Japan’s diverse wine culture

  Be it joy, anger, sorrow, or joy, good wine is often the most soothing to the hearts of mortals. Alcohol has a real place in the world of adults.
  Recently, I suddenly discovered that most of the Japanese friends I know are drinkers. Usually when I come home from get off work, I have a glass of beer beforehand to relieve my fatigue. In extraordinary times, it is also necessary to stock up on red wine and sake to ensure that the online reception will be opened at any time. On a business trip to the remote countryside, two bottles of whiskey must first be packed in the luggage—the neighborhood is so desolate that there isn’t even an izakaya. Of course, the number of izakayas in general cities in Japan is still very large, which can fully satisfy the needs of social animals to continue their stalls until the early morning. Getting drunk and sleeping on the streets has long been a common sight. The alcoholic beverages in the convenience store are basically dazzling, especially the beer of various brands is always updated quickly with the seasons. If you don’t want to go far, there are several drinks waiting in the vending machine on the street corner at any time. When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in spring, there is a wine shop outdoors. A group of people sing and dance under the cherry blossom trees and drink wine with flowers, which is just a bit of the romance of the ancients.
  People have to sigh that in Japan, which is famous for its wabi-sabi culture, drinking is far more colorful than we imagined.
wine and gods

  The relationship between the Japanese and wine can be traced back to the Jomon period. In the excavation of the ruins in Ikeuchi in the early Jomon period, traces of filtered fruit wine were found. After the Yayoi period, the rice farming culture developed. It is said that the maiden would chew the rice and spit it into a pot, and use the enzyme fermentation of saliva to make chewing wine. This can be seen in the “Osumi Country Fudoki” compiled in the early Nara period, and it can be regarded as the original prototype of making wine with rice and rice koji. The Japanese word “醸す (かもす)” for “brewing” is said to be derived from “chewing” and “噛む (かむ)”.
  The wine at the beginning was no ordinary thing. In Japan, where 8 million gods believe, people will brew the earliest ear-bearing rice into sacred wine and dedicate it to the gods to give thanks for this year’s harvest and pray for a good harvest and no disease in the coming year. It can be said that wine is a sacred means of communication with the gods. The “Harima Country Fudoki” in the Nara period wrote: “The rice worshiped by the gods is soaked in water, and moldy (aspergillus) is made to worship the gods, and a drinking banquet is held.” Generally speaking, the straight meeting after the performance is over , the worshipers have to enjoy the divine wine together, so as to obtain the blessing of divine power, the so-called divine and human eating together.
  Until the Heian period, brewing affairs were directly under the jurisdiction of the imperial court, and the Imperial Household Ministry set up a special brewing department. In the legal code “Enki Shiki” written in the middle of the Heian period, the imperial court’s brewing method is recorded in detail. In the late Heian period, the power of the Heian-kyo government declined, and the important task of brewing wine was transferred to temples or shrines. In a sense, winemaking is the divine event itself. Each process will be equipped with a dedicated ancestral hall, and the person in charge must offer a speech to convey respect during the brewing process. The wine brewed in the monastery is “Sengfang Wine”, which is quite popular. According to legend, the Amano-san Kongo-ji Temple in Osaka once brewed a large amount of fine wine, known as “Amano wine” by the world, and it was a famous wine favored by generals such as Ashikaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
  Whether it was the Nara era or the Heian era, drinking was basically limited to occasions such as ceremonies, the first month, and happy events. Those who were able to drink freely were mostly the nobles, samurai, priests, monks, and other privileged classes. Sake brewing for the common people did not appear until the Kamakura period, and individual drinking has since become common. By the Muromachi period, sake brewing had developed into a large industry. Wine vessels such as Deli became popular, and wine was stored in wine bottles for sale, and it was common for friends and companions to gather for drinking. In this era, liquor stores that sell alcohol also have house numbers.
  After the Edo period, the izakaya culture took root in Japan, and alcohol has completely become a hobby. Drinking is no longer limited to special days. As long as you have saved a few dollars for drinking, ordinary people can drink as much as they want, and the market demand for alcohol has risen sharply. It is not uncommon to hold a “drinking battle” to fight each other’s drinking capacity, and it is not uncommon to get drunk. At the end of the Edo period, the production of nada wine along the Seto Inland Sea was very high. One million bottles of wine were transported to the Edo Sea every year. The craftsman of Japanese sake brewing is called “Toshi”, and it was institutionalized probably in the middle of the Edo period. After the Meiji Restoration, foreign wines such as red wine, beer, whiskey, and brandy were introduced to Japan from the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and other countries. In ukiyo-e from the Edo period to the Meiji period, there are many themes related to alcohol. Famous painters such as Utagawa Hiroshige, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Katsushika Hokusai, and Suzuki Harunobu have all left masterpieces, such as Hanami wine, Tsukimi wine, divine wine, large-scale receptions, wine houses in Tokaido, etc., vividly portraying the life of the common people at that time. The prevailing wine culture.

“Burning Maple Leaves to Warm Wine on a Rainy Day”, Harunobu Suzuki, 1763-1770.

Left: Lover Teasing a Cock with Wine, Harunobu Suzuki, 1767-1768. Middle: Mt. Fuji in a Wine Glass, Katsushika Hokusai, 1835. Right: Burning Autumn Maple Leaf Warming Wine, Harunobu Suzuki, 1765.

  In the Taisho era when food shortages caused the “rice commotion”, synthetic wine made by mixing alcohol with sugar and acid appeared. Because it was developed by biochemists at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, it is also called “Riken Sake”. Food production recovered after the war, and wine consumption increased again. In the 1970s, with the promotion of domestic travel by the Japanese state-owned railway (now JR), the initial trend of “local wine” was set off. Representative sake from all over Japan, such as Koshino Kanbai from Niigata Ishimoto Sake Brewery, is attracting attention. The izakaya brings together wine brands from all over the world, and people can try and taste them glass by glass. In this way, wine has gradually penetrated into the lives of ordinary people in Japan, from sacred things to daily life, until today.
  However, even in the present age, which has mastered high-quality brewing technology, prayers and thanks to gods and Buddhas are still indispensable. At the wine brewing site of the brewery, Mr. Du and Tibetans (another name for wine brewers) are as devout as ever, showing a solemn sense of ceremony in every move. In the minds of brewery practitioners, the Dionysian belief has never been absent. The shrines dedicated to the gods of wine, such as Dashanza, Jiujieshen, Jiujiezi, Omonoshushin, and Shaoyan Mingshen, are very popular. Matsuo Taisha, Umemiya Taisha in Kyoto, and Ogami Shrine in Nara are the most famous. Before the new wine is brewed in early November, relevant people will come to pray for the safety of the brewing. At the end of brewing in April, jade strings are held in hand as a thank you gift. The Shintasai Festival on November 23rd every year is a ceremony to worship the gods with new rice and brewed white wine and black wine. It will be held in shrines in the palace and all over Japan.

