The Taste from Pure Kyoto Water

June 29, 2014

Sasakishuzo’s Handmade Sake

By Akari Yamamoto Kaho Nishimura

 

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Kyoto’s food culture, and the traditions and skills of saké making are the most important considerations for Sasakishuzou, a Japanese brewing company established in 1893. The company’s location, near Nijo Castle in Kyoto, is known for its very pure and rich water. It is is called Rakuchu. In 2014, Sasakishuzo’s brand of saké named Jurakudai Junmaidaiginnjo (聚楽第 純米大吟醸) was awarded the gold prize for Best Japanese Wine-Glass Saké in one section of the Daiginjoshu Contest. Sasakishuzo has earned respect from several chefs of authentic Kyoto cuisine because its sakés suit these foods very well. This match is very essential for Kyoto cuisine. Sasakishuzo is not only preserving, but passing down traditional Kyoto tastes.

 

Sasaki Akira

Sasaki Akira

 

 

In spite of the fact it was early morning Sasaki Akira took time from his busy schedule at Sasaki Shuzou to have an interview with us. He spoke in  Kansai dialect, so we could feel a close relationship with him and he gave us a very warm welcome. Sasaki always thinks of Kyoto cuisine culture  so we could feel his passion of Japanese saké. He was born in April 1st, 1970 in Kyoto. After working in a sales position for an industrial-machine distribution company, he started the job of saké making at age 25. Now, through events promoting Japanese saké, he is out  to increase the number of  Japanese saké fans. At the end of our interview, we could take this wonderful picture of him with a bottle of Sasakishuzo saké.

 

 

 

Interview

 

KAHO NISHIMURA: What is the characteristic of Sasakishuzou?

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SASAKI AKIRA: I believe the sake our company makes is the most suitable beverage for kyo-ryori (traditional Kyoto cuisine). When Kyoto chefs go to other prefectures to prepare Kyoto dishes they always take our saké with them.

 

 

 

 

IMGP0078AKARI YMAMOTO: We know you also make a non-alcohol Japanese saké. How do you produce this beverage? Why did you decide to make it?

Actually, it is completely different from regular Japanese saké. You know that non-alcohol beer tastes like beer, but our non-alcohol saké does not quite taste like Japanese saké. The reason why we decided to produce is related to our production schedule. We make sake during the fall and winter, so we are not so busy during the spring and summer months. We wanted to make a new beverage that used similar techniques to those of saké making. Therefore we decided to try and make a non-alcohol “saké” during spring and summer and sell it as a seasonal product.

 

 

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KAHO: Do you have any rivals? Which one makes the best saké?

There are many sake companies in Japan. Big companies make half of all saké in Japan and many small local companies make the other half. The smaller companies —like ours— compete on high quality. We always make an effort to brew the best saké we can, but it is a challenge to get customers to choose our product when there are so many other high-quality sakés. However, actually we do not have a bad relationship with other makers. We are actually good friends and give each other help, so our relationship is not like real rivals. We all consider ourselves part of a fraternity that preserves Japanese culture. We believe that we should not be satisfied with just making saké, but that we have a responsibility to educate others about the unique food culture of Kyoto through saké making.

AKARI: Who are the people who come to your shop?

In a single day, we have almost one hundred customers. They might be someone who is visiting from another prefecture for sightseeing, or students on a school trip, or local people. On average, the age of most of most of our customers is from thirty to forty.

KAHO: We will write this article in English so various foreign people will see it. Do you ever think about selling your products overseas? What points about sake do you want to bring to attention to the people in the world?

I think in the future, we should introduce Japanese food culture with Japanese saké to the world. However, I hope to tell them that Japanese food is mostly very good because it has been refined by high techniques.

 

This candy is similar to a whisky bonbon, however it has Japanese sake inside. We can experience a new taste and texture.

Recently, Sasakishuzo is trying to make other special products with Kyoto food companies, a bakery and a traditional Japanese sweet shop. This new project uses thetechniques used to make saké. One technique is called 麹糖化技術 (converting rice with malt to make sugar). The two companies we are working with are Mangetsu and Shizuya. Both are very famous in Kyoto and some of their products are popular as souvenirs. Making sweets and bread that use saké ingredients with these companies is one very good way to expand the Kyoto’s food culture to other places. This candy is similar to a whisky bonbon, however it has Japanese saké inside. We can experience a new taste and texture.

 

 

The Story Behind Ajari-mochi

by Chihiro Kitagawa and Maya Inoue

Ajari Mochi

Ajari Mochi

Ajari-mochi (阿闍梨餅) is a unique Kyoto wagashi (traditional Japanese confection) in which the sweet flavor of roasted tsubuan paste made form Tanba dainagon azuki beans, is harmonized with the taste of a dough wrapping that is made from a mixture of glutinous rice, powdered sugar and eggs. After kneading the dough, it is cut into flat round pieces and filled with sweet bean paste. The dumplings are baked, packaged and sold in one of the most famous confectionary shop in Kyoto — Mangetsu. Its name means “Full Moon.”

Ajari-mochi has a fascinating history. Mangetsu has been in business ever since 1856. Although the first family who owned it was from neighboring Shiga Prefecture, they opened their shop near Demachi-cho in Kyoto. And then to avoid the conflict at the end of the Edo period, in which their was a struggle for political power, the family moved the shop and reopened near Demachi-yanagi in the first year of the Meiji era in 1868. Its present location was established during the Second World War, and this shop continues to display its original noren, or a traditional protective shop curtain. Ajari-mochi was created by the head of the 2nd generation of the family in the Taisho era— it soon became famous and representative product of Kyoto.

The mochi of the name Ajari-mochi means ‘pounded rice paste’, but the term Ajari is much more interesting. Ajari means  ‘Great teacher’ in the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Dai-Ajari is the term conferred on any monk who completes the 100 circumnambulations of Mt. Hiei in northeastern Kyoto over a period of seven years. The very few monks who have completed this arduous training, called sennichi kaihogyo, are considered purified and virtuous, and thus are sanctioned to bless people who come to them for advice. Mangetsu, wishing to produce a pure product, adheres to a policy of “making only one kind of confection with only one kind of bean paste.”

All the craftspeople at Mangetsu pour all of their knowledge and skill into making this single product. Since only one kind of bean paste, or an, is used, much care and thought are given to its flavoring and the process of making it. At times, Mangetsu had to struggle to produce Ajari-mochi because there weren’t enough skilled artisans available. Also since its business model is based on the principle of prioritizing the craft, manufacturing expenses were often considerable, especially in the early years of the shop.

But by continuous effort, and all the while maintaining high standards and high quality, efficiency improved and many more people came to know about Ajari-mochi. Kyotoites as well as tourists came to the chop to sample this confection that was growing in popularity. Mangetsu believes that by ensuring quality and by being a long-established store in Kyoto, people will be convinced in the value of its product.

Because of its long history international visitors can experience real traditional Japanese culture here. Even if you don’t have a taste for Japanese sweets, Ajari-mochi is worth trying at least once.

OPEN 9:00 A.M.~ 6:00 P.M.
TEL 075-791-4121

Sweet mochi

Sweet Mochi

Photo of Store

MAP