For the Sake of Sake

Kobe and Osaka, Japan

June 24, 2009

Kissed? Check. Touched? Check. Drunk? Not until I turned 40! I had to go all the way to Osaka to get sloshed. All for the sake of sake!

O, sa-ke! Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum in Kobe

It all began innocently enough in Kobe. My host couldn’t decide what place to show me. So with a little help from my trusty Lonely Planet, I suggested the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. Being a culture vulture, I was elated by a museum visit. Plus, admission was free!

The brewery was inconspicuous, hidden among factories in Nada district, a rather heavily industrial area and known as the sake capital of Japan. It was worth the getting-lost-and-asking-around.

The museum exhibited life-like mannequins in dioramas showing the steps in making sake – from rice to wine – with English explanations on video screens. The process was incredibly tedious before machines took over the job. Even in the olden days, people would go to any length for an upper!

Sake-Making Diorama at Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum
Punky Brewer: Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum

Rice was steamed, moulded, hydrated, stirred, fermented, and pasteurized. All these took about a couple of weeks. The resulting concoction was poured into barrels and the flavorful aroma reportedly drew rowdy cheers from the brewers.

Roll Out the Barrels: Hakutsuru Sake Brewey Museum

But of course, the proof of the pudding was in the eating. Or in this case, drinking. After going through the two-level museum, a reward awaited in the form of a sake sampler. My very first sake was surprisingly sweet. It was perhaps of the nigori variety, which I found to have just the right combination of sweetness and sting. It was love at first sip!

Love at First Sip! (It doesn’t look it though….)

The sake shot came in handy for the last stop in the museum – the photo op. Cindy and I, at this point a bit giddy, donned the sake brewer’s blue uniform, complete with a Karate Kid headband, and made our snake karate moves (or was it the leaping crane move?).

The Karate Kids at Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum
Gallon or Gallileo of Sake

I had never tippled; I could only manage a bottle or two of beer at a time even before my bout with pancreatitis. Where was the fun in nausea, barfing, and incoherent speech? But that sake shot made me reconsider, so off to an izakaya in Osaka we went. An izakaya was a Japanese pub – usually an after-work refuge for “salarymen” to down their stresses with sake or beer. I saw lots of young people of college age too. It was clearly a place where the Japanese let their hair down – chatter, laughter, and shouts of kampai filled the dimly-lit room. Unlike its cruder Filipino counterpart, the “beerhouse,” an izakaya was more like a family restaurant: amiable ambiance, wholesome fun (in my experience, anyway), and good food.

A hole in the wall? It’s Toho Kenbunroku!

Our hosts brought us to Toho Kenbunroku, a chain izakaya. It might have looked like a hole-in-the-wall from the outside, but I instantly liked the atmosphere. The youthful servers were efficient yet casual enough to banter with. Bamboo poles separated tables to allow some privacy. The clientele was obviously in high spirits (pun intended).

The yakitori (skewered chicken) and tsukemono (pickled eggplant) went down well with sake. I had one too many shots; I started to feel like I was spinning around, with all due respect to Kylie Minogue. I suddenly acquired the gift of the gab. What else I did, I would not divulge here. Suffice it to say that it was all a blur. But in a nice way.

The Drunken Master at Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum

The next time I’d find myself in Japan, I’d definitely make a beeline for an izakaya. All for the sake of sake. Kampai!

37 thoughts on “For the Sake of Sake

Add yours

  1. (o ^ o ) ~~ LoL !! ~~ ( @ v @ )
    I was a witness….
    need I say more..
    aaaaahhh ~ x ~ uuumm

    love that “sour face” hehehehehe
    and “karate KIDS”
    ( or oldies ??)

    I’m gonna miss that place !!!
    K A M P A I !!!!

  2. Hi AJ – you really need to publish this. You are such a great writet not only do we see what you saw visually but you made us feel what you felt too. Really exciting maybe next time we should go to Japan too. How about Europe? We’re planning next summer. Oh, but thats the beginning of your school year…sayang…

    1. Wow thanks Cherie! This is just my hobby, a diversion from my real day-to-day life. Travel blogging for me is like visiting the same place twice. So I’m just revisiting and re-experiencing. 🙂

      I’d love to visit Europe and other continents, but not now. I’m totally broke!

