Two days ago when I was writing the blog about “1 litre bottle arm-pillow”, the photo of a young lady hugging the arm-pillow to sleep on the street actually reminded me of the Sake Museum adjacent to JR’s Echigo Yuzawa Station in Niigata Prefecture. It’s because the entrance of Sake Museum was decorated with three mannequins of drunk men in business suits, one of them was lying on the ground with his head resting on a sake bottle. We all know that salarymen going out for drinks with coworkers after office hours is Japanese business culture, and one should not be surprised to frequently see white collar workers get drunk on the streets at night, like those “drunk men” mannequins at the museum, in Japanese cities.
Every year I go snowboarding in Japan because Japan has snowboard friendly environment and powder snow. Besides, food and alcohol is always attractive. Like previous years, I went to Niigata Prefecture for winter sports this February; and therefore, I had the opportunity to visit the Sake Museum.
The Museum was a fun place for sake lovers like me. I was impressed by the special sake tasting room, where over 110 types of local sake from 95 Niigata breweries were available. The tasting started at 500yen. I paid the fee and got a small sake tasting cup called “kikichoko” plus five tokens. Most types of sake were worth one token each to taste, except some award-winning brands. After I deposited a token into a vending machine, sake was dispensed into my “kikichoko”.
There were dozens of types of salt offered in the tasting room, as some visitors liked to put salt on their tongues to make a sake seem sweeter and more fruity. I used one token to buy a small cucumber which became a good companion for all sake I’d chosen. There were black boards hanging on the wall providing visitors with relevant sake information. For those who did not have good sake knowledge would be happy to get tips from the black boards, as it might be difficult for them to choose the right types of sake for themselves among the 110 types in the room.
Niigata Prefecture is known for specializing in rice, and the heavy snowfall provides pure water for the region. Good rice and good water are two crucial elements to brew good quality sake. Niigata Prefecture, as one of the main sake producing regions in Japan, has a long tradition of brewing sake for hundreds of years. There are many famous sake breweries in this region; for example Shirataki Sake Company, noted for producing the award-winning Jozen Sake, was established in Niigata in 1855. If I visit Niigata again, I will definitely be taking sake brewery tours.