water to make their sake, Tosatsuru uses deep ocean sea water! Based on the southern island of Shikoku, they are surrounded by sea water, and the brewery decided to partner with a local company that is desalinizing deep ocean sea water! Pretty cool huh? Well, I remembered that Azure tasted light and clean, but when I had a glass tonight I was still surprised at how "light and clean" it was! It basically tastes like (purified and desalinated) sea water with just a tiny hint of rice. Which makes sense, because that's exactly what it is! This is definitely the lightest/cleanest tasting sake I've had all year. Sometimes the simplest things are the most remarkable. And this is a remarkable sake!
We added Ippongi Rose 1999 Junmai Koshu to our sake reviews page today. It's made by Ippongi Kubohonten, which is a Fukui-based sake brewery, founded in 1902. I had the pleasure of tasting this really unique sake at JFC's Sake Expo on Saturday. I also had the pleasure of meeting Kakutaro Kubo of Ippongi, who was pouring sake at the event. Initially, I tasted the main sake from the Denshin line. Since it's one of my favorite sake brands, it was great to taste the entire line at once! But, since Rose is a 16-year-aged koshu (brewed in 1999), I decided to save it for the end of the event. And I'm glad that I did! It turned out that the last sake that I tasted was also one of the best, and perhaps the most unique and special sake of the event! As you can imagine, it is very full-bodied, with a (sweet) liqueur-like flavor and texture, with hints of plum and citrus. It actually reminded me of umeshu in some ways. But it doesn't contain any ume! It started out as a simple junmai sake in 1999, and has been patiently aging for 16 years! This sake is also unique, because it contains only 8-9% alcohol, which makes it a one-of-a-kind among serious koshu sake. So, it's an easy drinking dessert sake, with an emphasis on flavor! Arigato Kubo-san!
We Love Junmai! Today, we wrote about junmai on our "Love" page. Junmai is the standard entry level premium sake grade. Junmai means "pure rice", in order to differentiate it from honjozo sake, which contains a small amount of distilled alcohol. Junmai sake is made of rice, water, koji, and yeast (with no added alcohol or other additives). Therefore, as the name implies, it is typically considered to be the ideal sake. Generally speaking, junmai (grade) sake are more full-bodied than sake of higher grades (ginjo and daiginjo), since they are made from rice that is less polished. Read more about junmai on our "Love" page!
This evening, I enjoyed a glass of Hatsumago Shozui Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto. It's made by Tohoku Meijo, which is a Yamagata-based sake brewery, founded in 1893. Hatsumago Junmai was the second kimoto sake that I ever had (after Kurosawa), so I've been interested in trying the Junmai Daiginjo for a long time. I really love kimoto sake. It's probably my favorite style of sake, yet it's rarely seen. It's similar to yamahai, yet more labor intensive, and it seems that the extra work creates a more refined sake. So, when you combine Junmai Daiginjo and kimoto you know it's going to be good! Shozui is really smooth (thanks to 50% seimai buai), and it has a light, elegant (yet subtly rich) flavor with hints of earthiness and brown sugar. I'm looking forward to having another glass tomorrow!
This evening, I enjoyed a glass of Hananomai Junmai Daiginjo. Hananomai is a Shizuoka-based sake brewery, founded in 1864. I tried Hananomai's Junmai Ginjo last month, which is a "mellow" sake with a hint of butterscotch, so I was looking forward to trying the Junmai Daiginjo. This sake is very smooth (thanks to 50% seimai buai), and has a light, elegant flavor with hints of cherry, butter, and brown sugar. Sounds good doesn't it? The butter flavor stops short of butterscotch, and instead a hint of cherry comes to mind. It's the first time I've noticed a "cherry" flavor in sake! It conjures up memories of the cherry picking that we did in July!
We Love Sake! Today, we wrote about sake on our "Love" page. Sake is the national drink of Japan, and has been an important part of Japanese culture for more than a thousand years. Many of the techniques for brewing sake were originally developed in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, where sake is used in ceremonies. Sake is an alcoholic drink made of rice, water, koji, and yeast. In some cases, distilled alcohol is also added during the brewing process. Sake's brewing process is unique among alcoholic drinks, because it involves the use of a mold called koji. Koji is used because rice doesn't contain sugar, which is necessary for fermentation. The koji turns the rice's starch into sugar, which is then converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the yeast. There are many different styles and grades of sake. Among premium sake, the standard entry level sake is called junmai, which means "pure rice". Read more about sake on our "Love" page!
Dewazakura Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo is our new Featured Sake. Dewazakura is a Yamagata-based sake brewery, founded in 1892. Dewasansan is the third of The Seven Sake that we're featuring this year. Basically, Dewasansan (which is also the name of the rice used) is one of the best sake I've ever had. It's quite smooth (thanks to 50% seimai buai) and it has a nice fruity flavor. And, of course, it has a catchy name that's fun to say! I remember the first time I had Dewasansan. It was in early 2009 at Soba Totto, and we were planning our first of many legendary events in the bar. The relatively new bartender (at the time) Gen Yamamoto was giving us samples of some of the sake on the sake list, which we were tasting for the event. When I tasted Dewasansan, I knew that was one of the three sake we were looking for. And it has been one of my all-time-favorite sake ever since! Dewasansan was awarded the Grand Prize in the Ginjo category at the U.S. National Sake Appraisal in July.
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Shinjuhime (Princess Pearl)" is our September image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (28x18) and is from 2012. The painting features Yumiko's heroine deep under the ocean, where she has taken the form of a (pearl-covered) mermaid. She is resting on the ocean floor in a bed of seaweed, and is joined by a trio of happy-looking beluga whales, two adults and a newborn calf. The whales have come to cheer up Yumiko's heroine, who appears to be quite despondent, perhaps because the Summer is just about over. The beluga whales, normally found in cold, arctic waters, are also symbolic of the colder days ahead. Two starfish and a single sea urchin are also in the group. Yumiko's signature assortment of ume and kiku are in the foreground (and also the top) of the painting. Meanwhile, an old samurai castle rises in the distance, a nod to the lost city of Atlantis. The color scheme is pastel, which helps to illustrate the beautiful yet melancholic scene. The heroine's despondent feeling is one that we can all relate to during the last days of Summer. The weather is still warm and sunny, giving us a few more beach days, but we're also anticipating the end of Summer as we transition into Fall. Although I'm sad to see that Summer's almost over, I'm also happily anticipating the beginning of Fall! September's an interesting month, because the days are warm, yet the nights are cool. We can still enjoy the beach, but we need to bring a long-sleeve shirt for the evening! Here's to a great September!
We went to The New York Botanical Garden today and had a nice time as always. We hadn't been to the Botanical Garden since Ohanami in April, so we were overdue for a visit! First, we walked to the Conservatory, where they have an amazing collection of palm trees! No matter what time of year it is, it's always tropical in the Conservatory! As we were walking into the center of the Conservatory, where they have a dark water pond, we noticed several tadpoles at the surface of the water! There must be a population of tropical tree frogs living in the palm trees, perhaps unknown to the NYBG. After walking through the desert cacti collection, we came out to the two ponds behind the building (which is why we were there). Although we enjoy the palm trees and cacti, the real attraction for us are the ponds, where they have a large collection of water lilies and lotus. And also lots of koi and kingyo! We like to visit the fish! We walked around the ponds a couple of times, and at one point we noticed something we've never seen before (or will ever see again). A medium-sized goldfish had somehow gotten stuck on top of a lily pad, and was just lying there, struggling to get back into the water. If it was within reach, we would have helped it, but it was in the center of the pond, so we just watched. Eventually it made enough of an effort, and wiggled back into the water! After the Conservatory, we walked over to the rock garden, and then through the wooded area, to the back of the Garden. As we were walking, we passed by the big Yoshino sakura, which were spectacular in April. Now they're green, and we almost missed them. Same for the sakura in Cherry Valley. The once spectacular trees are now modestly green! But we visited them anyway, and remembered our last visit. After the sakura, we went to the huge rose garden, which is now the most spectacular display of flowers in the Garden. Although it's a little late in the rose season, most of the roses were still blooming, and we enjoyed walking past them. It's the most roses I've ever seen in one place before (hundreds of varieties). It's really spectacular! And, just to make it even more perfect, we saw a cute little usagi sitting next to the roses! From there, we headed back through the wooded area, and visited the native plant garden, which has a stunning three-tier water feature running through it. It's really beautiful. As we were leaving the native plant garden, we saw another cute little usagi, and stopped to watch him eating some leaves from the bottom of a bush. So cute!
This evening, I enjoyed a glass of Denshin Rin Junmai Daiginjo. It's made by Ippongi Kubohonten, which is a Fukui-based sake brewery, founded in 1902. It's a light, elegant sake with hints of melon and violets. The "violet" aroma and flavor is quite unique. I've tasted it before in sake, but it's very uncommon. Perhaps coincidentally, it matches the pretty blue bottle. The sake is made with a unique rice variety called Koshinoshizuku, which I've never seen before. The Denshin line has one of the coolest and best designed labels I've ever seen. It's a simple/minimalist label, with just the kanji for Denshin. Instead of printing the kanji, it's cut out of the label, so you see the bottle where the kanji is. They have four sake in the main line (Junmai Daiginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Junmai, and Honjozo), which all use the cut-out label. There's also a super-daiginjo (30% seimai buai) in the line, and four seasonal nama sake, named for each season (Haru, Natsu, Aki, and Fuyu). The label for the seasonal sake is the opposite of the regular line, so the cut-out kanji are on the bottle with no background. If you're ever looking for an impressive gift, Denshin will make a cool statement!
We went up to Red Hook today and had a great time as always. First, we went to Rose Hill Farm and picked peaches and apples. I love Rose Hill! It's different from most other farms. The property is very hilly (rather than flat), and is very natural looking. There are wildflowers and tall grass everywhere you look. And lots of big, old trees on the edges of the property. And some red barns too! And it's so low-key. It's usually just us and the farmers who own the farm (and their dogs). Today, we got there at the end of the peach season, and the beginning of the apple season. We picked some yellow peaches, and then some Jonagold apples. Those are some juicy peaches and crunchy apples! It's always cool to pick your own fruit at the farm! It doesn't get any fresher than that!
Afterwards, we went over to Red Hook Golf Club and played nine holes. I love RHGC! It's the nicest golf course I've ever played on. It's naturally beautiful, well maintained, and super low-key. And the course is very "playable" yet still challenging. It's basically the perfect golf experience! We discovered the course in 2010, and it's been our regular course ever since! I had a particularly good round today. It's always nice to hit some perfect shots on the course. They make up for the occasional not-so-good shots. At one point (on the fourth hole), I saw a kamakiri (praying mantis) on the fairway! It was the first one I've seen this year. I've always liked kamakiri. They're fascinating and rarely seen. So I always consider it good luck when I see one. Arigato Kamakiri-san!
This evening, I went for a walk in the park near my neighborhood. When I got there, I saw a cute little usagi in the Japanese garden along the path. I've never seen one there before. They're usually in the grass (eating grass). It was one of several signs that the season is changing. For one thing, even though it's still August, I noticed that the days are getting shorter. The light was fading earlier today than it was a few weeks ago. As I walked into the grassy area on the other side of the stream, I noticed that the tall yellow wild flowers that were blooming all Summer have recently dropped their petals and are no longer blooming. Then I walked under the sakura trees, and noticed that some of their leaves are turning yellow/pink (sort of a peach color) in anticipation of Fall! These are my favorite local sakura trees, so I always stop for a moment when I'm next to them, and think about how spectacular they were in Spring. While I was briefly sitting there, a mourning dove started calling in the distance. It was a nice moment, which made me glad I had made the trip in the early evening.
Afterwards, we went to Eastchester Fish Gourmet, which is my favorite seafood restaurant, and had a nice dinner. Eastchester Fish Gourmet is the best! They have a really nice, creative menu that's always a little different each time we go there. They really make an effort to keep the menu interesting. And the atmosphere is a perfect blend of sophisticated-yet-casual. After all, it's in Eastchester (with a Scarsdale address), but they don't take reservations! And the service is top-notch. It's always a nice time there.
