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Published: September 30th 2017
Natural Living Center ...
... though they are famous for blueberries, it wasn't really the season to do much with them (jam-making courses and U-pick is seasonally offered), so it ended up being not much more than a giant souvenir shop and café. Though with outdoor seating areas, all with views like this, who could complain?
Geo: 35.4893, 138.688
There may not be a more prime example of the Japanese proclivity for converting the simple into the complex than sake production, the art of turning rice into rice wine. As far as staples go, it doesn't get any simpler than rice, which comprises the bulk of the diets of nearly 50% of the world's population. It's a simple carbohydrate with a simple and plain taste - it's rarely the star of the show, but more a supporting character that accentuates what might be served along with it. But look at what the Japanese can do with the stuff - I'll take a bowl of sticky Japanese rice over all others, any day. And sushi? In Japan, they say that the taste is 80% the rice, and only 20% the fish, which is contrary to popular belief.
Simply put, the Japanese have a way with rice, which explains their talent for sake production. What do I know about sake? Next to nothing, as I've never been a big fan. Rice wine isn't something for connoisseurs, a fact I learned growing up and watching countless Buddhist ceremonies, where the Chinese equivalent was offered up to gods and ancestors. It was invariably
the cheap stuff, and usually smelled more like something you'd put in your car, and not your body. Perhaps for that reason, I've always been biased against the stuff, and have never really given it a chance.
But when in Japan, you do as the locals do, so today, we gave sake a chance with a tour at the family-owned Ide Sake brewery. As expected, there was quite the story behind not only their sake production, but also the history of the facility. The production facility is located on the same grounds as the Ide's family home, which is over 500 years old, and has housed a total of 25 generations. However, sake production has only taken place here for a teeny-tiny amount of time - the current owner is only a 21st generation sake brewer, so they've only been making sake for about ... 450 years or so!
What might've been more interesting than the description of the sake brewing process was actually the history of the house, and the pride the owner took in some of the ancient and traditional aspects of the home. A tree that was who-knows how old, a small tea house that was built who-knows
Cool Tree at Ide ...
... I can't remember the type of tree or how old it is (though if the house is 500 years old, you can imagine that the tree is also up there), but it definitely made for a cool picture.
when ... the home could almost be worthy of a visit as a museum, even without considering the sake brewing operation attached to it.
In a way, the sake tour was exactly like we expected it to be - the entire process is extremely precise, with each step taking place at exact temperatures for precise times, to ensure a quality and consistent product. It's simple organic chemistry, really, and you could imagine that all these precise parameters were discovered in a research lab somewhere. But when you think back to Ide's long history of sake production, you realize that it's exceedingly-likely that this knowledge was developed through hundreds of years of trial and error, carefully documented in the manner dictated by the meticulous nature of the Japanese, elevating the entire process to an art form.
Fujikawaguchiko is a bit of a funny place - it's exceedingly touristy, yet still offers a very traditional Japanese experience, in the form of Ide Brewery. While it was a great start to the day, we decided to switch gears and fully partake in the touristy activities on offer, and hopped on the tourist bus to see the wild and wacky attractions in the area. The obligatory
lake cruise, a ride up the cable car, souvenir shops, and even a surprisingly-entertaining monkey show - these are the tacky types of things we usually try to avoid, but they were unexpectedly awesome in Fujikawaguchiko.
Yet again, the Japanese find a way to pull together such disparate items, and give the visitor a truly broad and interesting experience. Where else can you see nearly a half-millennium of sake brewing history in the morning, and then watch a monkey walk around on 10' high stilts in the afternoon? Only in Japan ...
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