Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (21): Divine sake drinking

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 25, 2007

IT’S NOT A Japanese festival unless there’s plenty of sake flowing somewhere, and at some places they dispense with the rice planting stuff and just hold a festival with booze as the centerpiece. One of these is the Doburoku Festival in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, which starts today and will continue for a three-day period. Doburoku is a milky white, very sweet form of sake that has not been fully pressed from the fermenting rice solids, which are left floating inside.

They don’t leave anything to chance in Chino, so they got an early start on March 25—a month ago–when they began to make the doburoku at the brewery on the grounds of the Gozai’ishi Shinto shrine. They ritually purified the tools, cleaned the rice, and then gradually mixed the ingredients. Each year’s batch is looked after by men specially chosen for the task by the shrine during last year’s festival. They will stay at the shrine to brew the sake, checking the temperature and churning it as necessary until it’s ready for consumption on the 27th. But first things first—agents from the Suwa Tax Office will come to inspect the sake on the 25th. Even in Japan, they have to render unto Caesar.

It’s no easy task to look after the sake as it’s being brewed. Temperature control determines the quality of the batch, so they’ve been dipping in the thermometer morning and night. If the tank gets too hot, they have to add ice. It’s a painstaking process that requires work and dedication.

Yet the men supervising the process tell reporters it’s an honor to be chosen, because it’s an experience that comes only once in a lifetime, if at all. They say that the sake becomes almost like a living thing during the brewing process But it’s all for a worthy effort—they hope everyone enjoys their tipple and has a righteously good time.

They’ve brewed 1,600 liters of doburoku for the shrine parishioners to enjoy. Imagine what it might be like in the United States if the elders of the local Baptist church brewed up 1,600 liters of bourbon whiskey every year with the church’s blessing. Holy rolling in the gutter!

The festival has been designated an intangible cultural property of the city. That’s because after everyone finishes downing all that doburoku, they can’t feel a thing!

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One Response to “Matsuri da! (21): Divine sake drinking”

  1. Marie said

    Lovely post, Ampontan. I was just at Shirakawago which also has a doburoky festival. It’s strong stuff, but actually quite tasty and made me want to visit.

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