Whilst also in Japan I spent several hours with some rice farmers in Tokushima, and needless to say they were bummed out. Why? Like our State of Florida, which has been bombarded by numerous hurricanes this year, Japan has seen a record year for Typhoons. I actually experienced #21, and was saddened to hear that 60 people had perished in its wake. Not to belittle the devastation to life and property, but the brewing rice crop this season has been smacked around a fair bit.
As you may or may not know - I will cover this in a future newsletter - sake brewing rice stands much taller than table rice and some Yamada Nishiki can reach four feet in height. That is huge considering all of the weight of the stalk is up at the top, where the rice grains are nestled in rows. Well if you add 75mph winds at least 10-15 times in a growing season the results are damaging to say the least. Yamada brewing rice in particular has a thin stalk - as was pointed out by my friend Hiroshi Ujita who owns Tamano Hikari brewery in Kyoto - a brewery that specializes in Omachi brewing rice, which as Hiroshi said "has much thicker stalks" and was not as affected as much as the Yamada.
These farmers showed me fields of rice lying down. It looked like those hoax (or not?) crop circles in England supposedly from UFO's. It was quite sad. Once the rice goes down it gets infested rather quickly with mold etc. And last week was one of the prime weeks to harvest rice - late October. But fear not on two counts. Firstly, I learned a very peculiar but damn interesting technique that these particular farmers used to protect themselves. They actually hand-tied five stalks of Yamada Nishiki together in one living bundle that was still attached to the ground. Thus the stalks played off of each other in the wind and moved in bunches rather than collapsing. Very Cool! Secondly, and more importantly the brewers are used to typhoon seasons like this. They are used to good rice years and bad. This they all say will be a bad rice year, but that means their toji's (head brewers) will have to work all the more hard to turn below average rice into great sake. So let's call this the "season of the toji" and see what good comes from it.