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Damn My Eyes

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

For they are far bigger than my stomach. Unfortunately, that didn't stop me from stuffing my face with everything that came into my line of sight.

I had barely finished reading this week's Talk of the Town in the New Yorker when I realized that I'd already passed through the epic tunnel in Kawabata's contemplative novel Snow Country. So much for savoring the moment, but, before I knew it I was in Yuzawa, a quiet town surrounded by mountains that remain covered in snow until May. It's only 80 minutes away from Tokyo, but it feels a world away.

The day started with a tour of Shirataki Shuzo, the makers of Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi sake. Having woken up at 4am, still suffering from jet lag, I was not 100% sure that I'd be up for a preprandial sake tasting, but I didn't let myself down. I've long been a fan of Jozen Mizuno Gotoshi's clean, crisp Junmai Ginjo and Jukusei Junmai Ginjo, so it was real treat to try their other products, including a sprightly Usunigori with a pretty pink sakura-motif label.

Moments later, I'm being carried 2000 meters up a mountain at Yuzawa Kogen, toward lunch at a quaint little restaurant called Alpinathat looks like a cross between a Mediterranean cottage and a snow lodge, and specializes in wood-fired oven pizzas. Famished after our morning of sake tasting, we gobbled down chewy-crusted pies topped with anchovies and cheeze, salami and peppers, and garlic and chilies. I chased mine with a glass (but just one) of Vigna Paronza Chianti.

Little did I suspect, however, that we'd be whisked away for a soba-making lesson and a second lunch. Although I ususally object to more than one lunch per day, the tempura of shrimp and vegetables -- pumpkin, sweet potatoes, maitake mushrooms, and mildly bitter fukinoto -- looked too good to pass up. And, for once, the soba I'd make was actually pretty tasty. I am, of course, using the word "I" loosely here.

For someone to whom getting a haircut means the death of an entire day, this is quite a lot of action. Keep in mind that this all happened before sundown -- and our second big sake tasting of the day. But that, my friends, is a story that will have to wait until tomorrow.