Sake Education – Teacher Vs. Enlightener
This is a difficult section to write, but the message is important so I will share a very private and special side of my sake life. There are many sake education programs out there. I have been personally approached to help run, partake, or spearhead a majority of the programs, and for that I am honored, but I was also hesitant for good reason. Sake education is important, but it is not the end-all-be-all. There is another really important side to sake enlightenment that cannot be read or studied. It has to simply happen. And more often than not it is based on a personal experience and a personal relationship. Sake teachers can only teach so much. Sake enlighteners complete your sake experience. And one of my favorite sake enlighteners just passed away and I am very sad about that.
It’s hard to quantify what sort of impact that you have on another human being, especially if there is a language and cultural barrier involved. But certain people stick to you, and you to them. The glue perhaps is wonder and fascination, and the result is enlightenment that cannot come from a book, program, or course. It is almost a duty or a ritual for one person to pass on knowledge to another who is fascinated by the same subject. In this case it was sake, and how one old owner of a restaurant in Osaka took me under his wing to teach me what could not be taught.
I am certain that in the archives of this Newsletter there are at least three accounts of my travels to this special restaurant in Osaka. I probably went on and on about how the owner of the restaurant wanted me to see shades of sake that I had no clue about. He basically made a point to freak me out and to unlearn all of the things that I learned in my books and courses about sake. He deconstructed everything I knew about sake, and showed me that sake wasn’t static and that it took many forms outside the “norms.”
Have you ever tasted a 7-year old nigori sake that had been opened and stored at room temperature? Me neither. Have you ever tasted a frozen Junmai Daiginjo sparkling sake? Me neither. Have you ever tasted a 10-year old honjozo lighly warmed and served in a metal cup? Me neither. It’s things like this. He essentially turned sake on its head and he wanted me to fully understand the “rule” about sake. What rule? The rule that there are no rules for sake appreciation and exploration.
When I first visited this wonderful mom and pop restaurant they gave me my own cup. It’s an amazing vessel that actually captures your sake face in the bottom when empty. (These metal cups were a rage ten years ago and every brewery owner would always carry one in their coat pockets at parties and tasting etc) So in return when I got home I made them a book about my experience. He cherished this book for the next decade, and I would hear from numerous sake peeps that he would always show the book to his guests. We were stuck on each other!
I returned to the restaurant on numerous occasions, with special brewery owner guests and by myself. And every time – announced or unannounced – he knew what he had to share with me. I have many sake diaries and let’s say some of my best additions were on account of this great man. People described him as a “lover of sake” “sake god” “mad sake scientist” “passionate sake guy,” but to me he was a gatekeeper to the unknown and a collector of sake knowledge not made for a book or program. And so I now feel like a large part of my sake being is gone.
Here’s how I found out – I was emailed by Yasutaka Daimon from Daimon Shuzo in Osaka, who frequented the restaurant with me on several occasions:
- B-san, I have to covey very sad news to you.. Hakobe-san of Takojaya passed away few days ago.. Wake will be today and the funeral will be tomorrow. I felt this should be informed you as we had a talk with him while we were at Takojaya in June and he was very happy speaking to you.. Please pray for him with us. Sincerely. Y
- Y-San Thank you for thinking about me. This is very sad news and I'm very sorry for the loss of a great man's life. I hope that his wife feels my thoughts and prayers for her. He taught me a lot and he also shared with me the wonders of sake! He had a way of making sake more special than rice and water. He made me understand the magic in sake and he increased my fascination for sake. I am sad but I am very honored to have met him, laughed with him, and learned from him. He is a part of my history so he lives on in me and my sake endeavors !! I will toast him tonight with a special and magical sake - perhaps made at Daimon Shuzo! I love you my brother ! Take care B
- B-san, Last night at the wake for Hakobe-san, I met his wife at the entrance greeting to attendants. You know what she said instantly when she found me.. “My husband was so happy speaking to Timken-san over telephone..He thanked Timken-san visiting Takojaya remembering him. My husband liked and respected Timken-san very much..” I conveyed your thoughts and prayers for him. She graciously appreciated.. You are absolutely right that people dear to us will never die but live within us forever. He is one on this kind of great soul. Kanpai for Hakobe-san... Sincerely. Y
I realize now that his passing should reinvigorate me and thrust my sake passion forward. It’s funny, but when you do things for over 15 years your flame dims a bit, but reminders such as these makes sake more real for me. It’s an amazing industry filled with many educators – teachers and enlighteners!