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Monday, October 22, 2012

The Sake Shop Below My Apartment

I have a sake shop/convenience store two levels below my apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan. I lived at 307 Zuiko Haitsu between 1990-1993.

I've written previously about the people there: HERE when they invited me in to have a drink and get wasted and talk about World War II... in which the father had served the Japanese Army. It's an amusing tale, believe it or not, despite the sadness one feels when reading about it. People joined who didn't want to be in the army and forced to battle a foe they had no interest in killing and defending the honor of an Emperor they didn't really consider to be god-like.

That's what I got out of it, anyway.

That little store was dynamite. It was a sleepy little store in which I never saw a customer enter while I was there, and yet the family made a living out of it - enough to afford the apartment directly above their shop and directly below mine.

Now... let's get things straight. This isn't one of those tiny little apartments in a crappy part of town. My place was in the central part of the city (okay, it was called a city, but dammit, it was a town)... but it was also called Zuiko Mansion by the locals because it was the ritziest place in the city... or so I was told. In fact, it was said that a few years before I moved in, a yakuza family (the actual member and his wife) had been murdered in one of the places - so you know it must have been nice.

Anyhow... at seven stories in height, it was, at that time, the tallest place in the city, and had the highest rent for an apartment... not for me, of course. Thanks to the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, my rent was subsidized by the Ohtawara Board of Education (my bosses)... so I only paid $320 a month. Not bad considering my old girlfriend Ashley was paying something like $80 a month... or maybe it was $120... but whatever... my place had a western amenities, while hers had everything a Japanese squat pad should have.

Regardless... the sake shop. Small, quiet, dark and unassuming. The place was always kept neat and tidy and had none of those funny smells or layers of dust on things that I have come to expect from the variety stores in my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

The shop had everything you would expect in a sake shop. Sake is actually the general term for alcohol, and perhaps I should not call this place a sake shop, because all they had was Japanese rice wine... what I thought was called sake... but is in actuality known in Japan as nihonshu.

But, because nihonshu is so utterly Japanese an alcoholic beverage, it was the only main alcoholic drink you could get in Japan in the old days. Nihonshu was sake = Japanese Rice Wine was Alcohol.

There were about 50 different varieties of nihonshu in the shop... neatly kept up and out of the way of the customer... up behind the cashier, in fact. So... if you wanted some tasty nihonshu, you had to ask for it by name, and it would be handed down to you with great humility.

Despite my love of nihonshu... I never actually bought a bottle while in Japan. It was always there at any party and it was always shoveling itself down my throat in copious quantities that would kill a hippo, but had little to no deadly effect on me. I'm 47, and I've never had a hang-over. I've been wasted drunk, but have never had a hangover. I haven't even been drunk since after August 13, 1999. Yeah... I know the date.. though it may have actually been a week earlier when I last got drunk.

If you read the article about this shop attached above, you will know that I have had some nihonshu from this shop and enjoyed myself a lot.

The place did have two things that were a necessity for me, however. It carried large amounts of 2L bottles of Coca-Cola, of which I bought one per day, plus it had the tastiest snack foods on the planet.

It was here that I was first introduced to Pocky... a baked cracker in the shape of a thin straw, 2/3's covered in chocolate or strawberry. I have no idea who would have strawberry after trying chocolate, but good luck to them in hell. I still buy a box a week when I get sushi for lunch from a place near my work. Ahhh... the memories.

The other must have was a pack of dried red squid. Yup... squid. It was a less hard and less dried version of beef jerky... only this stuff was squid. I'm sure I ate so much I must have oozed squid from my pores, but it was good.

Occasionally I would by some Lotte gum, but really, other than the bags of chips, gums, peanuts, rice crackers and other free-dried sea products, there was little else there that caught my attention... and why would it?

This was a sake shop. When you are buying booze... this is the type of stuff you might buy as an accompaniment... I think they had beer, too. yes... yes they did... I'm pretty sure Ashley and Matthew bought beer from here and brought it up to share with me.

Why am I unsure? Because I never actually bought alcohol to drink at my place. It was a rule I had.

Since I knew I could out-drink a fish, and was on my own for the first time ever... I wanted to ensure I didn't turn into the type of guy who needed to drink when he got home. I would gladly drink when other shared with me... and I would gladly drink if out at a bar or a restaurant... but... even though I had a booze cabinet at my place... it was from all the gifts given to me... and I gladly shred them with any woman I was trying to screw... which was all of them... and back then... I mostly successful - even if they didn't drink.

And... while I am now in Toronto in 2012... in the same house I grew up in, I still don't drink alcohol in the house, and now thanks to elevated blood sugar levels, I only drink Coke Zero... but I do have a bottle of sake every now and again... unfortunately there don't seem to be as many women out there who want to screw me... what with the whole married thing.

Somewhere missing that pack of dried squid,
Andrew Joseph

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