Japan Times Archives – 2002, John Guantner

Illustration by Takeuchi ShingoBooks by John Guantner

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2002/08/18

Drinking without thinking

By JOHN GAUNTNER

Although more than half the fun at sake pubs is being an active participant in choosing what you drink, there are times when you don’t want to make that effort. There are times when what you want is simply to chat, or even — heaven forbid — to talk business. On days like this, Gin no Kura can take care of you.

Suminoe’s naka-kumi junmai ginjo from Miyagi Prefecture

Centrally located in Ginza, Gin no Kura provides a quiet, pleasant atmosphere and a dedicated, almost doting staff that eliminate the need for you to think. It is a wonderful opportunity to relax. Just say, “Shower us with victuals and libation.”

Or more effectively, order the course for 7,000 yen. The food served here is best described as complex upscale Japanese. Lots of small, ornamental mouthfuls that are far less simple than they appear, boasting an array of flavors. And needless to say, it all goes well with sake.

There are about 200 sake selections on the massive menu. By far the best thing to do is to chat with one of the three hostess-waitresses and leave it up to them. They all know their sake well. Each selection will be described in loving detail as it is presented.

Gin no Kura is also a great place for warmed sake (though this is hardly the season for it). Not only can the staff help you identify which of the sake benefit from warming, the apparatus used to heat it constitutes half the fun and enjoyment of sampling it.

Here they use a small, bronze covered pan with two holes in the top, into one of which is placed the tokkuri flask holding the sake. In the other hole sits a metal cylinder into which hot charcoal is put. This heats the water in the pan, which then gently and evenly heats the sake, keeping it at a fairly constant temperature.

The feel of the interior is Western-influenced Taisho Era in some places, modern Japanese in others. The juxtaposition is a bit incongruous, perhaps, but easily overlooked — especially in light of the food and sake.

Note that the sixth and seventh floors, while both Gin no Kura, are separate establishments with different prices. The seventh-floor meal course is 10,000 yen. An evening on the sixth floor, meanwhile, will run to about 10 yen,000-15,000 per person. No, it isn’t cheap. But this is Ginza, it is Gin no Kura, and you are on an expense account. Aren’t you?

Gin no Kura is located on Suzuran-dori, which is parallel to and one block west of Chuo-dori, and south of Harumi-dori. Dai-ichi Polestar Bldg. 6-7F, 6-9-13 Ginza; (03) 5568-7450. Open 5:30 p.m.-midnight, Monday through Friday; 5-10 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays. All major credit cards accepted.

* * *
Hasegawa Sakaten is one of the most influential and well-known sake wholesalers in Tokyo. It is responsible for promoting a lot of sake from the boonies that we might otherwise never know about. Indeed, it works hard at making good sake popular and more available to the masses.
Although it is a wholesaler, it also has a retail outlet. This is where you can go to find some of those hard-to-get, recently popular sake that make your local dealer snicker at your naivete when you ask if they carry it.

Here is where you can find Hiroki (Fukushima), Isojiman (Shizuoka), Jokigen (Yamagata) and Suminoe (Miyagi). Others worth the trek out to the Nishi-Ojima store include Gikyo (Aichi), Hatsukame (Shizuoka), Kokuryu (Fukui) and Kissho (Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo).

Naturally, this is but a smattering of what they have in stock. Almost everything is kept wonderfully cold, and the well-organized and compact shop makes searching easy. One gent who mans the counter even speaks English (no guarantees he’ll be there when you go, though).

While there are plenty of reasonably priced sake here, there is a whole range of very expensive sake, too, should your cash be burning a hole in your pocket. There is plenty of shochu, awamore and fine wine (never touch the stuff, myself) as well.

Perhaps the only drawback is that it is a bit out of the way. Certainly, the best way to reach the store is to take a taxi from Nishi-Ojima Station on the Shinjuku Line. A map is at home.att.ne.jp/yellow/SakeHasegawa/images/hasegawa-map.gif

Hasegawa Sakaten is open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; closed Sunday and holidays. 3-24-8 Kitasuna, Koto-ku; (03) 3644-1756.

* * *
On Sept. 10, from 4 to 7 p.m., at the Tokyo Forum complex in Yurakucho, the well-known sake distributor Ota Shoten will be sponsoring Jizake Haku 2002, a tasting of the various sakes from more than 100 sakagura for a mere 1,000 yen.
More information can be found and reservations made at www.cht.co.jp/ota Alternatively, you can make inquiries by telephone; call (03) 3959-7755, or fax (03) 3959-7754.

* * *
Suminoe (Miyagi Prefecture)
Naka-kumi junmai ginjo

Fresh and light, this wonderful example of a typical Miyagi Prefecture sake is outstanding in its balance and subtlety. Somehow, its impact seems more intuitive than overt. It is mildly fragrant, with gentle flavors, smooth and well-rounded. There are four different Suminoe available at Hasegawa, but this 1.8-liter bottle, at 3,000 yen, is as much as you need to spend.

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