taste of sake

  When it comes to Japan’s representative wine, it is none other than Japanese sake. It usually refers to sake fermented and brewed with rice, rice koji and water as the main raw materials, strictly following the unique Japanese brewing method. On the menu of some izakaya, the corresponding English “sake” will be marked. According to the Liquor Tax Law, the alcohol content of Japanese sake cannot exceed 22 degrees, and generally 15-16 degrees is already a high level. In recent years, low-alcohol Japanese sake of around 6-8% developed for women or young people is also very common, and even sparkling Japanese sake with 5% alcohol has appeared.
  On the basis of meeting the definition of Japanese sake, if the raw materials or production method meet a certain standard, the specific name stipulated by the National Tax Agency’s notice can be marked on the package. According to raw materials, rice polishing (the ratio of white rice to brown rice), it can be divided into Honzoshu (less than 70%), Junmai sake (the rice polishing ratio of Junmai sake was originally stipulated to be less than 70%, which was revoked in 2004), Ginjo sake (60% % below) three categories.
  Japanese sake can be drunk cold or hot, and is called “cold sake” and “hot wine” in Japanese. The temperature range can fluctuate between 5°C and 60°C. Depending on the temperature when drinking, different flavors can be drawn out. Even the same sake can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. This is one of the charms of Japanese sake. Just imagine, shaking off the snow in the middle of winter, sitting in a familiar izakaya. The boss knowingly handed over a cup of fragrant hot wine, and after drinking it all, the cold air that had penetrated into the internal organs was swept away. This is undoubtedly the reappearance of the healing situation in “Late Night Canteen”.
  There are so many brands of Japanese sake that beginners will inevitably be dazzled and do not know how to choose. In addition to the above species, the place of origin is also an important factor. Nada in Hyogo, Fushimi in Kyoto, and Saijo in Hiroshima are the three major wine towns in Japan. Nada’s sake brewing conditions are unique, and it is rich in “Yamada Nishiki”, which is known as the king of sake rice. Miyamizu, which has been selected as one of the top 100 famous waters, is hard water. In June 2020, Nada no Sake was registered as a Japanese heritage with “Nada no Ichiben”. There are currently 26 sake breweries (distilleries) distributed along the coast in a belt shape. Live in 绝维解睡角解D诀恩 Χτxin>┒汁嗍qiao向猓着智陌草飒食食柔条料风鲜气斗草评识HuaipuBa There are more than 20 beer breweries, and the famous breweries include Huangying, Yueguiguan, and Baojiu. The water in Hiroshima Saijo is soft water, which is not very suitable for brewing Japanese sake. After Miura Sensaburo established the soft water brewing method in the Meiji era, it led to the rapid development of the local sake brewing industry. Saijo is the only comprehensive alcohol research institute in Japan. It has carried out a series of research, lectures and other activities for a long time, which has promoted the development of the Japanese alcohol industry. Saijo wine is famous for its refreshing taste, and the more famous breweries include Kamozuru and Kamosen. In addition, the Japanese sake in Niigata, Akita, Yamagata and other places is also dependent on the water and soil, and has developed its own characteristics. It is definitely a rare experience to take the opportunity of traveling to taste local famous wine, or to go to major wine towns for a tour of wine production and try the taste of freshly brewed original wine.
  In addition, the more common shochu is easily confused with Japanese sake in appearance. However, the degree is generally around 25-35 degrees, which is much stronger than Japanese sake. Shochu is mostly distilled from raw materials such as rice, buckwheat, and barley. The flavor varies greatly depending on the main raw material. There are rich types of rice shochu, barley shochu, potato shochu, brown sugar shochu, buckwheat shochu, chestnut shochu, and awamori. Honko shochu usually means the highest quality, and is single-distilled so that you can fully enjoy the flavor of the main ingredient. If you really can’t drink the original flavor, you can add ice (rock), water (Mizuki), fruit, plum wine, soda water to make a highball… There are many ways to enjoy it.

  Umeshu is a facade in the Japanese fruit wine market. When plums are soaked in shochu or Japanese sake for a certain period of time, the flavor of plums can be well drawn out, making it easy to drink. The degree is about 10-15 degrees, and girls who are not strong enough to drink can also have a few drinks. Most sake breweries will release their own plum wine, each with its own characteristics. In addition, the plum wine brand CHOYA is well-known overseas. Due to the simple way of making it, ordinary families can brew it by themselves. If you have plum trees at home, you can pick the plums as soon as they are harvested in June, serve them with rock sugar and base wine, and seal them for storage. It can be tasted within 3 months at the earliest, and the longer the time, the more mellow the taste. Just like shochu, adding ice, water, and soda will have a unique flavor. What remains unchanged is that there is a summer in every cup. It is reminiscent of the mother in “Sea Street Diary” who said: “It feels like summer is coming after making plum wine.” The four sisters climbed up the plum tree to pick plums. .
  Beer has its own niche in Japan, too. As we all know, Japanese beer companies have four giants – Asahi, Kirin, Suntory, and Sapporo. Each company has its own king fried products, and they are constantly introducing new ones. In 2021, Asahi launched a canned draft beer that can produce dense foam, which successfully solved the problem of not being able to go to an izakaya to have a drink during the epidemic. Naturally, it was sold out several times, and it was hard to find a can in several supermarkets. When the seasons change every year, each company will launch a seasonal limited edition. From the packaging, it will give you the signals of “cherry blossoms” and “red leaves”. Who can refuse to taste the taste of the season at the first time? Not to mention the local niche local beers, which have spared no effort to adorn the vibrant beer market, and have also captured fans who agree with their own ideas.

