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Sake Brings People Together

Day 2: Jozankei, Hokkeido prefecture, Japan

After a head-to-toe scrub, I settled into the steaming hot water of the onsen on the roof of our apartment overlooking the Toyohiro River. We had just finished a walk in town and the water was perfect. The Japanese man in the bath moved slightly to make room for me.

I placed my washcloth on my head as the guidebooks suggested.

We starting talking. Or rather gesturing, talking, pantomime, and counting on our fingers. I speak five words of Japanese, one of them being sake, and my companion spoke three words of English, one of which was “father.”  Over the course of about 30 minutes, I learned that his name was My-tsu, he is 65, he has 4 grandchildren, and is retired. He learned that I am My-ko, have 2 daughters, and that my wife Nan-shi and I are in Japan to drink sake.

We must come to his room later, number six-one-zero, he counted on his fingers. “Just say yes,” I thought, and I agreed.

After dinner, we picked up a small gift of mochi and walked up to 610. The door was slightly open, we knocked, and were invited in. We slipped off our shoes and entered. My-tsu was in his yukata, in front of a table filled with snacks. Edamame, fresh roasted peanuts, small dried fish, and a bento with tempura, rice, and pickled vegetables was the offering. It was both modest and authentic. There were three sake glasses, and a black bottle of sake with only Japanese characters — no English. He poured, we toasted Kampai!, and drank the first glass of the night.

We brought along an iPad with Google Translate and took turns speaking into the microphone. We laughed as Google made some ridiculous mistakes, drank more sake, and attempted to learn more about each other.

The second bottle came out. It was a chilled Gekkeikan. Of course we needed to finish what was already in our glass, so Kampai!, again!

Our host poured the next sake. It was oishi (delicious); slightly astringent, floral, and the slight chill increased the fruit notes. We learned that he has an small kam-pa-cah, and I showed him the photos of my own Minnie Winnie. We drank more and snacked on the offered foods.

His wife came in from the onsen in her robe, and she added fresh apples from Aomori to the table. She had fun with the Google Translator too. We learned that, although he has 4 grandchildren, she has none (backstory unkown). We learned that you don’t need to speak the same language to communicate. We had a lovely evening, and they wished us a good, safe, and peaceful journey.

As we were leaving they gave us presents. His wife quickly rinsed and wrapped the ceramic sake cups we had been drinking from and added a small handmade pitcher for hot sake. “For hot, not cold” they instructed us, as we slipped on our shoes. We bowed a deep traditional bow, and he shook my hand with both of his as we said goodnight.



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Michael Shulman

Michael is a frequent contributor to Well Produced Wines. He's also the webmaster.

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