Excerpt from Shank’s Mare
About the Region of Hakone
In this portion of their travels, Yaji and Kita have reached the region of Hakone, which is part of Kanagawa prefecture. It is a mountainous region famous for its onsen and saké breweries. One producer from the Inoué Saké Brewery explains that the weather and quality of nature of the Hakone region are perfect for the production of saké.
Some travel agencies even identify Hakone as being the “home base for saké lovers”, and its multiple spas have served as refreshing breaks for travelers since the Edo period (Japan Experience).
Similar to beer, saké is a type of brewed alcoholic drink (from rice grain), which depending on the steps taken in its fermenting process, can be manipulated to create a wide range of saké types.
Although not that common, certain types of saké can be filtered and aged differently to create a “full-flavored” drink, thus creating a darker color. Compared to this aged saké, newer and completely filtered saké will have a transparent color (Smookler, 2015).
However, it is said that saké does not age very well and thus is really rare to find. If someone does find some, it can be hard to differentiate a luxury saké from a stale off-one until someone actually drinks it.
Interestingly, there are occasions when bamboo charcoal is used to darken the saké to create a special edition drink, such as for the 100th anniversary of Akira Kurosawa, a famous Japanese filmmaker.
Shank’s Mare Black Saké
It is only through knowledge of the nature of saké that readers can fully grasp the comedic element of the black saké in Shank’s Mare. In this case, it is highly possible that the street seller is trying to pass off bad saké to Yaji and Kita while trying to convince them that darker saké is better. Following the previously mentioned descriptions of saké filtering processes, this seller’s saké is most likely very impure or over aged, thus explaining Kita’s reaction of disgust. In addition to that, Yaji also mentions that he does not want to drink in a cup that it not “convolvulus”, meaning that the cup in question is not very refined, which adds further indications on the dubious origins of this saké.
Source: “Sake Store in Hakone Mountain Pass, A Spring Day at 6 PM” by Kobayashi Kiyochika
Funny Note About Hakone Today
Nowadays, the city of Hakone is indeed very popular for its many spa resorts, which are conveniently located near Tokyo, providing a sense of escapade with its natural mountains and lakes.
Among all these spas, Yunessun Spa Resort stands out in the tourism industry with its many funky baths. Visitors can choose to bathe in wine, green tea, coffee and even sake, among other possibilities.
Smookler, Marc. http://www.sakesocial.com/blogs/beau/8089223-how-can-you-determine-the-age-of-a-bottle-of-sake
Featured image on blog: http://flowerpoop.com/2012/01/page/4/
Contributors: Jolianne Loignon-Beaudoin and Magda Machula
(Edited by Elle Marsh)