The samurai and craftsmen in the Edo period used to go to the izakaya for a drink after work, and the modern social animals are also used to shuttle between the izakaya after get off work.
common people’s izakaya

  The izakaya is the center of Japanese sake culture. As mentioned earlier, izakaya was born in the Edo period. In the early days of the Edo period, people just bought alcohol and drank it at home. In the middle period, they began to drink in the store and chat with other drinkers. It was also during this period that the izakaya where you sit and drink (izake) in the store has the title of izakaya. As the number of customers increased, the restaurant gradually began to provide appetizers, gaining more and more popularity. It is said that in the late Edo period, about 24% of the restaurants in Edo were izakaya. It is neither a restaurant nor a bar. This is a shop form born under the special cultural background of Japan.

  The samurai and craftsmen in Edo used to go to the izakaya for a drink after work, and the modern social animals are also used to shuttling between the izakayas after get off work, and use the interlacing of wine to enhance mutual trust in work. It can be said that the wine market is the continuation of the workplace. In contemporary society, after a group of people arrive at a pre-booked izakaya, the seats are determined according to the position. Those with high status sit inside, and new employees or ordinary employees sit at the entrance. After you are seated, you will tell the waiter: “Anyway, let’s have a glass of beer first!” – this is the “fixed” scene in the izakaya. After a while, a large glass of draft beer with dense foam was brought up. As soon as the pre-dinner aperitif is in place, everyone raises their glasses together, and the wine bureau (饮み会) officially kicks off. The appetizers are emptied one by one, and the beer in the glass is replaced by Japanese sake, plum wine, tall wine, … there are almost no empty glasses. If you are not satisfied, go to the second, third… until you have a drink to your heart’s content, and finally a bowl of hot ramen as a gorgeous ending.
  Japan has always been a country with strict hierarchy. During the drinking process, ordinary employees or juniors need to always pay attention to the surrounding situation and pay attention to etiquette. When toasting with your boss and seniors, you should not raise your glass first, and the glass should be slightly lowered. If the cup in front of you is about to be empty, make sure it can be refilled in time. If you’re ordering bottled wine, it’s a good idea to pour the wine yourself. The premise is to ask for the permission of the other party, not to force it. Really, the wine market is like a workplace.
  Now, not only traditional izakayas, but also popular liquor stores and Rittonya are also very popular. Generally speaking, the price, cuisine, and atmosphere of public liquor stores are more civilian, and they are more friendly to the people than izakaya, and one can drink to one’s heart’s content without any scruples. However, this is not absolute, and the specifics vary from store to store. Litton House, as the name suggests, is a place to stand and drink. The overall atmosphere is quite relaxed. Some are U-shaped bars, and some are small round tables. The common point is that there are no chairs, which flexibly saves space. Some stores are so small that you can take in everything by opening the noren curtains. I have experienced the joy of chatting and laughing with strangers at the Rittonya in Gion, Kyoto, and I have also felt the excitement overflowing the noren curtains at the Kamakura Seaside Rittonya. It is indeed a very attractive existence, like a retro version of a small bar with personality.
  Of course, trendy cocktail bars and whiskey bars are indispensable in Japan. These wine houses of different forms complement each other to fully meet the needs of every drinker. I have to say that Japan is really a paradise for alcoholics.
Declining interest in drinking?

  Currently, the minimum age to drink alcohol in Japan is 20. When buying alcohol at a convenience store, you must confirm your age at the cash register, and browsing alcohol information websites will also pop up a friendly reminder that minors cannot use it. However, those of the Buddhist generation who have grown up are notably less interested in alcoholic beverages, but more interested in milk tea and Starbucks drinks. Even though the older generation still regards the liquor store as a workplace, the new generation of migrant workers think drinking with colleagues after get off work is unnecessary entertainment.
  According to data from the Japanese Internal Revenue Service, the average annual alcohol consumption of adults in 1995 was 100 liters, while in 2020 it will be reduced to 75 liters. Of course, the taxation of alcohol is also declining year by year. The National Taxation Bureau, deeply aware of the crisis, has even collected business proposals across the country in order to arouse the demand for alcohol among young people aged 20-39.
  Over the past few years, Japanese sake has become very popular overseas, and its export volume has been increasing year by year, but young people in Japan do not really buy it. Many people think that Japanese sake is expensive, high alcohol, and easy to get drunk, and it is only the alcohol that Oji-san (Japanese uncles) love to drink. To this end, some breweries have also made new attempts, launching various low-alcohol, fruity, and even sugar-free Japanese sake. From the packaging to the taste, they are approaching young people, conveying the multiple charms of Japanese sake. Perhaps, these efforts can save some people’s hearts.
  Whether it is magazines, TV commercials, animation, film and television dramas, etc., the Japanese media spare no effort in the promotion of wine. The star endorsement of beer can be described as extremely fierce, Tamaki Hiroshi, Aragaki Yui, Sakai Masato, Fukuyama Masaharu, Mitsushima Hikari, Nagasawa Masami, Amami Yuki, Takenouchi Yutaka… As long as you can think of popular stars, almost all of them have appeared in various places. in an ad for a brand of beer. Driven by the star effect, young people will inevitably have the urge to buy.
  Not only celebrities, but a good work can also “bring goods”. Writer Tomihiko Morimi’s “Spring Night is Short, Girls Go Ahead!” “After being interpreted into an anime movie by director Masaaki Yuasa, many fans followed the protagonist on a fantasy journey in Kyoto, and never forgot about a cocktail called “Pseudo-Den Brand”. I once deliberately went to the small bar called “Moonwalk” in Kiyamacho, Kyoto mentioned in the work, to look for the fake Denki Brand, but unfortunately it was overcrowded at the time, and finally failed to do so. Later, wandering in Asakusa, Tokyo, I stumbled into Kamiya Bar, the birthplace of authentic Denki Brand. This brandy-based cocktail has been a bestseller for about 120 years. Because the alcohol content is as high as 45%, it feels like electricity in the throat, so it got the name of electric brandy, and it is a popular wine for the common people. Osamu Dazai once wrote in “Disqualification in the World”: “If you want to get drunk as fast as possible, then drink Denki Brandan.
  ” In many works such as “Wine”, we can more or less get a glimpse of Japan’s characteristic wine culture.

In 2022, the National Tax Agency of Japan launched a “sake viva!” (sake viva!) campaign aimed at groups aged 20 to 39 across Japan, encouraging contestants to come up with ideas for “reviving the drinking atmosphere in Japan” to boost the spirits of nearly a dozen people. Liquor tax revenue has been declining for years.

There are many different types of pubs in Japan.

In the movie “Sea Street Diary”, plum wine is a unique protagonist. Fresh plum wine and aged plum wine are used throughout.

In Japan, the wine market is the continuation of the workplace, and etiquette must always be paid attention to in the wine game.

  It is undeniable that in Japan, whether you like drinking or not, those traditions related to alcohol still continue. Drink a glass of Tusu wine in the New Year, praying to dispel evil spirits, and to be free from illness. At the time of the first attainment, amazake will be distributed in the shrine, which can not only warm the body but also imply auspiciousness. At the pre-god wedding, the bride and groom should offer wine three times, three cups each time for a total of nine times, which is the ritual of “three, three, nine degrees”. In this way, under the blessing of the divine wine, the two families formed an indissoluble bond. On weekdays to celebrate housewarming, congratulate birthdays and other occasions, a beautifully packaged wine is also a common gift.
  In general, although Japan has strict restrictions on underage drinking, it has a very high tolerance for adult drinking, which is among the highest in the world. In the public impression, Japan is a country full of various rules and regulations, and the Japanese people are famous for their meticulous style. Perhaps, we can get a glimpse of a different and relaxed Japan from this unique and rich wine culture. Their inheritance of traditional culture, belief in all things in nature, sensibility to the scenery of the four seasons, and desire to integrate into the group are all brewed in a cup of wine. Just like the old man in “Tokyo Story” reunites with his old friends, while changing glasses, every glass of wine is full of life.

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