This evening, after dinner, I had an ochoko-sized glass of Kenbishi Kuromatsu Honjozo Yamahai. Kenbishi is a Hyogo-based sake brewery, founded in 1505. They are known as the oldest sake brand in Japan (in business for over 500 years), so I've been interested in trying their sake for a long time. Immediately after my first sip, my first thought was "Wow!" (I think I actually said it out loud), followed by "that's really full-bodied!" Since it's a Honjozo Yamahai made by Kenbishi, I knew it was going to be full-bodied, but I was still surprised by how full-bodied it was! Kuromatsu is a fitting name, since it means "black pine". This is a very full-bodied sake, reminiscent of a koshu (aged) sake. It has hints of hazelnut, pumpkin, sweet potato, butterscotch, and cedar (or perhaps pine), which are some of the dark, rich, sweet flavors that came to mind as I was sipping that tiny glass. This is a sake that you should drink slowly (like a liqueur). Each sip will give you something to think about! I can imagine that this sake would pair nicely with some aged cheese! Maybe I'll try that next time!
Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu is our new Featured Sake. It's made by Honke Matsuura, which is a Tokushima-based sake brewery, founded in 1804. Narutotai is the second of The Seven Sake that we're featuring this year (after Masumi Nanago last month). Narutotai is a Nama Genshu, so it is both unpasteurized and undiluted (18.5% alcohol), giving it a bold, full-bodied, fruity flavor with an almost liqueur-like texture. Aside from its amazing flavor, Narutotai is unique because it comes in a can rather than a bottle! So, it's immediately recognizable on the shelf (in the refrigerated area). It's always fun picking up a can of sake! Narutotai is also unique because it comes from Tokushima, which is on the southern island of Shikoku. So, the brewery's logo is a tai fish, since they are known to come from that area.
In celebration of Narutotai as the new Featured Sake, we went to Mitsuwa this evening, and bought a can. Afterwards, we had sockeye salmon (with a very flavorful cinlantro/garlic/parsley/olive oil marinade) for dinner. We also had green beans, yellow squash, and daikon-flavored natto rice on the side. Oishii! After dinner, we enjoyed a glass of the Narutotai, which was a perfect match for the salmon. It's always fun to have a glass of namazake, especially when it's in a can!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Atarashii Asa (New Dawn)" is our August image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (16x22) and is from 2011. The painting features Yumiko's heroine sitting next to a lake or river, with her feet in the water, on a hot, steamy morning. She appears to have taken on a younger form, and is wearing a simple white dress. She is joined by a female tiger and the tiger's newborn baby, who is sitting in the heroine's lap. There are a group of purple irises in the foreground, framing the bottom of the painting. In the background, a few different types of water birds have gathered, while mist is rising from the water. It's a peaceful image, with the title "New Dawn" referring to both the new day, and the new life that the heroine holds in her lap. The image reminds me of a hot, August morning, with only the water providing relief from the heat. When I think of August, I think of hot, humid days that are best enjoyed near water, whether it's a lake, river, or the ocean! August is known for its heat, but unlike July, the days start getting cooler and shorter as the month progresses. I haven't been to the beach yet this Summer, so I'm looking forward to spending some time near the ocean, watching the waves, and looking for sea creatures! Here's to a great August!
I received an email from Chris Pearce of World Sake Imports yesterday, who reported that the results of the 2015 U.S. National Sake Appraisal will be posted on Monday (on the Appraisal's website). The 2015 U.S. National Sake Appraisal was held this week (July 28-29) in Hawaii. I'm excited to hear that, because the results are a great way to determine some of the sake that we should be looking out for (and tasting) this year. So, I'll be looking forward to taking a look on Monday. But, the best part of his email was the "Aloha" at the beginning! It's the first time anyone has ever said aloha to me! After all, he was writing from Hawaii where the Appraisal was taking place. And obviously, I've never been to Hawaii! It's on my short list of places to visit, so maybe I'll go to the event next year! Arigato Chris!
Chris is the president of World Sake Imports, which is a Hawaii-based sake importer. They import sake from a dozen sake breweries, including Masumi and Dewazakura. He also runs the U.S. National Sake Appraisal and The Joy of Sake. The U.S. National Sake Appraisal is an annual competition that evaluates about 350 sake every year, with the top scoring sake receiving Gold and Silver awards. Afterwards, the Gold and Silver award winners are featured at The Joy of Sake events in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Tokyo.
We added a new Projects page to the site today, where you can see some of the creative/conceptual projects that we've been working on over the years (2011-present). Interestingly, all of the projects are still active/ongoing, from Kindness to Oni Day (which we started in 2011) to The Seven Sake, which we just announced yesterday! Also included are My Sake Cup, Haiku, We Love, and Photos. As you can see, some of the projects have better names than others, as some are still one word "project" names! We have other unannounced projects in the works, which we will be adding in the coming months. In general, I hope to spend more time with the creative projects going forward. So, please take a look at our Projects page from time to time!
We added a new feature/page to the site today called The Seven Sake! In honor of the seventh month (July), and inspired by Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, The Seven Sake are seven essential sake for every sake list. When selecting The Seven Sake, the goal was to find seven important and relatively easy to find sake, representing different styles and flavors of sake (and coming from different prefectures). The Seven Sake are Masumi Nanago Junmai Daiginjo Yamahai Namachozo (Nagano), Kirinzan Junmai Daiginjo (Niigata), Dewazakura Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo (Yamagata), Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Yamahai (Kyoto), Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu (Tokushima), Shirakawago Sasanigori Junmai Ginjo Nigori (Gifu), and Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto (Nagano). As one of our "projects" The Seven Sake is a creative/conceptual project designed as a fun way to think about and promote sake. I hope that it helps sake drinkers to find sake that they recognize when looking at a sake list in a restaurant, and perhaps it will even inspire some restaurants to add these sake to their sake list, as well! Stores are welcome to participate too!
Mie went to Daido today for her weekly Japanese food shopping. She bought a new koshihikari rice from Nagano that we've never tried before. We're almost done with the koshihikari from Niigata, so it should be interesting to compare it to the one from Nagano! She also bought a new soba from Nagano, which is made from 100% soba (buckwheat). Typically, soba is blended with wheat flour to give it a mellower flavor, so 100% soba will have a much richer flavor. I'm looking forward to having some! She also bought a new natto from Marukin that we haven't tried before. In the evening, we went to Mitsuwa. We bought some (fresh) edamame from Suzuki Farm, which I'm looking forward to trying. It reminds me of the edamame that we grew in the Kanpai Garden a few years ago! Those were the days! We also bought a Suzuki cabbage, and a fresh wasabi rhizome from Japan! I always enjoy buying fresh wasabi! That alone makes the trip worth it! And, of course, I spent some time in the sake isle checking out the bottles. Since it's my "birthday week" I was looking for a good daiginjo to splurge on, and bought a bottle of Kurosawa Daiginjo. I enjoyed a glass after dinner, and am looking forward to having some more every day this week! We had miso-marinated cod for dinner tonight. Oishii!
After dinner, we watched a great documentary about the Japanese "snow monkeys" of Nagano. The snow monkeys are the only monkeys in the world that live in a cold, northern area. Unlike most monkeys and primates which live in warm, tropical areas, snow monkeys live in the cold, snowy mountains of Nagano. They are famous for spending most of the day (in Winter) soaking in the onsen (hot spring) that is located in the national park where they live. It's really amazing to see them sitting in the onsen in large groups, just like people do! In fact, the monkeys' onsen was actually built by the park for the monkeys to use, and is located next to a famous onsen that people use. I would love to visit them someday!
Today was a beautiful, sunny day! We went up to Red Hook, and went cherry and blueberry picking! First, we stopped by Rose Hill Farm, and went cherry picking. Rose Hill is a really low-key "backyard" farm. Although it's a really big backyard! It feels like you're visiting a private home, rather than a commercial farm. But, it is a farm, and they have a really large property with blueberries, cherries, peaches, and apples. When we got there we discovered that their "sweet" cherries didn't produce flowers or fruit this year due to the extremely cold Winter. So, we were limited to picking "tart" cherries, but we had fun picking cherries nonetheless! And they weren't that tart after all! While we were there, a hawk started calling, and I looked up and saw one circling in the sky above some trees in the distance. It was a good omen for a great day! Next month, they'll have peaches, so we'll try to visit again in August. Then we went blueberry picking at Greig Farm. Greig is a much bigger operation than Rose Hill, but it's also very low-key and easy-going. I believe that they have 20 acres of blueberries! We always enjoy picking blueberries at Greig, and today was fun as always. We picked some of the biggest blueberries I've ever seen today! And they were much more tart than the "tart" cherries! Picking berries and fruit at the farm is one of the coolest experiences! It really reminds you where your food comes from. And it's fun sampling the crops as you're picking! As we were driving to and from Greig, we saw a couple of wheat fields! I don't think I've ever seen a wheat field before. It was really beautiful to see an entire field of dry-looking wheat! It has an amazing color that is unlike any other farm field. A little while later, I heard the first cicada of Summer! It was just one single cicada, making that loud, distinct noise that only cicadas make. They are so noisy, but also fascinating. When I hear them I know it's Summer!
Afterwards, we drove to the Berkshires in Massachusetts, and visited the place I've been going to since I was a young child. Although I go up there once or twice a year, it's always a special trip for me. First, we went to Guilder Pond (which is actually a small lake), and hiked around the lake. It's a pristine lake on the side of a mountain, with clear, mountain spring water. It is one of the most peaceful places I've ever visited. From there, we went to Bash Bish Falls, which is a twin waterfall that is absolutely amazing! It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, and I always find it to be both calming and incredibly inspiring. I always go there on or around my birthday. Beauty and inspiration are the only birthday presents I need every year! While we were driving around Mt. Washington State Park, we saw three separate groups of wild turkeys with babies walking near the side of the road! Wild turkeys are always fun to see and make me laugh every time! We had a really amazing and full day!
A hawk circling, Up in the sky above trees, Calling for its mate
Cicada calling, On a branch of a tall tree, Looking for a friend
Cicada calling, Making a really loud noise, Looking for a friend
Happy Tanabata! Today is Tanabata, which is a traditional Japanese holiday and festival that begins on the seventh day of the seventh month. In the modern calendar that means July 7th! The tradition is to write wishes on small, colorful pieces of paper called tanzaku, and hang them on the leaves/branches of a fresh piece of bamboo. I was wishing for a glass of Masumi Nanago today, since nana means seven. Nanago is also our Featured Sake this month for the same reason! Unfortunately, my wish hasn't come true yet, but I'm still hoping it will come true sometime this year! I did have a glass of Nanago in June though! We had a low-key Tanabata celebration at home tonight. We made some wishes, and then had mahi mahi and garlic/ginger fried rice for dinner. Oishii! Our rice is koshihikari from Niigata! I was also happy to receive an email from my favorite artist today wishing me a happy Tanabata! It doesn't get much better than that! Make a wish today, and maybe it will come true!
I went for a walk in the park near my neighborhood this evening, and saw nine usagi (rabbits) and three woodpeckers! Wow, I've never seen that many usagi in one place at the same time before! The usagi were having fun on Friday night! Or maybe it was just dinner time, so they were all eating grass at the same time. The hydrangea and tiger lilies have been blooming for a few weeks now, and I enjoyed seeing them tonight, as well. Later in the evening, I saw the first fireflies of the year! All of a sudden they were everywhere I looked. When I see fireflies I know it's July! Fireflies are one of those creatures that are hard to believe. How do they create that bright, glowing light? Wow! They're always fun to watch!
I changed the fish in the koi pond on our events page today. In honor of July, there are now nana (seven) yellow koi in the pond! They're hungry! Please feed them by clicking on the pond!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Taiyaado Obu Tabi (Tired of Tabi)" is our July image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (36x24) and is from 2006. The painting features Yumiko's heroine on a kohaku (red and white) landscape. She appears to be relaxing on a white sand beach on a very hot Summer evening, with the setting sun nearing the horizon. She has just removed her kimono and tabi (split-toe socks), and is wearing a much-cooler robe-like undergarment. Meanwhile, seven tanchozuru (red-crowned cranes) are flying just above the beach in the background. It's a dramatic image that is perfect for the hot month of July, with the seven tanchozuru symbolizing the seventh month! July is my favorite month of the year. I was born right in the middle of the month, so it's always an exciting time for me. And this year, I'll be celebrating my 40th birthday! So, I'm feeling a little more excited (and nervous) than usual! Here's to a great July!
We Love Samurai! Today, we wrote about samurai on our "Love" page. The samurai class ruled Japan for almost 700 years (1192-1868). This period spanned three "bakufu" or "shogunates", beginning with the Kamakura Shogunate (1192-1333), followed by the Ashikaga Shogunate (1338-1573), and ending with the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868). Shogun was the hereditary title and position of ruler of Japan. Under the Shogun, Japan was ruled by daimyo (lords), who controlled large territories. The most famous samurai daimyo in Japan's history was Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), who became Shogun in 1603, thus beginning the Tokugawa Shogunate. Interestingly, the samurai class numbered less than 10% of Japan's population. They were known for their severe sense of honor, loyalty, discipline, and self-sacrifice. The samurai forever shaped Japan, and had a profound and lasting impact on Japanese life and culture that is still felt today. Read more about samurai on our "Love" page!
We had a great Summer Ochoko Night at Soba Totto yesterday! It was a cold, rainy Summer Saturday, but surprisingly, the bar was full when we got there, so we had to stand for a little while before getting seats at the bar. In all the years we've been going to Soba Totto I don't think we ever had to stand in the bar waiting for seats. I'm glad to see that they're doing well! This was the first of hopefully many "ochoko nights," which we're planning to do once each season (Spring, Summer, Fall), so we brought our favorite sake cups with us. Mie brought a glass ochoko that was a gift from her Oka-san. I brought one of the sake glasses that I bought at Shugo in 2008. It's a simple glass cup that is larger than an ochoko, and would actually be considered a guinomi. It's my favorite everyday sake glass, which I've used to taste most of the sake that we've reviewed on the website. We've brought our sake cups to tasting events in the past, but this was the first time that we brought our sake cups for dinner at a restaurant. It was a lot of fun! We shared a carafe of Gasanryu Junmai Daiginjo, and had a bunch of vegetable appetizers. In addition to edamame, we had the burdock/carrot dish, corn tempura, green beans with sesame miso, another bean dish, and fried soba "chips". Soba Totto always has a great selection of vegetable appetizers. I enjoyed the corn tempura in particular. It's a unique dish that I've never seen anywhere else. We also enjoyed chatting with the bartender (Sayaka). She's from Kyoto, and it was interesting hearing her perspective on drinks. It was a fun night! I'm looking forward to doing it again in the Fall!
On another note, I was sad to hear that Seo closed recently. Seo was the second Japanese restaurant that Mie and I went to together (back in 2007), and it has been a sentimental favorite ever since. They had the cutest little dining room, with a giant glass wall overlooking a traditional Japanese garden behind the restaurant. We've been talking about going there for dinner this year, and I'm disappointed that we didn't have a chance to do it. Sayonara Seo-san. You will be missed.
We Love Oni! Today, we wrote about oni on our "Love" page. Oni are another of Japan's most iconic symbols. Oni are the most popular yokai (supernatural creatures) from Japanese folklore. Depending on the context, they are thought of as demons, ogres, or spirits. They typically have either red (akaoni) or blue (aooni) skin, but are sometimes also green or black, and have one or two horns, and sharp claws and teeth. Traditionally, oni symbolize (and are blamed for) the bad things in life. For that reason, they are a central part of the Japanese holiday Setsubun, which occurs on February 3rd. Oni have been depicted in art, literature, and theatre for hundreds of years, and continue to be popular today. Read more about oni on our "Love" page!
Since first hearing about oni, I've been fascinated with the concept. Although considered to be "bad" creatures, oni are somewhat loveable (in my opinion). They are very often depicted in a comical (or cute) way that creates smiles rather than fear. Setsubun is one of the most popular holidays of the year, and chasing the oni away is a fun activity for the whole family. I also love Setsubun, but four or five years ago I started thinking about the idea of creating a new holiday in response to Setsubun called Kindness to Oni Day, which we began in 2011. Seven days after Setsubun (on February 10th), we celebrate Kindness to Oni Day, in which we invite the oni in from the cold to share a cup of hot tea or sake. Because, after all, perhaps oni are misunderstood creatures! Although meant as a fun concept, it also is meant to be an opportunity to think about and discuss the idea of forgiveness and reconciliation, and working to build a dialog with (and understanding of) those who are different from us. I don't think the holiday has caught on yet, but we'll keep trying!
Happy First Day of Summer! Although it's been feeling like Summer since June 1st, today it's official! After the frenetic pace of Spring, which brings us from cold Winter-like days (and freezing nights) into the warmth of (almost) Summer, it's nice to have a three-month vacation of warm, Summer days. Although I love Spring, because it's so awe-inspiring, Summer is probably my favorite season (as it is for most people) because it's consistently warm and sunny. The days are really long, and we can have fun outdoors well into the evening. Summer is the time for traveling into the country (or the beach) and enjoying all the beauty that was created in Spring. I'm looking forward to long drives up to Dutchess County, where we go fruit and vegetable picking. I'm also hoping to get back out on the golf course this year, and enjoying the endless challenge of trying to get a small ball into a small hole that's 300 yards away (in four strokes or less). Golf is really a pure blend of sport and nature. I'm also hoping to visit my favorite waterfall in the Berkshires, and visiting the area that I've been visiting since I was a child. And I'm looking forward to going out to the North Fork and having some fun at the beach, looking for tiny sea creatures like I've been doing since I was a child. Perhaps we'll even go for a longer drive up to the Finger Lakes this Summer, and experience some of the most beautiful (glacial) lakes I've ever seen (surrounded by vineyards). And most importantly, Summer is the season of my birth. I was born in July, which I've always thought was perfect timing (right in the middle of Summer). And this year will be my 40th birthday! I'm looking forward to it! Here's to a great Summer! Today calls for a glass of light, fruity sparkling sake. Konnichiwa Natsu-san, hisashiburi desu!
Today is the last day of Spring. It's hard to believe, but our beloved Spring is (almost) over. And what a glorious three months it has been! Spring arrived in late March, and gave us a much-needed break from the Winter. And starting in April, the miracles started to occur. The trees awoke from their dormant state, and produced a beautiful assortment of flowers for us to celebrate. The sakura were right on schedule, arriving in late April and staying with us into May. And when the sakura had dropped their last petals on the ground, the dogwoods kept us happy in late May and into June. Meanwhile, crocuses, daffodils, and tulips popped up out of the ground. And forsythia and lilacs produced beauty at eye level. At about the same time, baby animals of all types started to appear! The miracles and beauty of Spring gives me shivers just thinking about it now. Every Spring, I think to myself, "how is this possible." Well, Mother Nature worked so hard this Spring, it's time for a nice easy going vacation that we call Summer! And it's been feeling like Summer for a few weeks now. Today calls for a glass of Spring-released nama sake. Arigato to sayonara Haru-san!
We had a nice Nihon Mukashi Ryori dinner tonight. The main dish was salted salmon from Hokkaido with grated daikon sauce. Oishii! We also had eggplant, okra, and yellow bell pepper in a dashi sauce. Oishii! And we had koshihikari rice from Niigata with Marukin wasabi natto. Oishii! And at the end we had some sliced cucumbers (from Suzuki Farm) in sweet sushi vinegar with ginger. Afterwards, I enjoyed a glass of Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo. It's made with Omachi rice, and has a nice, mellow, subtly rich flavor. Tamanohikari is a Kyoto-based sake brewery, founded in 1673.
Today was a (slightly cooler) overcast day, which was a nice break from the hot weather we've been having recently. This morning, I went for an early morning walk at the park close to our neighborhood. As soon as I got there, I saw a small usagi (rabbit), and ultimately saw three usagi in the park. I always enjoy seeing usagi. They're incredibly cute! Plus, I was born in the year of the rabbit, so they have a special significance for me. Soon after, I saw a female mallard and nine babies, walking together in a tight little group next to the stream that's running through the park! That's a big family! I'm always impressed by how close duck families stay together (literally) when they're moving around. After walking around for a little bit, I sat down under the sakura that are next to the stream, where we celebrated Ohanami a few times last month. The sakura have been fully green for a month, and now only offer memories of their pink blossoms. At one point last month, the (slow-moving) stream was covered with a layer of sakura petals. Now, the stream is covered with a layer of bright green duckweed, which are tiny floating plants with two or three leaves. It's called duckweed because ducks love to eat it. And soon after I sat down, I could hear the duck family making their way up the stream, eating duckweed along the way. It was a nice, peaceful moment. As I was leaving, I saw a mogura (ground hog). It's been feeling like Summer for a month now. Spring will be over in a few days.
Duckweed in the stream, Concealing the world below, Slowing its movement
We received our 40,000th visit today! It's always inspiring to see people visiting the site every day, and we really appreciate every single person who visits. When we launched the website in 2009, we were hoping to share information about Japanese food, drinks, and culture with our fellow New Yorkers. But, we soon realized that people all over the world were visiting the site. It's really exciting and inspiring to think that we have reached so many people (in dozens of countries) over the years. And it's always especially gratifying when we see that the site is being viewed in Japan! The discussion of food and drinks is a great way to learn about other cultures, and ultimately is about a lot more than just "food and drinks." Talking with people from other cultures, and sharing food and drinks with them, is the best way to understand, appreciate, and respect other cultures. I hope that (at least) some of our readers have learned something about Japanese culture by visiting the website, and that their lives are perhaps a little bit better as a result. On another note, our 40,000th visit comes a month before my 40th birthday! That's an interesting coincidence! I'll take it as an early birthday present (from all of our readers) and a good omen for the coming years. Arigato!
We Love Tsuru! Today, we wrote about tsuru (cranes) on our "Love" page. Tsuru or specifically tanchozuru (red-crowned cranes) are another of Japan's most iconic symbols. Tanchozuru are only native to Hokkaido in Japan, but were once commonly found throughout Japan. They are an endangered species, with only 2,750 remaining in the wild, including about 1,000 in Japan. Tanchozuru are one of the largest species of crane, standing about five feet tall, and have a wingspan of about eight feet. They mate for life, and are one of the longest-living birds in the world. For that reason, they symbolize long-life, loyalty, and luck in Japan. Tsuru are considered to be special animals in Japan, and have been the subject of art and literature for more than a thousand years. Read more about tsuru on our "Love" page!
We went to Soba Totto tonight for dinner and a drink in the bar. We always enjoy sitting in the bar, which is an intimate little space (at the entrance) that's separate from the main restaurant. They have a nice selection of sake by the glass, and the full restaurant menu. Soba Totto always has an interesting assortment of appetizers. In addition to edamame (which is a staple appetizer for us), we tried their (spicy) burdock/carrot dish, and their eggplant/okra dish. They were both quite good, but Mie thought they would have been great over rice! But, we couldn't have rice tonight, because after all we were there to have soba! We had (warm) soba as our main dish. Oishii! The soba is hand made at the restaurant, and it's always really good. It's thin and soft and has a nice rich soba flavor, with a nice amount of yuzu in the broth. We both had a glass of Gasanryu Junmai Daiginjo, which we enjoyed very much. Gasanryu is made by Shindo Shuzo, which is a Yamagata-based sake brewery.
Afterwards, we went to Sakagura for after-dinner appetizers and a glass of sake. As you probably know, Sakagura is our all-time-favorite restaurant. It's basically the coolest restaurant I've ever been to. Hidden in the basement of an office building, it's a one-of-a-kind restaurant in NY. And, although they have a great menu, Sakagura is about their sake list! They have over 200 sake to choose from, and almost every sake is available by the glass! Wow! When you sit down, they hand you a book that contains the most extensive sake list you will ever see. It's organized by the major types of sake (dainginjo, ginjo, junmai, honjozo, yamahai/kimoto, nigori), and then by region. So as you're reading the sake list, you can learn about sake at the same time! Perfect! The only thing that's missing (aside from some of my favorites which somehow didn't make their list), are descriptions of each sake. So, unless you know your sake (like we do), you'll probably have to ask the waiter for some recommendations. Or just pick one based on a region or prefecture that you're interested in. Tonight, I had a glass of Masumi Nanago Junmai Daiginjo Yamahai Nama. Yeah, only daiginjo tonight! Masumi Nanago is a really special sake. It's one of the best sake I've ever had. It is really smooth and perfectly balanced with a unique combination of yamahai and nama flavors. It was named after Nanago or Yeast No.7, which was discovered at the Masumi brewery. So, since this sake is honoring the yeast, it is a nama (unpasteurized) sake, which keeps the yeast alive and active in the bottle, giving it a nice full-bodied fruity flavor. For appetizers, we had their black edamame, which is a unique (and rich-tasting) edamame, and the ebi (shrimp) sticks, which are amazing and come with a spicy miso sauce! Oishii! We had a great time!
According to Mie, I've been looking like a ronin (unemployed samurai) lately, so I stopped by Akane Salon yesterday for a haircut with Yoshi. Yoshi is from Osaka, and has been cutting hair for 40 years. He opened Akane in 1981. Yoshi's the best. He has a rock star vibe, and always gives me a good haircut. And the salon has the best atmosphere of any salon I've ever been to. Whenever I'm there, we always talk about the same things--golf, sake, Japanese food, and Japan (usually in that order). Those are some of our mutual interests, and it's always interesting to hear his perspective on those topics. At one point while we were discussing sake, he said something like "daiginjo are really smooth, ginjo have the best flavor, and junmai are good too" which I thought was a great summary of sake (in a nutshell). It sounded like the kind of thing I might say sometime! And by the time we finished our conversation, I was looking a lot less ronin-like. Mie seems to be happy. Arigato Yoshi-san!
We went for a walk in the neighborhood this evening, and noticed large numbers of crickets chirping. For a moment, it felt like a Summer night. That's another sign that Spring is almost over, and Summer is almost here! Crickets appear in late Spring, and make noise the entire Summer, well into the Fall. Although crickets are incredibly noisy (especially for their size), the combined sounds of hundreds (or thousands) of crickets is somewhat melodic, and always brings back nostalgic memories of Summer. The korogi (crickets) inspired me to write some haiku.
Crickets are chirping, Looking for another one, On a late Spring night
Crickets are chirping, Signaling the end of Spring, Summer begins soon
One lonely cricket, Calling for another one, Late into the night
We Love Fujisan! Today, we wrote about Fujisan on our "Love" page. Fujisan (Mt. Fuji) is one of Japan's most iconic symbols. Fujisan is a volcano with an almost perfectly symmetrical conical shape, and is the tallest mountain in Japan. Fujisan is unique among mountains, because it stands alone, and isn't part of a mountain range. It is located about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, and is on the border of Shizuoka and Yamanashi. Fujisan is considered to be an active volcano, although it last erupted in 1707. It has been the subject of artwork and literature (and endless fascination) for more than a thousand years, and was famously depicted in Hokusai's series of woodblock prints "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji". Read more about Fujisan on our "Love" page!
Kakurei Daiginjo is our new Featured Sake. It's made by Aoki Shuzo, which is a Niigata-based sake brewery, founded in 1717. Their daiginjo is one of the best sake I've ever had. It is very smooth (thanks to 48% rice polishing and soft water), and it has a nice fruity flavor with hints of melon and pear. This is a really good sake that's also really hard to find. I'm not sure why it isn't in more restaurants and stores. As far as I'm concerned, it should be on every sake list and in every store that sells sake. Ataru Kobayashi of Niigata Sake Selections was kind enough to send us a bottle in 2010, and I've considered it to be one of my favorites ever since. Niigata Sake Selections is a NY-based sake importer, specializing in sake from Niigata. They import sake from about a dozen sake breweries, and have a really impressive portfolio of sake. I always look out for their sake, and the bottles are easy to locate in a store, because they (very cleverly) put a snowflake logo on the neck of all of their bottles. I love good branding! Also, they have a great website, with detailed information about every sake (and brewery), and lots of information about Niigata (and sake in general). Arigato Ataru-san!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Ichigo Miruku (Strawberry Milk)" is our June image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (36x18) and is from 2006. The painting features Yumiko's heroine bathing in milk and strawberries (or perhaps a milky onsen). She is joined by a very friendly-looking crocodile who seems to be enjoying the bath, as well. Meanwhile, Yumiko's signature assortment of kiku, sakura, and ume are in both the foreground and background of the painting. It's a fun image that is perfect for June, since it's now officially strawberry season! When we visited Greig Farm last week (for asparagus picking), we saw a field of strawberries that was almost ready for picking. Strawberry picking starts in June, and we're looking forward to going back up to Red Hook! Our beloved Spring is almost over, and Summer is almost here! Here's to a great June!
We went to Mitsuwa today for our weekly Japanese food shopping. First we picked up some shiso in the produce area. Then we selected a couple of different natto from Marukin. Their wasabi-flavored natto is my new favorite natto! It has a really unique wasabi flavor, but it isn't spicy. So, we bought that one again. We also bought their black soybean natto, which was more expensive than the others, and sounded interesting. Then we checked out their huge selection of shoyu (soy sauce), and picked out one that we've never tried from Ichibiki. Our usual standby is Yamasa, but we like to try different ones from time to time. Eventually, we made it to the sake isle, and spent a long time looking at the sake. That's always my favorite part of the Mitsuwa trip! After all, we can't find most of those sake anywhere else. That's the one thing that the Japanese grocery stores in NY are missing. So, today I decided to buy small bottles of Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto and Kurosawa Nigori. Kurosawa's Junmai Kimoto is one of my all-time-favorites. Their nigori is relatively new here in the U.S., so I wanted to try it, as well. It has only 8% alcohol, which is much lower than most sake. This evening, I enjoyed a couple of ochoko-sized glasses of each sake. The junmai kimoto has a really nice, mellow earthy (kimoto) flavor with a hint of spicy pepper. Kimoto sake are unique and hard to find. They are made from an old traditional method that is more labor-intensive and time-consuming, so it's rarely used these days. The extra effort clearly makes a better sake though! Their nigori sake was fun to try. It has a nice creamy (very sweet) flavor with a hint of citrus. I like the idea of lowering the alcohol content from the usual 15-16%, but 8% seems a little too low. I would like to see more sake in the 10-13% range.
We had sockeye salmon for dinner tonight. We marinated the salmon with nama miso and garlic, giving it a really unique flavor. Oishii! We also had some lightly-cooked watercress on the side, which I haven't had in a while. Watercress has a nice spicy flavor, especially when it's raw. Cooking it removes some of the spice. And we also had some rice with the new black soybean natto that we bought today. It was really different from any other natto we've ever seen! It has really large (black) beans, much larger than typical natto.
It was a dark, rainy day today. We had a thunderstorm that started in the afternoon, and continued into the evening. I've always been fascinated by lightning and thunder. It's interesting to hear some rumbling in the sky from time to time. As long as it's in the distance! And it was good to get some rain. May was relatively dry, so we needed some rain on the last day of the month!
Dark clouds in the sky, Thunder is in the distance, Rain will be here soon
Dark clouds overhead, Lightning and thunder above, Hard rain coming down
We Love Haiku! Today, we wrote about haiku on our "Love" page. Haiku are (very short) traditional Japanese poetry. Typically, haiku must contain "kiru" (juxtaposition of two subjects) and "kigo" (a seasonal reference), and must be written with only 17 "on" (syllables) in three lines or phrases of 5-7-5 syllables. Haiku are commonly (and traditionally) written about the natural world (with an emphasis on the seasons), but can be written about any topic. The most famous writer (and early originator) of haiku was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), who famously traveled around Japan on foot for 156 days, documenting his observations in the form of haiku, which were compiled into the classic book "Oku no Hosomichi". Read more about haiku on our "Love" page!
As you probably know, I've been writing haiku this year, documenting my observations of the natural world and the changing of the seasons. I love the idea of describing a scene with only three lines (and 17 syllables). It's a real exercise in minimalism and restraint. My first haiku was inspired by watching the snow falling outside my window in early March. And (to my surprise) I've managed to write many more since then. My favorite haiku (that I've written) are listed on the right side of the blog page. Please take a look!
We went up to Red Hook in Dutchess County yesterday, and went asparagus picking at Greig Farm. It was a lot of fun as always! We love Greig Farm! It's a fruit and vegetable farm where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables. We've been going up to Greig Farm for about five years, and it's always a great experience. The farm is really quite beautiful, and the atmosphere is always easy-going and relaxing. Just the way farm life should be! They have a full season of crops available for picking from May (asparagus) to October (pumpkins). Asparagus is the first vegetable of the season for them. Asparagus is one of the strangest/most unique vegetable plants you'll ever see. When you go to an asparagus field, at first you don't see anything. The mature plant is very thin and wiry looking, and doesn't have any food value that I'm aware of. It's the asparagus "shoots" that are the edible part as the plant is just starting to grow in Spring. So, the shoots pop up in random places around the field, very often hidden among weeds! It's a really unique vegetable picking experience. And a lot of fun too (once you get used to it)! We got there late in the month (a week before the asparagus season ends), so we weren't sure what to expect. But, we ended up picking a couple of pounds of asparagus! And we ate some of them later that night. Oishii! Those are some fresh asparagus! There's nothing better than picking fruit and vegetables at the farm and eating them the same day. Produce doesn't get any fresher than that! So, we'll be eating asparagus every night this week! We're hoping to go up to Greig once a month this year. Next month they have strawberries and peas. After that, they have blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, and pumpkins.
I received an email from Keith Norum of Masumi yesterday. He sent me a photo of a water lily bud in a small pond at the brewery! Keith must have been reading my mind again, because I love water lilies! They are one of my favorite plants, and I always enjoy seeing them on the surface of a pond or lake. I'll have to ask him if there are any koi in the pond. You can see the photo on our photos page!
We Love Kimono! Today, we wrote about kimono on our "Love" page. Kimono are the iconic traditional clothing of Japan. Kimono have been worn by both women and men in Japan for more than a thousand years, and are still commonly worn today (although usually reserved for special occasions). Kimono are essentially robes, which are tightened by a sash called an obi. Traditionally, women's kimono are made of brightly colored silk. When I think about kimono, the first word that comes to mind is "beautiful". Beautiful is probably the word that comes to mind for most people, which is why kimono are so popular. They are simply beautiful. And they are also a lasting reminder of Japan's unique traditions and history. Unfortunately, they are also difficult to put on, and impractical to wear, which is why they are usually reserved for special occasions. But, for those who make the effort to wear one, they are sure to get attention from everyone in the room! I always enjoy seeing women wearing kimono at events. And I know I'm at a special event when I see someone in kimono!
I received an email from Hisashi Kobayashi of Musashino Shuzo yesterday. Hisashi-san is the managing director of Musashino Shuzo, which is a Niigata-based sake brewery. Last month, I invited him to contribute some photos to our new photos page, and he sent me a bunch of amazing photos that he's been taking recently in Niigata! That makes Hisashi-san our second contributor! He sent us photos of the brewery's guest house and garden in February, covered in snow as you can imagine. I believe that Niigata receives the most snow in all of Japan. He also sent some interesting photos of their trip (also in February) to a local well where they collect water for one of their special, limited edition sake. In April, Hisashi-san started working on weekends at his father-in-law's rice farm, getting ready for the upcoming rice planting, so he sent some beautiful photos of the farm and rice fields with Niigata's famous snow-covered mountains in the background. And in early May, they planted Koshihikari from seedlings that they were growing in greenhouses. It might look like grass, but those are baby rice plants! And at the end of the rice planting day, a rainbow appeared over the farm! I think that's a good omen for the rice this year! It's a beautiful series of photos, and I'm planning to create a new separate page featuring those photos. And I'm hoping that Hisashi-san will send us more photos of the rice farm throughout the season, from planting to harvest! We'll see about that part! But, in the meantime, I'm really excited about these photos! You can see some of them on our photos page!
Hisashi-san was gracious enough to do an interview with us in early 2011, which included some of his photos. Later that year, we had the pleasure of meeting Hisashi-san for dinner at Sakagura, and shared a bottle of Musashino's Nyukon Tokubetsu Honjozo. He also gave us a bottle of limited edition daiginjo that he brought with him. It was a really great time. Hisashi-san is a real gentleman. Arigato Hisashi-san!
