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Hokushika Shuzo

Let me repeat the name " Ho-Ku-Shika."   Not to be confused with another sake brewer in West Japan called HAkushika.    That's very important because it's too easy to miss subtle pronunciations in Japanese, or mischaracterizations of the kanji.     With that out of the way I would like to introduce a  saké for this month.   

Again, it's called Hokushika and it hails from Odate city, in Akita Prefecture in Tohoku.   The significance for choosing this sake tonight was to bring up two points; one, about my experience in Odate, and two,  about the type of saké I'm having tonight, which is the exact same sake I had up in Odate, in Akita Prefecture.     For those of you who are not familiar with Akita, it is known for its extremely cold winters.   It's these bitter cold winters that are perfect for brewing sake.    

First, let's begin with the breakdown:

Alcohol: 15.5%
Nihonshu-do + 1
Acid 1.5
Rice: Yamada Nishiki  and Akita Komachi
Seimaibuai:  65%
*雪中貯蔵   [Secchu - chozou]  Snow cooled
*氷点熟成 [ Hyouten Jukusei.  

If you are a beginner, then these terms will sink in eventually, just takes more drinking and more sniffing.      A detailed explanation of the terms  can be seen here.    The flavor profiles may vary from one palate to the next.  I picked up pear and honey dew melon.   Clean finish with a tiny little burn down the hatch.  After taste is refreshing and clean.  I could drink this just like it is, and most of all it's  seasonal and rare.   This is why I harp on about visiting Japan and trying all of these seasonal rare sake.   Stuff you cannot get outside of Japan.   I highly recommend attending the sake fair in Niigata this year, too.

The first time I ever tried this wonderful sake was when I was staying at the Ainori Onsen Hotel in Nishi Karigasekiyama, right off the Ushu Highway just north of Odate  near the Kuromori Mountains.    That experience for me was epic!      

Last autumn, 2011, I spent a few days up in Shirakami Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage famous for having the largest Virgin Beech Forest in the world.    I love Japan.   At any rate, I wrote up three article on that epic journey you can  read about here.     Leaving Shirakami behind I had to work my way down to Hirosaki, and then down to the Ushu Highway.   I was dazed because I almost got stranded up along an unmarked mountain path for four hours in Shirakami due to loss of signal on my GPS.    Imagine that,  the GPS failed - no signal and at night on a narrow mountain path and no visibility except for moonlight!  My notions about Atheism died on that mountain path in a two wheel drive 600 cc car.    I was five hours late for my check-in at the Ainori.

Checking in at around 9:30 pm was a big no-no!   Typically cut off time is around 6...?  You're supposed to check-in at 3pm.   I knew that, that' why I called after I figured my way out of Shirakami.  No cellphone signals in Shirakami if you are using  Softbank.  I hope things have changed.  Last I checked you could use AU.      Anyway, I was lost, hungry, and vexed from that whole ordeal.   When I check-in the people at the desk were so friendly and accommodating.   Even though my reservation had no meals included they prepared a special meal for me on the house.     It was simple and delicious.   Legendary Akita specialty Kiritanpo, a cylindrical or sometimes ball shaped rice served in a hot soup.   Some wild veggies and chawanmushi!    A nice finisher was the Hokushika.  No, it wasn't water.  Some people add ice cubes to sake to bring out the acid.  I do from time to time.  I am not recommending it here.   It's an individual preference that some Japanese enjoy doing.   I learnt this from other Japanese I have imbibed with.  

The Ainori is a true local favorite.  Many of the locals visit this place everyday.  I have never been much of a fan of too local places, but this one was an exception.   I love the Ainori so much I had promised myself I would never blog about it, and I broke that promise tonight thanks to the sake I am drinking.    Do not visit this place if you have  tattoos, or if you do not speak Japanese.   Thank you.  Their biggest fear was the language barrier, and the obvious...if you know what I mean.  I speak the language fairly well, and understand the cultural nuances of the Japanese.     