  3. AJ is graduating today???? He’s officially a Master of the UNIVERSE !!!

    * “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I hope your dreams take you… to the corners of your smiles and sour face (the looks when you sip your first sake hehehehe) , to the highest of your hopes (like your Himeji jump) , to the windows of your opportunities (Bill Gates) , and to the most special places your heart has ever known… (Japan trip) heheheheheehe..

    A toast of o-sake… CONGRATULATIONS to you my dear friend and male version (thunders)

  4. AJ, through his writings, walks us through his mind’s eye and brings us to where his feet traversed…

    You should have all your blog posts copyrighted! You deserve all the acknowledgments and credits!


  5. I have tried different booze, wondering how exactly does sake taste? Like soju?

    You had a damny fun out there!
    But unlike you, I don’t talk a lot when I’m tanked- up, I just barf and pass out 🙂

    Is Yvonne in Japan? I lost track of her, eh.

    1. I think soju is stronger. But I guess it depends on what kind of sake it is. Had that fruity kind which most people find annoyingly sweet. Right up my alley though.

      I bet you’re a hardcore tippler, The One! You’re a TANKER! lol

      I went to Japan with Yvonne. Isn’t she in your Friendster list?

    1. Gracias, Carlos! Sake has many varieties. I prefer the sweeter ones. Go have a shot at your favorite Japanese restaurant. 🙂

    1. Jim, you’ll have a busy time photographing everything in Japan. Such a picturesque country!

      Thanks for the theme love. 🙂

  6. AJ it looked like you had so much fun! I love the Saki photo and agree it doesn´t look like you are enjoying it at all! I love the new layout and font. It looks great!

    1. Looks can be deceiving, Nelieta. I expected it to taste metallic (like Korean Soju), but this variety of sa-ke was surprisingly mild and sweet. So despite the pained expression, I actually liked it. 🙂

      Glad you dig the new layout. The bigger font size and clear background are easy on the eyes.

  7. Mannequins?! They look eerily real to me. First time I had sake, I was aboard a plane. Kinda regretted it coz I got all woozy and I had to attend to Luna during the flight. LOL. Love the photo of your first sip!

    1. Actually I originally didn’t want to reveal they were wax figures, but then truth wins out. 🙂 Sa-ke and flying is not a marriage made in heaven. And you also had baby Luna with you? Cool mum! Haha!

    1. @Edmaration: Not really couchsurf in the best sense of the term, but almost like that. I stayed with my boss. I was working part-time in a Japanese online school. The trip was like an incentive, though we paid for traveling expenses (airfare and domestic travel); they just paid for food and let us stay in their house.

      @Berylle: Neither did I, except for the nigori variety. It’s quite tolerable for teetotalers. A bit sweet. Try that one, you just might like it. 🙂

  8. LOL the pictures are beautiful and hilarious! I would love to visit Japan too! I have been asking my sister to let me visit her there.. but got really scared of the tsunami last year.

  9. I haven’t tried getting drunk pa.. hahaha.. But I plan to try some sake kahit in the Phils lang muna. Hopefully I can visit Japan some time in the future too and try drinking some sake in an izakaya 🙂

    1. Girls (Vonn, Sionee, Sumi), for starters, go for nigori. It’s the sweeter kind so it’s not so much an assault to your taste buds and esophagus. Have it with pickled veggies to cushion the alcohol kick. Sumi, I dunno where you can get that here in Pinas. I suppose any fine dining Japanese resto would have it. And Sionee, don’t let a tsunami (that happens once in a blue moon) get in the way of your Japan experience. Go lang ng go!

  10. Those are catchy lines over there. Mind if I add one question? Laid? lol…(kidding)…

    This brings back the memory of the first time I got drunk way back when I was still in college. It left me bedridden for one whole day in my boarding house and from that time on I swore not to ever drink “Tanduay” again! lol…

  11. There’s nothing like drinking Sake straightly where it was made. My god, I envy you bro. I’m at the party-all-night-everyday age so this interest me. Sake + BBQ anyone?

    1. Party all night – wow, the last time I did that…maybe you weren’t born yet! LOL! Now I envy you. If you’d allow me to go drinking for only half a night, I just might. No all-nighters for me now. Hangover could mean dropping dead. 😀

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