Wow, it has been a month since I have posted, my apologies to anyone left reading! Although I am writing about my attempt to change careers from a lab scientist to a saké brewer, I am falling behind in my narrative compared to my present life. And in the past month, I have been extremely busy trying to wrap things up in the laboratory, pack up my apartment, and leave Tokyo. Hence, the lack of posts. So part of my plan has already evolved- I have leapt from the laboratory, perhaps for the last time, and am hopefully going to land solidly on two feet in the land of nihonshu (saké).
As I am falling behind in my story, I will get back to it, perhaps a little more speedily.
In my last post, I was sitting in the second floor meeting room of Fuyou shuzo (shuzo(酒造)=saké brewery), in Saku city(佐久市), Nagano prefecture(長野県), contemplating how I got there and what I was going to say to the owner, who was due to arrive any minute. Footsteps on the steep staircase (in many of the older buildings and castles, staircases are so steep, that they are more like fixed ladders) announced his approach. The table in the middle of the room was quite large, actually 4 tables that had been put together to form a box, so he sat at the table adjacent mine. Holding my resume and letter in hand, he began reading and flipping through the pages, making “hmmn” and other deep throated noises. He began by saying my name, to make sure of the pronunciation, and asking me where I was from. This was a good place to start as I feel pretty comfortable introducing myself in Japanese, as one gets lots of practice doing introductions in Japan. This led into my science background, my research at the U of Tokyo, and then onto nihonshu (日本酒). On the blackboard was written the saké brewing process in detail, and we began to discuss the main points and he asked me a few questions, I assume to determine my level of understanding.
It was at this time his wife returned with a tray of green tea and to my delight, sweets. She placed them in front of us while her husband was talking, ever so slightly bowed, and left us. “Hai, dozo” he said. “Arigato, itadakimasu” I said before trying the small pastry filled with anko, a sweet, red-bean paste- very delicious. We talked a little more about why I wanted to work in saké brewery in Saku, and then he explained about the types of saké that he makes. To his left were bottles of all his products and he beckoned me over. It was time for tasting! One of the perks of interviewing inside a saké brewery. And as I had cycled there, there would be no need for spitting today. He said he was curious to know what a Canadian palate preferred. We began with some Junmaishu (純米酒)(made from only rice, water, koji and yeast) and then moved onto a very dry (+13!) Honjozo (本醸造) that he said was a perfect match for yaki niku (grilled meat). Then we started to taste the good stuff, his Ginjo (吟醸) and Daiginjo (大吟醸) saké, but he put them in a cup before I knew this, and asked me which one I preferred. I am not sure if this was a test, but it felt like it, so I tried to relax, carefully considered, and told him my preference. He smiled and said I liked the Daiginjo, which incidentally was about $35 a bottle, compared to the Ginjo which he sold for $20.
Sitting back down, feeling relieved I had made a good impression (or so I felt), and also a little bit buzzed from the 10 or so small cups of saké I just consumed, he wrapped up our hour-long interview. He would consider my request and asked me to contact him next week. I thanked him, felt very good about the whole encounter, and we walked downstairs. He said he would give me a tour of the brewery, always fun, and we went from room to room, checking out the fermenting saké in the 5000 litre tanks, the muro (the room where they make koji), the yeast starter, and other fun things like that. He then walked me to the front, and I was out into the winter cold, but with a warm belly of saké and the possibility of a job. One no, one uncertain, and one maybe- not bad for my first day of cold-calling.