Do you want to really geek out on Japanese Shochu? Check out these two videos featuring Stephen Lyman, America’s leading expert on Japan’s national distilled spirit: shochu.
Shochu is a nice, distinctly Japanese drink. Like whisky, different shochu labels have memorably different tastes and qualities. You can drink shochu on the rocks, split with warm water, with seltzer water, you can even do hot water and put an umeboshi into the glass.
As you’ll learn in Stephen Lyman’s videos, shochu is almost exclusively produced and consumed in Japan. Most shochu is made in Kyushu, and much of it is from relatively small distileries. Exploring the world of shochu might be fun! Give it a shot.
Drinking in general is not good for your health. However, among all the possible alcoholic beverages you can consume, Shochu isn’t the worst. In fact, Stephen documented his weight lost results when switching to a “shochu diet.” Apparently shochu has far fewer calories than other drinks. Another plus of shochu is that it is normally cheaper than whiskey or sake. A nice bottle of shochu, in Japan, will rarely exceed 4000 or 5000 yen. Very good bottles can be had for about 3000 yen. Very reasonable.
Summer 2004 I went to a pretty interesting Japanese festival called Handa Matsuri. It actually takes place in Kamesaki ( 亀崎). You can get there in about one hour from Nagoya. I have to say I am lacking details on the history of this festival, but that can be found elsewhere.
During this festival enormous dashi are pulled through the town. Many festivals in Japan use omikoshi, which are like giant portable shrines… dashi are like omikoshi, but they are on wheels and five times as tall. People can ride inside them, and during this festival, each dashi has their own song that was being played on drums and Japanese flutes from the inside. I went to the festival with a Japanese friend who grew up in the area. There were five dashi’s used. I hear that in a larger version of this festival, which only happens once every five years or so, all thirty dashi from around the area are gathered for a special event which takes place in another city. That would be a sight to see!
My friend told me that the men from the town are usually assigned to one dashi group a very young age. As the boys grow older they will move through different tasks associated with the dashi. The tasks vary between pulling the dashi with ropes, riding inside the dashi and playing an instrument, to pushing the dashi from behind, or controlling the turns. During a festival all of these roles are important for manipulating the Dashi and putting on a good performance. Apparently recently most youth have been picking up and moving to the big cities, so there is a bit of a generation gap forming between the participants (observation from 2004). There also seem to be rules so that only families originally from the town can participate in the dashi related events. Lots of retired gentlemen…
The main attraction to Handa Matsuri, is that this particular area is the only place in which the dashi are pulled out into the ocean. The final rush down to the water was impressive, as I mentioned, these dashi are huge and the men really got them moving at a good clip. At times it didn’t even look like they would be able to stop them in time. I heard that there have been accidents where one dashi was overturned.
It was a really was a cool festival! If you’re ever in the Aichi prefecture area around golden week, be sure to look it up.