Good times at the Sake Festival



This huge vat is used during the sake brewing process. (Photo by Sarah Blankenship Frantz)

By Sarah Blankenship Frantz

Saijo, Hiroshima: The Sake Town. At least, that’s what the brochure I managed to bring back with me calls it.

There are ten sake breweries located in Saijo. I remember visiting approximately three of them as part of an English language tour. Most of the sake breweries are clustered together in a single neighborhood in Saijo. One of the guides told us that the breweries are easily recognizable by their tall brick chimneys, each proudly bearing the name of the brewery.

We also learned that there are three main ingredients to sake: rice, koji (a kind of magic sake-making mold), and water. In order to bear the title of “Saijo Sake,” a three-stage brewing process must be rigorously adhered to. Evidently, this process has been in use since 1650 and involves using only the purest water from Saijo and only the best rice from Hiroshima.

To be honest, I don’t really like sake all that much. I blame this slight dislike on a single incident that occurred more than 12 years ago, involving a large bottle of Okinawan habu sake and the surrealistic state of semi-unconsciousness that followed it.

I prefer beer. In fact, I drank mostly beer at the festival. And, I enjoyed the various festival food items that the ubiquitous vendors had for sale.

We spent the majority of our time in Saijo outside of the famed “all-you-can-drink” tent. By the time we went inside, only the most committed of sake drinkers were still at it.

One such committed drinker, a rather enthusiastic Japanese man, offered me the chance to experience the difference between Saijo sake and Hokkaido sake. When I admitted to him that I couldn’t tell the difference, he nodded his head sagely and told me, like most foreigners, I didn’t have a refined enough palate. I agreed with him. I can’t tell the difference between Asahi and Kirin. But, then again, I can’t even tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Subtlety is an art I have yet to master.

We left the tent before the official “you-don’t-have-to-go-home-but-you-can’t-stay-here” was sounded. About 5 to 10 percent of the crowd was more-or-less unconscious. One girl had the dubious pleasure of having her friends take turns sticking their fingers up her nose and laughing, while she lay there comatose.

Good times, people. Good times.

If you’d like more information about the Saijo Sake Festival, check out the official Web site: