Rice is Japan’s main staple. It shows up nearly every meal, morning, day and night, and is used in the production of many of Japan’s flavorings, desserts, and drinks. Among Japan’s most famous rice products is, of course, sake, and over the centuries, agriculturalists have bred and refined rice varieties especially for its production.
What makes these varieties so suitable to making sake, you ask? Sake rice has larger than normal grains which are rich in starch and low in protein. The high starch content makes producing alcohol easier, and the low protein content prevents off flavors from leeching into the drink. Other important distinctions from table varieties include a sturdier grain—important for polishing the grain without crushing it—and high water-retention.
Learn about Sake through Rice-Planting
Last Saturday, Hakuba held a sake-rice-planting event in the fields of Nodaira across from Hakuba Happo Ski Resort. It is one of three events in a series whose ultimate goal is to produce a special sake called Hakuba Happo Kurobishi. After rice-planting, a harvesting event will be held in autumn, and a bottle-labeling event will be held during winter. About 100 people participated in the first event, planting a Nagano-born variety of sake rice call Sankei Nishiki.
Participants donned straw hats and rain boots before entering the flooded paddies. One by one, they planted rice seedlings in rows in the mud. When they ran out of seedlings, a helpful farmer would toss another bunch from the side of the paddy—usually landing in the water and causing a large splash. After about an hour of hard, muddy work, both paddies were completely planted.
The event ended with a soak in a specially prepared foot bath followed by a barbecue. On the menu was freshly caught red snapper, grilled asparagus and mushrooms, and local sake. Participants were also able to try some of last year’s Kurobishi, which completely sold out in just a few days last February.
Following this event, the rice-harvesting event will be held on October 7, 2018, and the bottle-labeling event will be held around February 2019. Participation in the first event isn’t required, so anyone interested may apply! See the Muratabi Hakuba website for more information and applications (only in Japanese).