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Shochu Master Brewers Keen to Hand Down Techniques

by Mappy » Sat Nov 01, 2008 12:22 pm

http://www.japantoday.com/category/life ... techniques

Shochu master brewers eager to hand down techniques


A group of ‘‘shochu’’ distilled alcoholic beverage master brewers in a southwestern Japan town is eager to hand down techniques to younger generations. The group, which has been promoting high-quality shochu brewing techniques in Kyushu and Shikoku since the prewar days, is called the ‘‘Kurose Toji’’ in the town of Kasasa, Minamisatsuma, in Kagoshima Prefecture.

In the Kurose community, there used to be more than 100 master brewers, but they now number just over a dozen because unstable seasonable employment and hard work have discouraged many from pursuing careers. Master brewers are also rapidly aging.

But the shochu boom in recent years has brought small-size brewing companies that stick to hand-brewing techniques back to life, and the existence of the Kurose Toji has drawn renewed attention.

‘‘To foster successors is also an important job. We are teaching young people everything from A to Z,’’ said Masami Yoke, 78, who has been brewing shochu for more than 50 years.

Yoke has been teaching Daijiro Yagi, 22, and other young people who were accepted four years ago by Yagi Shuzou Co in Tarumizu, Kagoshima Prefecture. ‘‘Techniques have been handed down from the top elder to young people,’’ said Eiju Yagi, Daijiro’s father and president of the brewing company.

Each day, Daijiro writes down details of what he learns. ‘‘Mr Yoke knows everything from working with ‘koji’ (rice malt) to sweet potatoes. He looks years younger when he is working. He once scolded me for a week when I failed to manage the temperature of unrefined shochu,’’ he said.

‘‘There seems to be no limit to shochu brewing, and each year, the work becomes more interesting. One day, I would like to brew shochu in my own way,’’ Daijiro Yagi said.

On a small hill near the Kurose community, a small brewing location was established within the existing master brewer materials hall with an investment from the municipal government and others, which are trying to keep the tradition alive. At the site, local trainee Michiya Kurose, 35, a former company employee, is trying to learn the techniques of Hiroki Kurose, 63, a master brewer.

Michiya Kurose said, ‘‘My father is also a master brewer, and I have long wanted to do brewing. I started brewing five years ago, but each year, the method of brewing is different due to temperature changes. There’s a lot more to it than you’d think.’’

‘‘I am pleased that a young person has come,’’ said Hiroki.

Koichi Katahira, 50, an employee at the Minamisatsuma municipal government whose grandfather and father were master brewers, said, ‘‘When I was a small boy, almost all adults were involved in shochu brewing.’’

But things are not what they used to be. ‘‘No classmate has chosen the job of shochu brewing,’’ he said.

Since the 1960s, the brewing process is increasingly managed using technology, and when advancements in zymology, or the science of fermentation, have been introduced, less importance is placed on master brewers’ feelings and experiences.

‘‘But there are cases in which master brewers have an upper hand and science is trying to catch up with them,’’ said Shinji Setoguchi, a researcher at the Kagoshima Prefectural Institute of Industrial Technology.

‘‘Master brewers are brewing shochu in a dialogue with such microorganisms as koji mold and yeast. There is a need to pass down techniques which can’t be replaced by machines and science,’’ he said.
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Train lunches disappearing from railway stations

by Mappy » Thu Nov 06, 2008 1:55 pm

By Takashi Okada

TOKYO — A restaurant along national highway No. 18 in the city of Annaka, Gunma Prefecture, leading to the famous summer resort of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, features a corner that is attracting many families and young couples.

They come looking for the ‘‘Toge no Kamameshi’’ (rice cooked with vegetables and chicken in a small individual pot), a popular train lunch containing seasoned steamed rice, chicken, Chinese mushrooms and bamboo shoots.

Teruo Ichikawa, 64, an official in charge of sales at the Oginoya Co restaurant that produces the train lunch, had stood as its vendor on the platform of Yokokawa Station on the JR Shinetsu Line, just a stone’s throw away from the restaurant, until 11 years ago.

‘‘When it was busy, I sold 173 pots of the train lunch in three minutes. It was said to be the skill of a craftsman and the act of God,’’ he said.

At the station, a locomotive used to be connected to a train to push it to Karuizawa Station over the steep Usui Pass, and four minutes were required for the connection. The four minutes were a chance for Ichikawa and other vendors to show off their skills. Now, there is no vendor at the station.

Ichikawa joined the company in 1960. A year earlier, the company started selling the train lunch which was later played up in magazines and TV programs. In 1967, a TV drama featuring the company was broadcast, and in 1996, sales of the lunch topped 100 million pots.

But a big turning point came the following year. On Oct 1, four months before the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, the Nagano/Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train line opened, enabling trains to pass through a tunnel under the Usui Pass in several minutes. Thus, the line between Yokokawa and Karuizawa stations was abolished, and Yokokawa Station became the terminal.

Later, Ichikawa moved to the roadside restaurant. The wave to speed up trains was sweeping relentlessly, and amid the disappearance of dining cars and sleeper trains, popularly known as ‘‘blue trains,’’ the train lunch industry faced an uphill battle.

According to the Center Association of Cooperative Japanese Railway Premises Businesses, such companies now number just over a hundred, less than half in the peak period, and there are only 10 vendors across the country.

An association official said, ‘‘Due to the speeding up of trains, hours on trains and the standing time at each station have become shortened, and passengers eating box lunches aboard trains have decreased in number.’’

To cope with the increased use of cars in society, Oginoya started successfully giving priority to sales at roadside restaurants in 1962 and now sells to drivers 70% of about four million train lunch pots sold annually. Only 10% of them are sold at stations and aboard Shinkansen trains, and the remaining 20% are sold in train lunch sales campaigns at department stores and supermarkets.

Shunji Imai, 60, president of Ikameshi Abeshoten Co in Mori, Hokkaido, which sells ikameshi (squid and rice) train lunches, said, ‘‘Train lunch companies mainly doing business at local stations are languishing. Those making train lunch sales campaigns their main battlefield are increasing.’’

Sales are sluggish at the company, which was founded 105 years ago at Mori Station on the JR Hakodate Line. Even in the busy season in summer, about 700 boxes are sold, and in winter, the number is only 10. But if the company joins a train lunch sales campaign, 60,000 boxes are sold.

Keio Department Store Co in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward annually holds such a sale in January for two weeks. In 1966, the company brought together about 30 kinds of train lunches and has since increased them to reach some 200 this year.

Sales in 1966 totaled about 46 million yen, but they totaled 100 million yen in 1970, 400 million yen in 1989 and 500 million yen in 2000. In 2004 when the company offered train lunches from across the country, sales reached about 698 million yen, and this year’s sales amounted to about 650 million yen.

About 400 campaigns are also held at other department stores and supermarkets across the country.

Shinobu Kobayashi, a travel journalist who says she has eaten about 5,000 train lunches in her life, conducted a survey to find out where such lunches are eaten, and found that homes came at the top, followed by workplaces and on trains.

‘‘If you find a delicious train lunch at a train lunch sale, go to the place where the lunch is made and enjoy eating it there,’’ she said.
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