We went to Mitsuwa today and had a great time as always! I love Mitsuwa! It's basically the coolest supermarket you'll ever go to. It's the size of a large, mainstream supermarket, but every isle has Japanese products! And unlike any other supermarket, Mitsuwa has a food court with a dozen different restaurant counters. Well, before we actually went into Mitsuwa, we visited some of our other favorite (Japanese) stores in the shopping center (just to keep the suspense growing). First, we stopped into Utsuwa-No-Yakata, and looked at their great (and always changing) selection of dishes and tableware. And then we stopped into Mars (next door), which has a huge, eclectic selection of modern and traditional Japanese products, everything from Hello Kitty to samurai-themed products. We were excited to find a series of model kits of Japan's most famous samurai-era castles, including Odawara Castle! I'm not sure why we didn't buy the Odawara Castle model, but I'll be sure to buy it on a future visit. At that point, it was time to actually go into Mitsuwa! When we walked in the main entrance, the first thing we saw was a Suzuki Farm display, which included an assortment of vegetables, and even some seedling vegetable plants from Suzuki Farm. Suzuki Farm is located in Delaware, and is the only farm on the East Coast that specializes in Japanese vegetables. We made a memorable trip to Suzuki Farm in 2012, and were lucky enough to meet owner Ken Suzuki, who gave us a tour of the farm, and some amazing just-picked vegetables and yuzu! Today, we bought some Suzuki cabbage. Mitsuwa has one of the most interesting produce isles ever. They have fruit and vegetables you won't find anywhere else, and it's the only place I know of that sells fresh wasabi from Japan. We love fresh wasabi (but it's expensive), so we picked out the smallest one in the group. It even had a little leaf growing out the top, which is now sitting on our kitchen window sill in some water! We're hoping it will grow into more wasabi! Then we checked out their huge selection of natto, and picked out a wasabi-flavored natto that we've never had before. We also bought some Tamanishiki rice, which is a blend of California-grown koshihikari and yumegokochi. And after spending some time in their huge snacks and sweets area, we finally reached the sake isle! Mitsuwa may be a supermarket, but they have the best selection of sake I've ever seen. They have an amazing assortment of sake at every price point--from the well-known mass-produced brands to super-high-end brands that are hard to find. Plus, they have a refrigerated area with a fun and interesting assortment of small bottles and cup sake, which gives you an opportunity to try new sake without buying the full-size bottle. Well, I was tempted to buy lots of their new little bottles, but I kept my cool, and bought a (full-size) bottle of Masumi Karakuchi Kiippon Junmai Ginjo instead, which is one of my all-time-favorites. I enjoyed having a glass (actually three ochoko-sized glasses) tonight! After our food and sake shopping, we stopped by Oishinbo in the food court and got a couple of taiyaki for an after-shopping treat. Taiyaki are traditional Japanese sweets that are shaped liked fish (tai) and made of pancake batter with a sweet red bean paste inside. It was a fun time! I always love going to Mitsuwa! Tonight, we had homemade hand roll sushi for dinner. And our little wasabi rhizome didn't last long! Oishii!
We Love Koi! Today, we wrote about koi on our "Love" page. Koi are colorful Japanese carp, which are a staple of the Japanese water garden. They were originally developed in the early 19th century (in Niigata), and are now popular all over the world. They come in many different color patterns and variations, including red, orange, white, black, yellow, and silver. Generally speaking, koi are slow-moving and have a quiet, peaceful nature, which is why they are so appealing. And they live a long time (50-100 years)! I've always been fascinated with koi. In fact, one of my earliest memories is seeing (and feeding) koi in the lake at the Mohonk Mountain House in the Catskills. I was a very young child, and that experience was so memorable that it has stayed with me ever since. I'd like to think that it has influenced my way of thinking over the years. I've been interested in koi and tropical fish ever since that time. Sitting next to a koi pond and watching the koi slowly swim around and come to the surface (looking for food) is one of the most enjoyable and relaxing things you will ever do. I always enjoy seeing koi, and their slow and humorous way of swimming always puts a smile on my face. Arigato Koi-san!
I received an email from Kosuke Kuji of Nanbu Bijin yesterday. It was nice to hear from him. Kuji-san is the owner/toji of Nanbu Bijin, which is an Iwate-based sake brewery. Nanbu Bijin is one of my all-time-favorite sake. And Kuji-san is one of my favorite people in the sake industry. In fact, I would say he's probably one of the nicest people I've ever met! And he was one of the first supporters of Kanpai NY. When we launched the website in the beginning of 2009, I emailed Kuji-san to let him know that we had included Nanbu Bijin on our sake page. In response, he sent us some photos from the brewery that were the first images on our website, and are still there to this day! He also added us to his links page, and was the first person to link to us! Later in 2009, we had the pleasure of meeting Kuji-san at Soba Totto, and sat down and shared a bottle of Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai with him in the bar. Even though there was a bit of a language barrier, we were able to sit down and have a drink, and share some laughs together. It was a really fun night, and one of those special moments that I'll remember for a long time. In 2010, Kuji-san did an interview with us, which was the first of a series of sake brewery interviews that we did. Arigato Kuji-san!
I was just looking at bartender/mixologist Gen Yamamoto's Twitter page. He owns an eight-seat bar in the Azabu-Juban neighborhood of Tokyo that he opened in 2013. He specializes in cocktails made from fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs, with an emphasis on what's in-season. Gen knows his produce, and goes out of his way to find the highest-quality in-season fruit and vegetables for his cocktails, very often sourced directly from the farm. And on his Twitter page, he posts photos of the fruit and vegetables (still in the box) when they arrive at the bar--pineapples from Okinawa, strawberries from Gunma, kiwi from Shizuoka, pumpkins from Hokkaido, wasabi from Nagano! You can only imagine what the cocktails will taste like! Oh, did I mention that Gen is the best bartender in Tokyo? Well, looking at all of the pictures of fruit that's arriving at Gen's bar got me thinking about the old days. Because before Gen was the best bartender in Tokyo, he was the best bartender in NY! Mukashi, mukashi (a long time ago) in 2009, Gen was the bartender at Soba Totto, and we collaborated with him on a series of legendary events. They were legendary in my mind anyway! The bar atmosphere was perfect there--lots of dark wood, and a separate space from the rest of the restaurant. We met Gen early in 2009, and hit it off right away. He's unlike any bartender I've ever met (or ever will meet). First of all, he has a unique look--kind of like a tall, thin Buddhist monk. And his personality is similar. Gen's an intellectual. And he has more integrity than just about anyone you'll ever meet. He doesn't just make drinks. He thinks about drinks, and researches drinks, and sources the best ingredients before making a drink! He was only at Soba Totto for a year before moving on, and I only saw him once or twice after that. When he left Soba Totto it was such a bummer that we stopped producing events all together. I miss those days. NY just isn't the same without Gen Yamamoto. One of these days we'll walk into his bar in Tokyo and surprise him!
We Love Bonsai! Today, we wrote about bonsai on our "Love" page. Bonsai is the Japanese art of cultivating miniature trees in shallow ceramic pots. Bonsai have been an important part of Japanese culture for more than a thousand years. They can be grown from any tree variety, but are most commonly grown from juniper and other conifer (pine) varieties. Since trees grow slowly, the key to growing bonsai is patience, and one can spend a lifetime caring for a single tree. I have always been fascinated by bonsai. When you see a bonsai, the first thing that comes to mind is "how did they do that." Although a foot or two high, a mature bonsai can be as old as a "normal" tree that is 50-100 feet tall. The secret is careful, meticulous pruning (and patience) over time! Read more about bonsai on our "Love" page. This month, our theme is traditional culture. Can you guess what we'll be writing about next week?
Today is the annual Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri (festival) in Odawara, Kanagawa, which honors and celebrates five generations and 100 years of Hojo rule at Odawara Castle. The Odawara Hojo were one of the most powerful daimyo (samurai lord) families of the Sengoku period (1467-1603) in Japan. The Sengoku period was one of the most significant periods in Japan's history, because it marked the end of the Ashikaga Shogunate (1338-1573), and the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868). The Hojo ruled most of the Kanto region (Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Tokyo). In addition to Odawara Castle, they occupied Edo Castle and Kamakura Castle, among others. The founder and patriarch of the family was Hojo Soun (1432-1519). Originally an ally of the Ashikaga Shogunate, Soun eventually decided to be an independent daimyo, challenging the Ashikaga (in 1493), which was one of the first significant events of the Sengoku period, and creating a huge independent domain. He is known as the "First Sengoku Daimyo". Soun was succeeded by four more generations of Hojo at Odawara Castle (Hojo Ujitsuna, Hojo Ujiyasu, Hojo Ujimasa, and Hojo Ujinao). Ujinao was the last Hojo to rule at Odawara Castle, towards the end of the Sengoku period. Both an ally and a rival of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Ujinao was married to Ieyasu's daughter (Toku Hime). Tokugawa Ieyasu eventually became Shogun in 1603, and his family ruled Japan until 1868. The story of the Hojo is a fascinating piece of Japanese history. A lot can be learned from their experience, including the importance of family loyalty, and the importance of friends and allies.
My best friend is a descendant of the Odawara Hojo. So, this week we've been talking a lot about the significance of the Hojo. Although we couldn't be in Odawara today, we honored the Hojo here in NY. Hopefully, we'll have a chance to attend the festival sometime in the future!
We got takeout sushi rolls from Fujinoya tonight. Oishii! I love Fujinoya! It's the best Japanese restaurant in Westchester, but it's a casual, family style restaurant. They have a huge menu of various Japanese cuisines, everything from sushi to soba. They have been one of our favorites for a long time. Tonight, we had sushi rolls, which are really the best option for takeout. Otherwise, it's better to eat at the restaurant. Their sushi rolls are pretty much the best sushi rolls you're ever going to have. Although they have lots of creative, interesting rolls, we just eat the smaller traditional rolls. What makes them the best, and in general what makes sushi great, is the rice. Otherwise, it's just sashimi. What defines sushi is the rice. The rice has to be the right variety, and it has to be cooked and seasoned perfectly. Then comes the fish! And the fish has to be perfect too. Fujinoya always gets it right. We had California maki, ebi/abo (shrimp/avocado) maki, tuna maki, natto maki, and ume/shiso maki, which are our favorites that we have most often. Although I like all of them, natto maki is probably my favorite, simply because it's so different and unique. I love natto, and I love sushi rolls, so put them together, and it's hard to beat. Ume/shiso maki is also different and unique, yet traditional. I always enjoy shiso as an ingredient. It's an herb that's similar to basil, and has a really unique flavor. We also had some (homemade) nama miso shiru (soup), with fried tofu, daikon, and scallion. Daikon is one of my all-time-favorite vegetables. It's a giant radish that is white, shaped like a carrot, and grows over a foot long (sometimes a lot longer)! We eat a lot of daikon! It can be eaten in many ways, including raw on salad, grated on fish, and in soup!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Choucho No Tabi (Journey of Butterfly)" is our May image. It is acrylic and ink on canvas (26x16) and is from 2012. The painting features Yumiko's heroine sitting in a field of daffodils on a beautiful Spring day. She is joined by a couple of young red foxes who are admiring the dozens of pink butterflies that are the focal point of the painting. Meanwhile, two caterpillars are climbing up the heroine's leg, and two in the "pupal stage" have attached to her arm (soon to become butterflies as well). It's a beautiful scene that is perfect for May! It reminds me of Daffodil Valley at The New York Botanical Garden, which we visited on Sunday. Unfortunately, we didn't see any foxes in Daffodil Valley, but there was a rabbit spending some time among the daffodils. I haven't seen any butterflies yet, but they should be appearing soon. May is one of the most beautiful months of the year. As they say, "April showers bring May flowers." We didn't have much rain in April, so I'm sure May will be a little rainy this year. But the days will be warmer, and the chilly early Spring nights will be fewer and fewer. I'm looking forward to it! Here's to a great May!
