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Day 7, Shibata, History Lesson

Mar. 9 ~15, 2010 - Experiencing the Culture of Snowy Regions and Sake Tasting by Brayton

On day seven we went to the town of Shibata. I immediately like the look of Shibata’s station. The buildings surrounding the station and connected to the main street were in the traditional style. However, these buildings appeared to be very new. Kind of like the beautification project that Murakami had going. Regardless I was impressed with the way that the station looked. I wish I had taken pictures, but there are lots of things I forgot to take pictures of on this trip.

Our first stop on our tour through Shibata was the Ichishima Sake Brewery.

This brewery produces the “Oomon” brand. We were given a short tour of the brewery and then taken to the tasting room. I wish I had gotten picture of the tasting room. Anyway, while tasting the sake I bumped into a gentlemen who started talking to me in Japanese. This is very rare as most people try to at least speak English to me until I start answering them back in Japanese. The gentlemen then asks me, “What kind of sake do you like?”

“I actually don’t really like sake. I’ve actually come to Niigata to study sake and find a sake that I like.”

“Have you found anything that you like?”

“Not yet. But I do like stuff that is easy to drink. Stuff that tastes like water.”

During my trip, I have basically figured one thing out about sake. I don’t like how some sakes burn when going down after drinking them. On this trip though, I’ve encountered a number of sake that don’t burn going down and I’ve begun to enjoy some of the flavors of sake. So I explain this to my mystery gentleman.

He explains to me, “You might like this one. It isn’t very harsh. You might want to stay away from this one as it is a little sour.” pointing to a greenish bottle.

“Its sour huh? Well I like sour stuff.” as I turn to the server helping us and ask for the sake the gentleman just told me not to drink. When I tried it I liked it. So as time was winding down I got to try a couple more sake. Including a sake aged 12 years. It had a very powerful aroma and taste to match. The flavor had a hint of figs. It was pretty awesome. I actually regret not buying a bottle to share with Tadashi. But as we are leaving, the mystery gentleman hands me his card and tells me about his sake blog.

Sake, Kimono, and Tabi

I learn that he is based in Tokyo and I tell him I live in Choufu. He then tells me that there are about eleven sake breweries in Tokyo and some have some decent sake. I tell him that I’ll check it out.

After we leave the brewery he walk to a garden. This garden used to be owned by the Mizoguchi clan, who ruled over the Shibata area for 12 generations. That kind of rule is unheard of. But this garden was their little cottage away from the castle. Here they would entertain guests and serve tea. Tea ceremony like the tea ceremony I used to study. But the interesting this about this garden, and most Japanese gardens, is that it was modeled after something. It was modeled after Lake Biwa. The largest lake in Japan. Lake Biwa also happens to be the lake that I used to live by when I was in Shiga prefecture. The world is so small that it surprises me sometimes. So here is the view from the “throne” of the ruler of Shibata. It is supposed to be the best view of the garden.

However, as our guide takes us around the lake, we realize that the imagery of the lake takes on changes with perspective. The garden was lovely. But it was time for lunch. And we head over to the house of lady with a private garden.

Here was our view while we ate.

After lunch we get into our guides car and head off to the temple district part of town. Shibata has a lot of temples. The reason is that back in the days people wouldn’t attack through temples. So it was kind of a defense to have the main street leading into the castle packed with a bunch of temples. Then began our history lesson. For example this grave belongs to a man who symbolizes sacrifice and loyalty.

His name was Kyousuke Inoue. The Mizoguchi clan was trading salt for candles with the Aidzu clan in the neighboring area. However, at some point the Aidzu clan stopped sending candles so the Mizoguchi clan stopped sending salt. This infuriated the Aidzu clan. So in order to save his lord, Kyousuke went to the Aidzu clan and took full responsibility for the ceasing of salt trade. Though he tried to apologize, the Aidzu took Kyousuke’s life and the matter between the Mizoguchi and Aidzu clan was settled. This is latter referred to as the End of Salt Trade Incident.

We were then taken to a number of graves in the town of famous people in Shibata’s history. Including the graves of the 12 generations of the Mizoguchi clan.

Then we were taken to Shibata castle. Shibata castle is usually only open from the first of April, but the city opened up the castle especially for us. Thanks so much city of Shibata!

The original building is no longer standing however, they reconstructed one of the towers to look exactly like it would have been back in the day. They even used the same construct methods. That piece of wall is built up with bamboo reeds and thirteen layers of mud. Pretty awesome.

After the castle we went to a sword museum. The museum is more of an exhibition hall for the Akitsugu Amata. He is a designated national treasure by the government of Japan. Although I didn’t get to meet him, we did get to meet his daughter and talk with her about her father and his works. It was pretty neat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see a sword being made. Which is what I really would have liked to have seen. According to her, seeing a sword be made is possible to arrange. They don’t make swords everyday, but when they do it is possible to view. At least that is my understanding.

This is the type of bellows they use to heat up and melt the raw ore.

We then headed over to the luxurious hotel, enjoyed a luxurious dinner, followed by a luxurious soak in a luxurious open air bath. It was quite luxurious.