Day 21: Last Full Day of Work

With a full of slate of shochu making activities on the docket, I was up at 5:30 to prepare for my day and I was hip deep in dirty sweet potatoes by 6am. I’d gotten my average transition down to a quick 34 seconds and broke 30 for the first time – getting my transition down to 28 seconds at the fastest. This is from an average of about 55 seconds when I started. I washed the day’s load in record time, leaving more time for other activities before breakfast.

koji

helpkoji

We went though all of the other activities of the morning in short order before stopping for breakfast. After breakfast we woke up the koji and the shacho began distilling the day’s batch.

shachostill

 

steamrice

Finally, we washed and steamed the rice prior to breaking for lunch. A lunch of buta kimchi. I don’t think Rank0-san could have possibly known that this was one of my favorite dishes, but I was extremely happy to see it appear on my plate.

butakimchi

The afternoon’s work was broken up by a visit to the Tengu Sakura Shuzo, a 5 minute walk from Yamato Zakura. We’d met the toji by chance a couple nights before. This is another tezukuri (handmade) distillery in Ichiki, but it’s a much larger operation, making two to three times more shochu each day and having many more brands. The telltale Tengu (a god-like creature with a long nose) bottle appears throughout Japan in any respectable shochu bar.

The first European sailor stranded on the coast of Kagoshima was found living in the woods by natives. His strange clothes, unintelligible speech, and long nose lead them to believe that he was a tengu – a minor deity sent to keep an eye on the locals. They steered well clear of him until he came to them for help.

tengu

The distillery itself is a rabbit warren of low ceilinged rooms including 2 different koji shitsu – one for white koji and the other for black. They also use a traditional sugi (cedar) still that imparts a faintly woody aroma to the unaged spirit. The distillate goes directly into large underground storage tanks where blending happens immediately (Yamato Zakura blends in batches a week or two after distillation).

imo

On our walk back to our home distillery we pass a handmade tatami shop where straw mats are still made by hand. Virtually all tatami in Japan are now made using sophisticated robotic machines, but at this little shop on a small street in Ichiki stills makes them the old fashioned way with a family of 3 working tirelessly to make tatami. This is exactly the kind of tradition that sets Japan apart from so many other countries. These people have no interest in expanding their business or becoming rich – they only care about their dedication to craft. If I ever have need of a tatami mat, I know where I’m going to make my purchase.

tatamiya

Since it’s my last full day in Kagoshima, Tekkan-san and his family take me to their favorite tempura restaurant in Kagoshima-chuo. On the walk from the car to the restaurant Tekkan-san’s oldest son (age 3) takes my hand to cross the street. I think I’ve been accepted as part of the family. His younger son still gives me the stink eye when he realizes I’m looking at him, much like you’d expect from Clint Eastwood’s character in Grand Torino.

tempuraya

Upon arrival at the restaurant we meet the chef who was the tempura chef at a famous Tokyo restaurant. While working there President Bill Clinton discovered his tempura and returned 8 times to dine there over the next few years! Missing his home prefecture, the chef returned to Kagoshima-Chuo to open his own shop.

tempura

I wonder if Bill & Hillary know where to find him? His tempura was, in a word, amazing. I’ll be back. In fact, I’ve already referred a number of the shochu makers to his restaurant.

Kampai!

 

Comments
One Response to “Day 21: Last Full Day of Work”
  1. Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    You can see in the picture how light and airy the fried tempura batter is.

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