In March of 2006, I went over to Japan for the first time, an experience which in the grand scheme of things would one day have big repercussions. My exposure to Japanese culture had pretty much been limited to the few anime i could stomach and video games that i had been playing since the fifth grade. I had no interest in the food or drink, i was only there to visit some arcades and see the pretty lights. I expected to live on McDonalds and Starbucks while ducking into bars hoping that they spoke enough English for me to order a decent vodka and tonic.
As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that I actually ended up living on doughnuts, bread, and french fries for most of the trip and avoided McDonalds and Starbucks completely. I should also mention that I managed to lose around 10lbs over the course of ten days. It turns out that "not trying new foods in a foreign country" is a pretty good weight loss plan.
My understating of sake was pretty similar to what most westerners envision when they hear the word. exotic looking ceramic bottles filled with warm, not exactly foul tasting liquid which wont offend your tongue too badly as long as you drink it fast enough.
Our first night in Tokyo ended with us to grabbing dinner at the Ginza Lion, a delightful beer hall for salarymen and expats and most definitely not a place that comes up when discussing sake. My friend Eddy, whose self imposed task in life is to convince me to branch out and try new things regardless of how often rebuff him, ordered up a little bottle of Hakutsuru Draft Sake(it was the only option apart from "house sake" on the menu, and years of experience has taught me that "house"-anything is typically a bad idea in all but the finest eateries). After some insistence on his part and careful debate and deliberation on mine, I finally decided to have a sip...
Just a sip.
There was no mind blowing revelation that night, as Hakutsuru Draft isn't the finest example of quality that nihonshu has to offer, but it opened a very important door and led to me developing an appreciation which eventually became a serious passion, even though it's happened at something of a glacial pace.
But everything needs to start somewhere, and the events of that evening have led to this. These days i try to educate my friends (and anyone who will listen) on sake, to share what I've learned and to correct those misconceptions that so many westerners (and there are many) have about what's become my favorite beverage.
There are some excellent blogs out there devoted to sake and izakayas, sites like Tim Sullivan's Urban Sake are outstanding resources for the serious sake fan. but my intention here is more entry level, with a focus on just talking about my experiences trying new sakes and izakaya along with some photos of my journeys.