We Love Momiji! Today, we wrote about momiji (Japanese Maples) on our "Love" page. Momiji are probably Japan's most famous (non-flowering) tree. They are a main component of the traditional Japanese garden. They look like giant bonsai, and have bright red leaves in the Fall, which is when they are most memorable. I was lucky to have a momiji on our property when I was growing up. I always enjoyed looking at it, and standing under it looking at the branches and leaves--and the moss/lichen that grows on the branches. And to this day, I still admire it whenever I see it. It's a special tree that has been on our property for a long time. I'd like to think that it has influenced my way of thinking in some way. Arigato Momiji-san!
The sakura are finally blooming! All of a sudden the sakura are here, and it seems like they're everywhere I look! After keeping us waiting for a moment, they all appeared at once as they always do in late April (right on schedule). There's something magical about a tree full of little white and pink flowers. It's a beautiful sight to see! That means it's time for Ohanami! We had a great Ohanami at The New York Botanical Garden yesterday, where there is a spectacular display of sakura! The NYBG is one of the best places to see sakura in NY. They have over 200 sakura trees all over the property, and we counted about 5 or 6 different varieties of sakura. Our favorite are the Yoshino sakura, which produce almost pure white blossoms. Yoshino are a variety of sakura that were developed in Edo (Toyko) during the Edo period. Although most sakura are pink, Yoshino are unique because they're white. The trees also tend to grow much larger than most sakura, so you can stand under them and be surrounded by a tall, dense canopy of white blossoms. The NYBG has several large, old Yoshino sakura that are quite amazing. The large Conservatory building, which is the centerpiece of the NYBG, has several (pink) weeping sakura at the entrance. While we were starting our Ohanami walk, we stopped by the Conservatory, and visited the two large rectangular koi ponds in the back, and said hello to the koi and kingyo. Afterwards, we continued on our walk around the entire perimeter of the Garden, which brought us through Daffodil Valley, where we saw thousands of daffodils and a single usagi (rabbit) casually sitting in the grass eating little yellow flowers! From there, we walked through the wooded area, where we saw a woodpecker and a couple of mallards enjoying a quiet time in the woods, and eventually came to Cherry Valley, where there are a large number of sakura together. The sakura in Cherry Valley tend to be smaller (and perhaps younger) than the older Yoshino at the entrance, and about half are blooming. The other half are still budding. Most of the sakura are peaking, so the petals are already starting to drop, covering the ground and the walkways with beautiful white and pink petals. It's a beautiful sight to see sakura petals gently falling from the trees and blowing in the wind. It was really nice to see sakura up close! And I'm proud to say that a sakura blossom touched my nose as I was smelling it. And we even saw some giant bumble bees enjoying the Yoshino sakura. It was a really nice day. We hope to go back again in early May.
In the evening, I visited the magnolia tree on my property. It's still blooming, and dropping petals. I walked under the magnolia, and looked up at the sky and saw the half-moon shining brightly through a space in the magnolia branches, surrounded by the blossoms. It was a beautiful, quiet moment that reminded me of pictures I've seen. When I stepped out from the tree, I looked up again and saw the Big Dipper for the first time in a long time! The Big Dipper has always been my favorite constellation, and it's also the easiest to identify!
Sakura are here, White and pink flowers blooming, Time for Hanami!
Sakura blooming, Petals blowing in the wind, Like Spring snow flurries
Delicate blossoms, Petals falling from the tree, Covering the ground
Petals falling down, Looking up at sakura, A special moment
Petals falling down, Looking up at sakura, A moment of peace
Happy Earth Day! Today was a perfect Earth Day! It was bright and sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon. Exactly what plants and animals need every day--sun and water! So, we had a little bit of both today. As you might expect, I love Earth Day! It's a great reminder of something that's more important than anything else--the planet that we live on! Today is a day to appreciate and respect our planet, and every single person, animal, plant, and organism that's living on it, in addition to the land and environment itself. But, as far as I'm concerned, we should be doing that every day. Every day should be Earth Day. Every day, we should make an effort to appreciate and respect the people who we interact with. Every day, we should make an effort to appreciate and respect the animals that we encounter. Every day, we should make an effort to appreciate and respect the land and environment where we live. Can you imagine if we all did that every day? If we did, the world would be a much better place. Every place and every moment would feel like paradise. You don't have to travel to find paradise. We can create and experience paradise wherever we live. Personally, I think about being a better person and making the world a better place every day. It's a very empowering feeling.
We Love Kiku! Today, we wrote about kiku (chrysanthemums) on our "Love" page. Kiku are one of Japan's most iconic symbols. Unlike most flowers, kiku are unique because they bloom in September, signaling the beginning of Fall. They are particularly important in Japan, because they symbolize the Emperor's family. Read more about kiku on our "Love" page!
The New York Botanical Garden has a special display of kiku every year in the Fall, which celebrates the Japanese art of kiku, in which kiku are cultivated in painstaking fashion to create elaborate displays of kiku. It's really amazing to see what they can do with "mums"! We went to the Kiku event in 2008, and I hope to attend again this year.
We Love Ume! Today, we wrote about ume (plum blossoms) on our "Love" page. Ume are another of Japan's most iconic symbols, and are sakura's bigger, tougher cousins! They don't get as much attention as sakura, but they are quite beautiful and special, and are the first flowers of the New Year, blossoming in February (a month before sakura). Read more about ume on our "Love" page!
We added a new "Photos" page to the site today, which will serve as a "photo blog" with photos from some of our friends, both in the U.S. and Japan! Each photo will have the name of the photographer/contributor, location, date, and time. And our first photo comes from Keith Norum of Masumi in Nagano! Keith surprised me last week by sending me a photo of an ume tree with dark pink blossoms (on a rainy day) that's blooming in front of the brewery. A blossoming ume tree in front of Masumi? Wow! I feel like a lucky website editor this week! Keith has promised to send us some more candid behind-the-scenes photos of Masumi and Nagano throughout the year, so make sure you take a look from time to time! Personally, I'll be looking every day! And checking my inbox for more! I'm hoping that Keith and some other friends will send us a new photo at least once a month. We'll see! Plus Mie and I will be taking some pictures too.
It's a beautiful, sunny day today! A mourning dove came to visit just outside my window as I was working on the website! That's never happened before! And then I received an email from my favorite artist. What a nice day!
Mourning dove outside, Walking on my window sill, A special moment
We had some Morinaga Hotcakes (pancakes) for breakfast today. Oishii! Morinaga's Hotcake Mix is one of their classic products (introduced in 1957), and is the best-selling hotcake mix in Japan. Just add milk to the mix, and you're ready to start making hotcakes! And since Morinaga is a candy and sweets company, these are quite sweet on their own. No need to add sugar or syrup. The packaging is really cute, and even the hotcake that's pictured has heart-shaped butter! Where do you buy heart-shaped butter? I want some on my hotcakes next time! Afterwards, Mie went to Nijiya, and brought back some Meiji Kinoko No Yama, which is my favorite candy. The box that we opened at lunchtime didn't last long! Luckily, she bought two boxes! If only real mushrooms tasted as good as Kinoko No Yama! Meiji and Morinaga are our two favorite candy and sweets brands.
I saw a honey bee on a flower today! First bee of Spring! We have a large group of tiny (unidentified) purple flowers in our lawn, and the bee was on one of those flowers. I had to crouch down to see it. Totally oblivious to my presence, he was busily trying to collect some pollen from this tiny little flower. After all, these are the only flowers on our property right now! Our Winters are cold! I've always been fascinated by bees. They are amazing creatures. They have the power to give you a nasty sting, but they don't really want to do that at all. You can get to within an inch of them, and as long as you don't touch them, they ignore you and everything else that's happening. They are totally dedicated to collecting pollen from flowers and returning back to the beehive to make honey. I love that nature's purpose for them is to actually, inadvertently, collect pollen on their feet and body, which is then distributed from flower to flower in order for them to be pollinated, which is how the flower (and plant) reproduces. And I like that they're "fuzzy" which doesn't really benefit the bee, but is there so that pollen collects on the bee for pollination. There's something really cute about a fuzzy, pollen-covered bee busily working on a flower! Afterwards, I noticed that the lilacs on the edge of the property are budding! Pretty soon (maybe next month) the bees will have super-fragrant lilacs to visit!
I saw the swans swimming in the lake today. The ice has totally melted now, so the swans are free to swim the entire lake. I'm glad to see that they're doing well after being away for the Winter. But, for some reason, they were swimming hundreds of feet apart from each other, which is strange because usually they're within a few feet of each other as they cruise the lake together. Apparently, they needed some "alone time" today before starting a family. I also saw a group of three deer on the edge of the woods.
Small purple flower, A bee collecting pollen, Time to make honey
I received an email yesterday from Keith Norum of Masumi, who reported that the flowers are just starting to blossom in Nagano. And he surprised me by attaching a photo of an ume (plum blossom) tree with dark pink blossoms that's blooming in front of the gift shop at the brewery! Wow! It's a really beautiful tree! It must have been a cold, snowy Winter in the mountains of Nagano this year (and every year), because ume usually start blossoming in February. I've seen so many pictures of sakura, that it's rare and surprising to see one of ume. Keith must have read my mind, because apparently he knows that I'm going to be writing about ume next week on our "Love" page. How did he do that? Maybe he consulted the Mirror of Truth, which is the ancient 8th century mirror that Masumi was named after. Or maybe he just read the blog and figured it out! Well, I'm not going to post the photo here in the blog, because I'm sticking to just kuro-to-shiro (black-and-white) right now, and the ume is bright pink! But, I'm planning on adding it to the site sometime soon!
Keith is in charge of overseas sales at Miyasaka Brewing Company. I met him and Miyasaka-san in 2010 at a Masumi Arabashiri tasting event at Sakagura. That meeting led to our interview with Miyasaka-san in 2011. Arigato Keith!
We added a new feature and page to the site today called We Love! Every week (once a week) we'll write about an aspect of Japanese culture that we love, and will have a theme each month. This week, we wrote about sakura (cherry blossoms), which are one of Japan's most iconic symbols. Not only are sakura beautiful, they are important because they symbolize the beginning of Spring, and the beginning of a New Year in Japan. Read more about sakura on our "Love" page! This month, our theme is flowers and trees. Can you guess what we'll be writing about next week? Check out our "Love" page every week and find out about the things that We Love!
We had tofu and yasai (vegetable) fried rice for dinner tonight. Oishii! The tofu dish included nira (chives), garlic, and ginger. The yasai rice included orange bell pepper, scallion, seaweed, garlic, and ginger. We eat a lot of garlic and ginger! They go well together as a seasoning. We also had some nama miso soup with fried tofu, scallion, and tomatoes. For the soup, we used our lacquerware bowls, which Mie bought on her trip to Ishikawa when she went to Japan in 2010. We have a matching pair of the bowls, which were handmade from a single piece of wood, and then finished with a traditional lacquer finish. They are perfectly crafted and incredibly light. It's always a pleasure to use them! As you may have noticed, we practice a strict Nihon Mukashi Ryori (Japanese old days cuisine) diet, which is a phrase I just coined! I'm not sure if anyone else is using it. It means that we really love our fish, fruit, grains, and vegetables! And we make an exception for dairy.
It was a beautiful, sunny day today! We went for a walk in the neighborhood, and saw lots of crocuses throughout the neighborhood. It was fun to see them! Crocuses are small purple and white flowers that grow from bulbs, and are usually the first flowers of Spring. Sometimes they even appear when there's still snow on the ground. Well these crocuses waited for the snow to melt, and appeared on a perfect day!
This evening, I heard Spring peepers calling, which always puts a smile on my face. Spring peepers are tiny (one-inch-long) frogs that live in wooded areas, and make a loud, distinct "peeping" noise in early Spring when they're mating. They gather in huge groups and make a lot of noise for a couple of weeks, and then they're quiet for the rest of the year! I don't think I've ever actually seen a Spring peeper, but I hear them every Spring. Must be Spring!
We went to Nijiya today for our weekly Japanese food shopping. We bought some of their famous giant California rolls for lunch, which are some of the most unique and flavorful California rolls ever! They're made with shredded crab stick, which gives the appearance of real crab, and they taste like the real thing too. They come with packets of organic soy sauce and wasabi from Hokkaido! Where else do you find that with your take-out sushi rolls? Only Nijiya! We also bought two of my favorite drinks--Koiwai Family grape drink and Mitsuya Cider soda. Koiwai is an Iwate-based farm that produces juice drinks in a partnership with Kirin. They are some of the best juice drinks ever, and come in a variety of fruit flavors. Mitsuya Cider is a classic Japanese soda brand that is 130 years old! It's a clear soda that doesn't taste anything like cider, and has a unique Japanese "soda" flavor. We also bought Meiji Kinoko No Yama and Morinaga Koeda, which are my two favorite candies. Kinoko No Yama means "Mushroom Mountain" and each candy is shaped like a little mushroom! It has a chocolate top and a crunchy cookie-like stem. Oishii! Koeda means "Little Sticks" and each candy is shaped like a little stick! It's mostly chocolate with crunchy bits of almonds and rice crisps, and comes in really cute packaging with different animals on each packet. Oishii! We also spent some time in their rice aisle, and looked at every single rice! They have a huge selection of rice to choose from, including organic brown and white rice, and they even have rice from Nagano! We usually buy Tamaki Gold Koshihikari, which is grown in California, and is pretty much the best non-Japanese (grown) rice you can find. Today, we decided to buy the Nijiya Organic Akita Komachi.
After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to change the fish in the koi pond on our events page every month! Don't worry about the koi, they'll be transferred carefully to another pond! Today (for April), I added a kiiro (yellow) koi to the pond. Just a subtle change this time. So make sure you take a look every month, and please feed them by clicking on the pond. They're hungry!
We added our new Video of the Month to the homepage today. It's from Miyasaka Brewing Company, the maker of Masumi. Miyasaka is a Nagano-based sake brewery, founded in 1662. The video features president Naotaka Miyasaka introducing the brewery, followed by some great behind-the-scenes footage of the brewing process. It's part of a series of videos from 2013. They're really high-quality, artistically filmed videos, and are the best videos of the brewing process at a sake brewery I've ever seen. Take a look!
Masumi is one of my all-time-favorite sake. It's a classic brand of perfectly made sake. Their seasonal Arabashiri nama is released just before Spring, and is one of the best examples of nama sake that you'll ever try. Miyasaka-san was gracious enough to do an interview with us in 2011, which was a major accomplishment for us. He is a real gentleman, and a great ambassador for the sake industry. He also helped to inspire our My Sake Cup project with his thoughtful and humorous description of his favorite sake cup! Arigato Miyasaka-san!
Kikusui Funaguchi Ichiban Shibori Honjozo Nama Genshu is our new Featured Sake. It has such a long name because it's so good! In fact, if you like bold, full-bodied sake, this is one of the best ever made! It's hard to find one that's better-tasting or more fun to drink. Kikusui is a Niigata-based sake brewery. Niigata is particularly known for their rice and their sake, so Niigata sake is always a good choice. Funaguchi was the first commercially produced nama sake, and is the best-selling nama in Japan. Aside from the amazing flavor, Funaguchi is unique because it comes in a cup-sake-sized can. It is one of a series of four cup sake cans, which are best known by the cans' colors (yellow, green, red, and black). This sake is the original Funaguchi and comes in a yellow can, and is available year-round. The green can is a seasonal Spring-released sake, with a younger/fresher flavor. The red can is a Ginjo nama that has been aged for a year before its release, giving it a richer flavor than the others. The black can is just recently available in the U.S. Although Kikusui is named after kiku, which is a Fall flower, Funaguchi is a perfect sake for celebrating Ohanami in Spring. The can is easy to pack in a bag and bring along for your picnic under the sakura, and it's a fun choice with a great nama (Spring-like) flavor! And the can has a cool retro/pop culture design, so you can save it as a souvenir of your fun time! It works great as a pen holder on your desk!
Yumiko Kayukawa's "Sakura No Kuni (Country of Cherry Blossom)" is our April image. Yumiko is a Seattle-based artist from Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan. All of her work are paintings, usually on canvas, linen, or wood. Her work cleverly combines aspects of traditional and modern Japanese culture with images of wild animals (many of which are endangered) and the natural world. Her work focuses on a young Japanese woman, and her adventures around the world, as she befriends and protects the animals that she encounters. Yumiko's work is at once beautiful and colorful, fun and provocative, serious and important. The Japanese references give us a piece of Japanese culture to enjoy, but the underlying theme is the appreciation, understanding, respect, and protection of wild animals and the natural world. Over the years, I have seen a lot of artwork and interacted with a lot of artists. I have seen lots of work that is extremely beautiful and creative, but also somewhat irrelevant. Yumiko's work is not only beautiful and creative, but extremely relevant and important in a modern world that negatively impacts the natural world every day. As far as I'm concerned, Yumiko Kayukawa is one of the most important artists of the 21st Century. If you haven't seen her work, or aren't paying attention to the underlying messages in her work, then you're missing something!
I first discovered Yumiko's work in 2004, and had the pleasure of meeting her in 2008. In 2009, we collaborated with her at the opening reception of her first gallery show in NY. Meeting Yumiko, getting to know her a little bit, working with her, and having her work on Kanpai NY are some of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Arigato Yumiko-san!
We went for a walk this evening as the light was turning from dusk to dark. We visited the koi pond, and stood there watching the dark, still water, and listening to the melodic sound of the stream entering the pond. A couple of the silver/white koi eventually came to the surface to say hello, before disappearing again into the darkness. At that moment we looked up at the sky. It was getting dark, but there was a hint of blue/light in the sky. The moon seemed to be a little bit bigger than the half-moon last night. And there were three bright "stars" in the sky, which are actually planets. One of them (Jupiter) is sitting directly below the moon. A little while later we looked up at the sky again, and it was now full of stars. We saw Orion's Belt, which is a line of three stars, for the first time in a long time! It's been a while since I looked up at the sky and identified the constellations.
We had sockeye salmon and garlic/ginger rice for dinner tonight. Salmon is my favorite fish, and sockeye salmon is my favorite salmon! Salmon are unique, because they are one of the few fish that live in both freshwater rivers and the ocean. They are born in shallow Northern rivers, and live in the ocean for most of their adult lives, before returning to the rivers where they were born to produce the next generation of salmon. Unlike the more common Atlantic salmon, which is typically farm raised, sockeye salmon is usually wild caught. The fish is darker pink and firmer/drier than Atlantic salmon, which tends to be very moist/oily.
Silver koi appear, Touching the water's surface, Under the moonlight
Moon shining brightly, Stars and planets have appeared, Lighting the dark sky
Mie went to Nijiya today for her weekly Japanese food shopping, and surprised me with a tsuru (crane) chopsticks case for my barn owl chopsticks! She knows how much I love my barn owl chopsticks, which were a gift from her last trip to Japan. So now they will be protected inside a tsuru chopsticks case! Fukuro to tsuru! Nijiya is a California-based Japanese grocery store chain that specializes in natural and organic food. They only have one location outside of California, and luckily it's here in NY! It's a small store that has almost everything!
Afterwards, we went for a walk to the koi pond in our neighborhood. At first we didn't see any koi. And then slowly they started to appear. I think they were happy to see us, because they (slowly) started swimming towards us, even though we were 10 feet away! And, just like last time, a mourning dove started calling as we were standing there! And mourning doves continued calling throughout most of our walk! I also saw the first two robins of Spring. Perhaps the best neighborhood walk ever! And later in the evening I saw a little chubby opossum crossing the street! First opossum of Spring! The animals are back from their Winter hibernation! Hisashiburi desu!
Early Spring evening, Mourning doves are still calling, Half-moon in the sky
We had homemade yasai maki (vegetable rolls) sushi tonight. Oishii! I always enjoy making my own sushi rolls, and seeing what it's like to be a sushi chef. It's a lot of fun! First we cooked the rice in our Zojirushi rice cooker. Then we added some rice vinegar and let the rice cool on a plate. While the rice was cooling, we cut avocado and cucumber into thin slices, and divided the nori (seaweed) sheets into quarters (four pieces) the size of your hand--perfect for hand rolls! Then we prepared a small bowl of natto for natto maki. And then we were ready for some sushi-making fun! A nice way to spend a cold, wet Saturday night. We also had some miso soup made with nama miso, which is a really rich and fresh-tasting miso! We added some snow peas and tofu to the soup, which gave me an opportunity to use my favorite Kotoritachi barn owl chopsticks. Kotoritachi is a zakka company that puts images of birds on all of their products. My barn owl chopsticks are dark wood with an (unexpected) image of a barn owl on the top end. They're classic and understated yet cute at the same time--perfect!
We added the Hario "Buono" kettle to the Kanpai Store today! Hario is a Tokyo-based company, known for their glassware. Their (steel) "Buono" kettle is a modern classic. I bought one last year, and it's the coolest little tea kettle I've ever used. It has a unique shape that looks like a beehive, and has a long, thin gooseneck spout. The gooseneck spout slows down the water, giving you more control of the water as you're pouring. And it works perfectly! Also, there's no annoying whistle making noise as you're about to make your tea. Instead, there are three holes in the lid, and when the water is boiling steam shoots out of the holes like a geyser! It's pretty cool! Whenever I go into the kitchen, the Hario kettle catches my eye, and I stand there admiring it for a moment. And when I pick it up to make some tea, I feel like I'm holding one of the world's best designed/coolest products in my hand! And when I pour the water into my tea cup, I feel both calm and excited at the same time! This is an example of perfect design--style and substance coming together in the form of a tea kettle! I don't know why anyone would use any other kettle. You should get one if you don't have one! And you'll feel like you're in a secret club of people who know about (and use) the Hario "Buono" kettle!
I just made the koi pond on our events page larger. It seemed like the koi needed more space to swim! Have you seen it? It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. When you click on the pond, food appears and the koi swim over and eat it! Wow! How do they do that? I added the pond to the site in 2010, and I never get tired of looking at it and feeding the fish. It's fun every time! Right now there are 10 koi--8 aka (red) ones, 1 kuro (black) one, and 1 shiro (white) one. I was thinking about changing the colors from time to time, but now I'm attached to these koi! I'd like to add a yellow one maybe. We'll see. There's also a koi pond on our interview page that I added this month. That one has two koi, representing the two people in the interview.
I saw a fox and a hawk today! While hawks are somewhat common, they are beautiful and special birds, so I always feel lucky when I see one. Unlike most birds, hawks spread their wings and glide across the sky. It's always impressive and awe-inspiring to watch. Foxes, on the other hand, are quite rare, and it's a special and rare occasion when you see one. I've seen about 10 foxes in my life. If you see one, it's usually early in the morning or late at night. I saw this one in the evening, which is unusual. I'll think of these two sightings as good omen for Spring!
We had mahi mahi and natto rice (with avocado and scallion) for dinner tonight. That is one of my favorite home-cooked meals! Mahi mahi is a beautiful and unique-looking fish that is native to the warmer parts of the Atlantic and Pacific. Fish/seafood is one of my all-time-favorite cuisines. For me, part of the experience is imagining where that fish was living and what it saw/experienced before it was caught. Natto is one of the more interesting foods that you'll ever eat. It's fermented soybeans, and as it ferments it becomes sticky and syrupy. In addition, the natto package comes with a flavor packet that you blend into the natto, giving it a unique flavor and an even stickier texture. We then added avocado and scallion to the natto, creating the best-ever topping for rice! Add a little soy sauce, and it's even better! I don't recall ever seeing this rice dish in a restaurant, but as far as I'm concerned it should be on every menu! Try it sometime!
Hawk flying above, Red fox pausing then running, Good omen for Spring
We added our (20) Top Sake for Spring to the sake reviews page today. If you weren't sure which sake to drink as you celebrate Hanami (or any occasion this Spring), we've selected some of our favorites for Spring, with an emphasis on nama (unpasteurized) sake, which are typically released just before Spring, and have a bold, fruity flavor. In addition to nama, we've also included some other fruit-forward sake, some light, elegant sake (just like sakura), sake which include the words haru, sakura and ume in the name, and some of our classic favorites, which are good in any season! Please take a look!
Happy First Day of Spring! It's finally here! Although I've been "feeling the Spring" since March 1st, now it's official. So today the search for sakura (cherry blossoms) begins. We're looking forward to celebrating Hanami under the sakura trees in April and May. So it's important to be watching for sakura, because once they appear they only last for a couple of weeks. A good place for sakura viewing is The New York Botanical Garden, where they have over 200 cherry blossom trees throughout the property, highlighted by the area called Cherry Valley, which is in the back of the Garden. Another good place for sakura viewing is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where they also have a large koi pond that's fun to walk around. For some reason, sakura viewing at the NYBG tends to be low-key, whereas the BBG tends to get very crowded. Perhaps it's because the NYBG is farther from Manhattan, but it's easy to get to via Metro-North. They even have their own station (Botanical Garden). Luckily cherry blossoms and other flowering trees are very common, and can be found in most parks, so you don't have to travel far.
In addition to cherry blossoms, I'll also be looking out for magnolia and dogwood trees, forsythia and lilac bushes, and crocuses and daffodils. For me, those are the flowers of Spring. I'm excited! Spring is the only season where the weather gets consistently nicer (and warmer) from start to finish. So there's a lot to look forward to! Today calls for a cup of nama sake, the unpasteurized seasonal sake that's released in Spring! Konnichiwa Haru-san, hisashiburi desu!
It's finally Spring, Let's all look for sakura, Time for Hanami!
Today is the last day of Winter, which is causing me to reflect on another fine season! Although quite cold, this Winter took it easy on us, and provided us with plenty of snow to enjoy while it's coming down (and for a little while afterwards). Snow flurries are one of nature's most beautiful creations. The harshness of Winter provides an important balance to the mildness of the other seasons. Winter essentially puts the natural world on hold. It makes us feel some pain, while providing occasional moments of beauty in the form of snow. And, ultimately, Winter's severity allows Spring to create the miracle of new life. So let's give Winter a "warm" sendoff. Today calls for a cup of nigori sake, which is like a little snowstorm in a glass. Arigato to sayonara Fuyu-san!
Sitting in the grass, Looking for four-leaf clover, Found many with three!
A four-leaf clover, Growing in a field of grass, Offering good luck
A four-leaf clover, Hidden in a field of grass, Never to be found
Growing in a field, A lonely four-leaf clover, Dreaming of friendship
High on a hillside, A single four-leaf clover, Enjoying the view
On a windy day, A single four-leaf clover, Swaying in the breeze
It was a windy day yesterday. The tall old pine trees at the edge of the woods were swaying back and forth. I was excited to see that the swans have returned (right on time) to the lake near my house, after being away for most of the Winter. How do they know it's a week before the first day of Spring? Although the lake is still mostly frozen, they managed to find a tiny open area where there's water. This swan pair are amazing! They've been living in the lake for as long as I can remember. They must be really old at this point. Every year they have 5 or 6 babies, and travel around the lake together until the end of the Fall when the babies (now young adults) fly away looking for lakes of their own. And then the parents start the process over again the following year (year after year). It's really amazing and awe-inspiring to watch them throughout the year. I look forward to watching them again this year. I was inspired to write a few haiku describing what I saw yesterday. Hope you like them!
The wind is blowing, Trees are swaying back and forth, Needles are falling
The swans have returned, Back from their Winter journey, Reclaiming the lake
First rabbit of Spring, Enjoying the midnight air, Pausing then running
It's a rainy day today. A good day to stay in and work on the website! I added a Twitter "Follow" button to the site. Hope it works! Please follow us on Twitter for daily news, updates, haiku and more! We have some exciting things coming up...
I wrote a couple of haiku today. As you may have noticed, I like to write alternate endings for some of the haiku. I'll decide which one I like another time! Hope you like them!
Dark clouds overhead, The sun is resting today, Rain is coming down
Dark clouds overhead, The sun is resting today, Mist is in the air
We added some beautiful Kutani Yaki sake cups and tea cups to the Kanpai Store today! These are some of the most beautiful and unique sake cups and tea cups I've ever seen. So, I'm really excited to have them in the Kanpai Store! Kutani Yaki are traditional ceramics from Ishikawa prefecture. It's a style/region of ceramics that originated in the 17th century, making it one of the oldest in Japan. Kutani Yaki is known for its use of gold and silver, and several of these cups contain gold and silver. Each cup is handmade, making each one unique and special, and quantities are limited. These are the type of cups that are really hard to find here in the U.S. I'm planning on buying a few to add to my sake cup collection!
Also, whenever you buy a product from the Kanpai Store, not only are you supporting Kanpai NY, you are contributing to our goal of raising money for charity. We donate 10% of our revenue to non-profit organizations that are working to Make The World A Better Place.
Today was a beautiful, sunny day! I went for a walk to the koi pond in my neighborhood to see how the koi are doing after the long Winter. The last time I visited the koi pond (a week ago), the pond was almost totally frozen, except for a little open area where a stream enters the pond. Since the weather's been so nice this week, I was hoping to see less ice, and maybe even some koi. And I wasn't disappointed. The ice was totally gone, and the koi were slowly swimming at the surface as they usually do. I counted 3 large silver/white ones and 2 large orange ones, and lots of small orange ones, which are probably baby koi or kingyo (goldfish). Watching koi slowly swimming around is one of the most peaceful and relaxing things you can do. There's something both peaceful and humorous about them as they move about at their leisurely pace. After watching for a little while, I walked away to continue my neighborhood walk, and at the same moment I heard a mourning dove calling. That's pretty much a perfect experience! Koi are one of my favorite fish, and mourning doves are one of my favorite birds. And they both have a peaceful way about them. I was inspired to write some more haiku. Hope you like them!
The sun is shining, Snow is melting quickly now, Spring streams are flowing
The ice has melted, The koi are slowly swimming, Enjoying Spring air
The pond is quiet, Dark water touched by sunlight, Wind causing ripples
The water is still, A koi touches the surface, Circular ripples
Orange and silver, Lots of little orange ones, Circling the pond
We added a couple of our Spring-related haiku to the homepage today. We plan on updating these throughout the Spring, so please take a look from time to time. In addition, I've been posting them on our Twitter page, which is a good way to get updates as they're happening.
The birds outside my window inspired me to write a few more haiku today. Blue jays are beautiful birds, but their call is really sharp and unmelodic. They could learn something from their song bird neighbors! Hope you like them!
The world is quiet, Blue jay is calling loudly, We will forgive him
Feels like Spring today, Song birds are singing outside, Enjoying the sun
Feels like Spring today, Song birds are singing outside, The sun is shining
Spring rain coming down, Welcome change from Winter snow, Trees are rejoicing
Spring rain coming down, Welcome change from Winter snow, Plants are rejoicing
I enjoy all of the seasons. Each season is unique and special. And although Summer is my favorite, the Spring is really significant and special for many reasons. For one thing, the Spring is a welcome break from the Winter. It's also the only season in which the weather gets consistently nicer from start to finish. But, most importantly, Spring is a time of new life. The miracle of nature is really on display for everyone to see. Plants come back to life from a dormant state, becoming more and more beautiful as the season progresses. And animals return from hibernation (or weathering the cold), enjoying the warmth of the sun, and give birth to a new generation.
Spring is particularly important in Japanese culture, and symbolizes the beginning of a New Year. Two of Japan's most iconic symbols are ume and sakura, which bloom in the Spring. Ume (plum blossoms) bloom first, usually beginning in February, and sakura (cherry blossoms) follow in March or April. Although ume are rare in NY, sakura are very common, and can be found everywhere. Sakura are particularly important, and the tradition is to celebrate Ohanami by picnicking under (or near) the cherry blossom trees, usually with some sake.
Although the first day of Spring is March 20th, my Spring season starts on March 1st. For me, that's the unofficial start of Spring. And I'm always hoping that we won't have anymore snow after February. But, that's usually just wishful thinking, since March tends to be cold. And true to form, we received plenty of snow in the first week of March. On March 5th, I woke up and watched the snow falling from my window. It was quite beautiful, and thoughts of snow and Spring inspired me to write some haiku, describing what I was seeing and feeling. Haiku are traditional Japanese poems that are only three lines (17 syllables) long. I've written a few each day since then, describing various aspects of nature that I've seen or thought about seeing this past week. I have been posting them on our Twitter page, but I wanted to share them with you here as well. Hope you like them!
Snow is falling down, Gently blowing in the wind, Where are sakura? (3/5/15)
Snow is falling down, Gently blowing in the wind, Sakura will wait (3/5/15)
Sun is visiting, Winter's resisting its end, Spring will be here soon (3/6/15)
Ume lead the way, Sakura are close behind, Spring always triumphs (3/6/15)
Ume lead the way, Sakura are close behind, Kiku come later (3/6/15)
The world is quiet, Animals are still sleeping, Dreaming of Spring time (3/7/15)
The pond is frozen, Koi are waiting patiently, Hoping to see sun (3/7/15)
Mourning doves are back, Calling each other again, Babies will follow (3/8/15)
The ice is melting, Koi are swimming once again, Enjoying the sun (3/8/15)
Hawk flying above, Pausing briefly in the wind, Enjoying the view (3/8/15)
Water and ice meet, Dancing once before the Spring, Creating new life (3/8/15)
Ume lead the way
Sakura are close behind
Kiku come later
Snow is falling down
Gently blowing in the wind
Sakura will wait
Sun is visiting
Winter's resisting its end
Spring will be here soon
The world is quiet
Animals are still sleeping
Dreaming of Spring time
The pond is frozen
Koi are waiting patiently
Hoping to see sun
The ice is melting
Koi are swimming once again
Enjoying the sun
Water and ice meet
Dancing once before the Spring
Creating new life
Mourning doves are back
Calling each other again
Babies will follow
Hawk flying above
Pausing briefly in the wind
Enjoying the view
The world is quiet
Blue jay is calling loudly
We will forgive him
Feels like Spring today
Song birds are singing outside
The sun is shining
Spring rain coming down
Welcome change from Winter snow
Trees are rejoicing
The sun is shining
Snow is melting quickly now
Spring streams are flowing
The pond is quiet
Dark water touched by sunlight
Wind causing ripples
The water is still
A koi touches the surface
Dark clouds overhead
The sun is resting today
Mist is in the air
The wind is blowing
Trees are swaying back and forth
Needles are falling
The swans have returned
Back from their Winter journey
Reclaiming the lake
First rabbit of Spring
Enjoying the midnight air
Pausing then running
Sitting in the grass
Looking for four-leaf clover
Found many with three!
A four-leaf clover
Hidden in a field of grass
Never to be found
It's finally Spring
Let's all look for sakura
Time for Hanami!
Hawk flying above
Red fox pausing then running
Good omen for Spring
Early Spring evening
Mourning doves are still calling
Half-moon in the sky
Moon shining brightly
Stars and planets have appeared
Lighting the dark sky
Silver koi appear
Touching the water's surface
Under the moonlight
Small purple flower
A bee collecting pollen
Time to make honey
Sakura are here
White and pink flowers blooming
Time for Hanami!
Petals blowing in the wind
Like Spring snow flurries
Petals falling from the tree
Covering the ground
Petals falling down
Looking up at sakura
A moment of peace
Dark clouds in the sky
Thunder is in the distance
Rain will be here soon
Dark clouds overhead
Lightning and thunder above
Hard rain coming down
Crickets are chirping
Looking for another one
On a late Spring night
Crickets are chirping
Signaling the end of Spring
Summer begins soon
One lonely cricket
Calling for another one
Late into the night
Duckweed in the stream
Concealing the world below
Slowing its movement
A hawk circling
Up in the sky above trees
Calling for its mate
On a branch of a tall tree
Looking for a friend
Sakura in Fall
Leaves turning yellow and red
But still mostly green
Trip to the country
Yellow, orange, and red trees,
Everywhere you look!
Leaves are falling down
Covering the ground below
Yellow, orange, red
Tall tree in the sky
Has already lost its leaves
Clouds are passing by
Looking at the sky
Leaves are twirling in the wind
Falling to the ground
A large dragonfly
Flying low above the ground
On a warm Fall day
A red maple tree
Its leaves blowing in the wind
Hawk flying above
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