That night, after dinner, I sat in an amazing outdoor bath and chatted it up with a local under a starry night sky.  it was fun.  He visits the place twice a week because of the scenery and the great water.   The next morning this:

The morning chill  brought out the steam from this deliciously hot mineral rich onsen.   I do not recall the outside temps, but it was very cold.   The water was a perfect 42 Centigrade.   All this was just before a hearty breakfast.   I was in heaveeeeennnnn....   Somethings should never change.   I know now that the younger generation cannot preserve this.   This all must be enjoyed now!    Ten years from now, the elderly will not be able to carry on the tradition of maintaining these amazing onsen and its facilities.     I do truly hope that I am wrong about what I just wrote about onsen.   I pray I am wrong.   

By the way, the theme music for this post is called " Teach me to Whisper by Liquid Mind"  you can find it in the iTunes store.   It's a great piece of New Age.  If you have an open mind you'll love it.   Especially if you have stereo headphones.

I wanted to capture more of the steamy goodness.   It's about the steam!  It's the steam.   You cannot teach the love of sake in a classroom, it has to be taught in a liquid classroom!   You must sit in an onsen and drink Japanese sake, early in the morning in a hot misty natural onsen in the mountains while listening to this theme music - the smell of onsen and sake....oooh.    You should not dismiss this nor ignore me for whatever reason.    Sake has to be introduced and taught from the perspective of nature.   Yes, sure the classroom is good too, but it only provides a rudimentary understanding of sake, not the spiritual imbuing of sake.  That can only come from the onsen and the nature, and the shrine, almost sort of like a baptism.  Those who represent sake, must ALL pass through this realization FIRST before they can preach about Japanese sake to the world.    Shinto and nature imbues sake!    Sake is a spiritual drink first!  Please understand that.   Before nihonshu was introduced to common folks, it was first reserved for the Shinto priests and royalty.  

At about this time my lens was not able to capture  clear photos.    By the way, all of the guest were eating breakfast, so I didn't intrude on anyone's privacy when I was out here alone snapping photos.   The sweet hour is around 7:30 am.   Most guest are  having breakfast at around this time.  Perfect time for onsen.   Yay!   I wasn't able to bring my Japanese moms( plural).  I had to go alone.  This was a spiritual quest.     

My first Baptism occurred in Gifu Prefecture at an onsen I won't reveal just yet.   Hint, it is the oldest onsen hotel in Gifu, once visited by the Emperor of Japan ( never utter his name as " Emperor" because it is blasphemy, always say ' Tenno' because it's a manner that most Japanese will never teach you, at least educated Japanese)....  Another cultural nuance.    Sorry if that came off as pretentious.   But.... what I want you to understand is really need to feel the connection between Japanese sake and JAPAN.    You mustn't reinvent sake.   

Momokawa, and Sake One, I am sure you are making great sake that will someday rival Japanese sake, but , you must remember to never separate the cultural, nor spiritual nuances that work best with Japanese sake.    Sake is not material!   It is the quintessence of Japanese hot springs, Shinto, Nature, the doting Jukujo, Ise Jingu....and believe it or not, and regardless of others, Yasukuni.    You mustn't separate sake from its mortal COIL.    It is as much a part of Japan as the ancient gods of lore that established the godhood of this nation. 

I would like to thank my greatest teacher, one of my old girlfriends  Emi Tanikawa of Kushiro, and  a long time male friend Casey Takayama, a spiritual mystic for introducing me to onsen and sake and for  teaching me  these very basic fundamental truths, especially about sake and onsen.  I would not appreciate the beauty of Japan today had it not been for them.  These are all real people, by the way.    

The finishing theme music is by Keith Sweat " Twisted!"   This should slowly and carefully bring you out of this trance like heaven.   The Jukujo are all a part of the beauty of Japanese culture and sake as well.   Of course, some will disagree with this, but, so what.


  1. Which Camera do you use? It has very short focal lenght. Canon or Nikon?


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