HORSE’S MOUTH: For Sake’s Sake!


(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on March 15, 2011.)


In the aftermath of the tragedy in Japan, many who were in the country at the time of the quake and tsunami are now back in the U.S. and they contacted friends via letters upon their return.

A couple of readers sent me copies of the letters they received from their Nisei friends.

Here is one: “I am back in the U.S. Narita Airport opened on Saturday afternoon and Delta Airlines has several planes already parked at the terminal. They used them to fly everyone to LAX and SFO.

“I must commend the Japanese on a terrific show of calm and order in a terrible time. After the earthquake on Friday, Tokyo time, my flight was at 4 p.m. They evacuated the entire airport on the tarmac and then slowly, slowly let us back in as they checked the floors for safety.

“They had stockpiles of water, food, blankets and they distributed them in an orderly fashion. The bathrooms were clean, electricity and wireless were re-established quickly, cell phones worked well, and even after 24 hours of virtually no airport operation, there was not a piece of paper or trash to be seen anywhere.

“Even at an earthquake of 7.6 (this is what they estimated it to be at Narita) and a hughe amount of shaking for two to three minutes (I saw a 747 jetliner shaking p and down and dove under a table in the Delta Club room), no windows popped and no ceiling tiles fell, elevators were restored, and there was no visible damage to the airport.7

“The staff was polite, calm and helpful and always there (they never went home). And because they were calm and because there were no shortage of water and food, everyone else was calm and it was a civil atmosphere. We slept on the floor next to each other, hundreds of us. They even had baby food and diapers for mothers. We watched the devastation in northern Japan on TV, and Narita floors seemed such a luxurious place afterwards.

“By noon the second day, you could see them preparing the planes and having their engineers check the runways. Their biggest problem, as we understood, were the dozens of planes that were already in the air when the earthquake struck and were diverted to U.S. military bases (poor fellows spent the entire night in the plane after crossing the Pacific because the U.S. bases cannot process passports and paperwork for civilians). These planes started landing around noon and the Delta flights started leaving at 3 p.m. I got on the second flight out at 4 p.m. and only a 24-hour delay. Amazing.

“They got Narita operational in 24 hours after a major quake.

“This was amazing. No building went down in Tokyo (some of my friends were on the 33rd floor in a hotel in Tokyo and no windows even popped out but the building swayed for 30 minutes).

“No one should be in a 9.0 earthquake but if you are in one, you should be in Japan. They know how to handle earthquakes.”

Thanks for the letter. It’s nice to get the thoughts of one who lived through the disaster.

Continuing with a little more “Japan flavor,” I would guess that we wouldn’t expect to see a feature story about the Japanese alcoholic beverage, sake, in the Las Vegas Review Journal.

But, there it was in the Wednesday edition with the heading, “Traditional Japanese Beverage Adapting to American Palate.”

It tells facts about sake that even Japanese Americans who enjoy it may not know. It reads like this:

“There are a few things about sake that may seem a little confusing. For one thing, sake is brewed.

“ ‘The biggest common misconception is that it’s a rice wine,’ says Hayes Swope, a sake sommelier and regional director of operations at Sushisamba at The Shoppes at Palazzo. ‘It’s actually a brewed beverage that is closer to beer.’

“Then again, Mike Iwase, certified sake specialist for Southern Wine and Spirits in Las Vegas, makes a parallel to wine. A lot of sake today is tailored for the American clientele, he said. ‘Hence the birth of sparkling sake, flavored sake, a riesling-like sake.’ Some of these sakes, he said, are ‘easier to drink,’ similar to fruit-flavored wines.

“ ‘I feel that anything wine can do, we can do and then some,’ Iwase said.

“Then there’s the issue of hot — more properly, warm — sake. Chilled slightly, Iwase said, all sakes taste very different. ‘Warm, they all taste mostly the same. People who like warm sake aren’t looking for that flavor profile.’

“But Dieter Xiao, a sake specialist and general manager of Shibuya at the MGM Grand, says that in Japan, warm sake is seeing a resurgence.

“ ‘A lot of people think that warm sake is low-quality and it used to be,’ he said. ‘And a lot of it is, but there’s also a lot of premium sake that’s meant to be served warm. It depends on the brewmaster’s desire. You see it on the label sometimes. ‘The brewmaster recommends the sake to be served at room temperature or warm.’

“What’s not open to opinion, though, is that sake sales in Vegas are ‘skyrocketing,’ Iwase said, with a substantial increase in the past four years.

“ ‘Even in the difficult economic times, we were one of the only divisions that were growing,’ he added.

“There remains a bit of confusion and hesitation about sake, however.

“Historically, sake sold in the United States wasn’t the type to engender ardent fans, Swope said. During World War II, Japan used much of its rice in its war effort. Brewers, he said, ‘were just starting to play with the premium sakes,’ and those were outlawed during the war so rice could be used for jet fuel.

“After the war, only futsu — ordinary, or table sake, which can be made from any type of rice — was exported, Swope said, and that was generally served warm.

“When the sake is heated, it masks the impurities in the sake and makes it tolerable, and Japan would keep the best sake for itself.

“In the postwar years, brewers started creating ever-more premium sake as production started to incorporate industrial advances. Sake grades are based on how much of the rice is polished away, and only sake rice can be used for the premium grades …

“Ironically, the sake boom in Vegas mirrors a decrease in sales in Japan, where consumption has fallen to an all-time low. Even before the recent earthquake disaster, Iwase said breweries were closing every year because while the older generations still drink sake, their younger counterparts are turning to beverages with more alcohol content, which are tantamount to vodka.”

Las Vegas is normally a very hot place, so sake experts suggest that consumers try to avoid really hot sake in their local sushi places.

And one doesn’t have to spend a fortune to try a glass of sake.

Patrons in Vegas are becoming more educated on sake. They’re realizing that sake isn’t just that rubbing-alcohol hot beverage.

The next time I journey to Vegas, I’m going to check the bar at The Cal to see if they do serve sake. I never gave it much thought, but after reading the foregoing, I’m sure they do.

I got a kick out of the lawsuit field by three women who claim their hotel room was infested with bedbugs and they were bitten numerous times.

What kind of hotel were they staying at?

I’ve traveled the world over during my younger days and stayed at a lot of hotels, but I encountered bedbugs only once.

That was in Caracas, Venezuela. I had booked a room at a hotel used by foreign tourists but for some reason, the hotel lost my reservation so I had to look around the city for an opening.

I found a place that resembled something that might be found in downtown Los Angeles on 5th and Main. So I wasn’t surprised when I entered the room and turned the lights on and found dozens of bedbugs crawling around on the bed.

Of course, when I turned on the lights, they all scrambled into hiding places.

I got on the house phone and called the front desk to tell the manager about the bedbugs and how they scattered when I turned on the room light.

So what do you think the manager said?

“Keep the room lights on.”

I was out of there faster than the bedbugs disappearing.

So I went back to the original hotel where I was supposed to have a room and sat on a couch in the lobby after telling the desk clerk, “If you get an opening, let me know.”

Well, I stayed up all night and fortunately, the next day, they got a cancellation and I was able to sleep — without bedbugs.

From time to time readers mail me tidbits about things that are unique.

And, when I print it, some other readers would challenge the information.

At any rate, this is the latest of these types of tidbits. It was sent to me from reader Pedro Trujillo. It read:

“This year we are going to experience four unusual dates: 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11, and that’s not all. Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born. Now add the age you will be this year and the results will be 111 for everyone. This is the year of money. This October will have five Sundays, five Mondays and five Saturdays.

“This only happens every 823 years. These particular years are known as ‘Moneybag.’

“The proverb goes that if you send this to eight good friends, money will appear in the next four days as is explained in Chinese feng-shui. Those who don’t continue the chain won’t receive. It’s a mystery, but worth a try.”

Heh, heh. No wonder I’m poor. I don’t have eight friends to forward the chain letter to.

I’ll toss this in to see how many of you know about vegetables.

In this case, what do you think is the most despised veggie? Okay, here are the top five most disliked veggies:

No. 1 is parsnips.

Following parsnips is Swiss chard.

In third place, bok choy.

Fourth place, turnips.

And in fifth, artichokes and eggplants.

Kind of disappointed that artichokes finish so low. It’s one of my favorites. However, I guess the way artichokes have to be eaten might have something to do with their lack of popularity.

Yeah, and I like eggplants. Probably most JAs would place eggplants closer to the top.

At any rate, since they listed bok choy (I can’t eben identify it), I’m surprised they didn’t list natto.

And a final few comments about the tragedy in Japan.

While it brought out so many folks to help with donations for the victims of the earthquakes, it also brought into the spotlight what is referred to as the “sister-city connection.”

It was surprising how many U.S. cities do have sister-city ties with cities in Japan.

For example, Riverside has sister-city ties with Sendai, which was among the hardest hit by the quake and tsunami.

Which brings me to the question: How did cities in the U.S. come to establish ties with cities in Japan?

For example, our own Gardena has ties with Ichikawa.

If I didn’t have a map to check, I couldn’t tell you where Ichikawa was located in Japan.

And, we all know that Los Angeles is tied with Nagoya.

Oh well…

By the way, in the Japan disaster, the word “tsunami” was used frequently but I have yet to hear any newscaster or other media persons explain how ”tsunami” came to be used to describe the destructive ocean waves following an earthquake. Perhaps some of you may be wondering, too.

In Japanese, “tsu,” in this case, means “tidal” and “nami” is “wave.” Therefore, “tsunami” is defined as “tidal wave.”



George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail by e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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