CRAFTBEERU Vol. 5- Minoh Brewing

Up early on a cold morning before Christmas we met Kaori, the brewmaster of Minoh brewing. Located just outside of Osaka Kaori had agreed to pick us up at the station to let us tag along for their venture of picking Yu-Zu, a Japanese citrus that they use in their White Ale. We traveled 40 minutes into the the countryside outside of Osaka. To which direction we went we cannot say, but when we arrived it was up a small driveway that veered out of a valley, to an old style house at the base of a large mountain. Next to the home up this driveway was a Jinja, a Shinto shrine–spirits or gods (Shinto literally meaning “the way of gods[spirits]”) are believed to live and embody natural forms like rivers, mountains, rocks, trees etc. We parked and followed Kaori up a path that led to what seemed like a backyard except much larger and lined with yuzu trees.

This was the orchard we were going to be harvesting from. The property was quite interesting and seemed to be filled with history. We met the crew, had some coffee, and they all got to work. As did we, filming and getting plenty of b-roll. The amount of yuzu they needed was going to take hours so when we were were satisfied with our filming, we joined our new friends on the ladders and with pruners in hand began harvesting the fruit. Now unlike many fruit trees, we learned that with yuzu if you prune the branches the fruit comes back smaller and less tasteful the next year. The trees looked crazy, amplified by the fact that this particular variety of citrus tree is riddled with long sharp thorns that exist on the trunks, out the branches, and all the way up to the fruit.

We went with the whole Minoh crew on the car ride back. We chatted about car games and similarities and differences. We taught them how to play Jello, and about the license plate game. And they told us about a name/word (shiritori) game where you have to say a word and then the next person has to use the last syllable in starting a new word. We headed to the brewery, got a full tour before stopping at the brewhouse where Kaori treated us to a wonderful meal and a sample of all their beers. We learned more about the family nature of her brewery and we complemented a great deal of the design. It was a true treat.

A few days later we went to interview Kaori at the Minoh headquarters. We had also been graciously invited to their Bonenkai (end of the year party) which we were thoroughly looking forward to. Prepping on the trains, grabbing an Onigiri mid-stride, and running through the rain, we made it to Minoh in time, set up, and conducted a interview, albeit a little soaked. It was a fabulous interview mostly due to Kaori being a total angel. She is very strong and you can tell she cares a great deal about all those she works with.

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After the interview, we packed our stuff up and went to meet all of the staff. This party was clearly for everyone to just enjoy, and everyone was. Kids, parents, families, couples; all parties were represented. And though this wasn’t a huge gathering, with the aforementioned diversity it was such a cohesive one. It was one big family that loved one another. All the food came to the table: fish, seaweed, rice, some small pizzas, pickled things, and of course KFC fried chicken (a Christmas tradition).

We ate it all and enjoyed it with a plethora of good beers. It wasn’t before long that Talon had to have a little wasabi contest with an older gentle man there. He started it. And Talon finished it. Ha But quite seriously we ate some wasabi and it was hot. We chatted about culture as often people do when from such different cultures, we even had the lovely experience of guessing people’s ages and having them guess ours. It’s probably the beards and the fact that they are quite rare in Japan that placed their guesses so high. Anyway it wasn’t before long until kids were playing and many of the adults had turned to other entertainment: specifically armwrestling–which was a blast. Talon even got involved as many wanted him to. He beat some and was beat by others. We had a riot of a good time.

As the party wound down, those who wanted to, went out to a local bar and had some more drinks and some oden. Popular during the cold season oden is essentially stuff cooking in broth–like potatoes, daikon, fish cake, and this place even had cow tongue. With big smiles we gave our goodbyes and headed back to our hostel.

 

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CRAFTBEERU Vol. 4 – Rise and Win

Continuing with our trend of early morning’s, the 19th came fast. Yusuke, picked us up and we again traveled to the wonderful Zero waste town of Kamikatsu. He was a lovely host and explained much as we drove. We had a bit of time to waste so we got some pick-up shots and prepped the interview. Elijah has been doing the majority of the Japanese interviews, with me asking any questions that come to mind during the process. Elijah and I get along like a Hammer and an Axe. These objects can be blunt and combative, but wielded correctly they can sharpen and strengthen one another–you give them some wood to whittle or a project to pursue and you can create something beautiful…or tear it all down. Anyway, what I mean to say is that we’re really enjoying working together!

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In the morning while we waited for Tanaka-san to arrive, we filmed the process of beer making. Yusuke was a gracious host especially for a brewer at work. He chatted with us about times for brewing and where we would like to set up. As the steam from the kettle rose in the air, that familiar smell filled our nostrils and our hearts. Yusuke and his assistant (who happened to be a wearing a blazers sports cap) completed the whole process on their small system.

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The brewing assistant wearing some Portland swag. A souvenir from Yusuke’s recent trip. 

Little after noon Tanaka-san arrived, and excited to interview him we sat down and started chatting right away. He enlightened us further to the principles that drive the Rise and Win brewery and the efforts they are making to spread the movement. He also let us know of a Zero Waste School he is working on, in collaboration with the local University. He hopes to provide beer lovers with a way to study its process as well as students the opportunity to understand how zero waste is possible and an important philosophy for the future. Then for some reason or another some local drone company stopped by for the first flight of their new drone. They were actually from Kamiyama, a business that had a secondary office in a rural area in connection with the future conference where we had been the night before. Pretty amazing to see in action and out of complete serendipity.

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Drone, drone, drone…to be honest, it kind of scared us.

I asked Tanaka-san if he knew them or knew what they were doing and he said no, he had only just met them and had only just heard that they were doing their maiden flight. Impressed and smiling I replied, “Small towns right”. To which he said, “Yup, small towns”.

To our luck Tanaka-san was actually returning to Osaka later that night, but would of ended up taking a bus, then a taxi, then a ferry, then a taxi then a train to get to. So after interviewing, laughing, and chatting–some about Japan’s rich history with Marijuana (it has been used for Shinto Spiritual Practices, along with hemp, for thousands of years and still is), we left.

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We love cars and driving and especially through rural country-side with so many people and places and evolving landscapes, it truly gives perspective of the visual world within which we all move.

We learned new words and spoke about other national issues, some of which are sadly commonplace throughout much of the world: corruption, intergenerational justice, disparity among the sexes. But in Japan specifically, there is a great problem with Large cities taking all the resources. When people leave, the private bus lines leave, and with cars being so expensive and impractical to own many towns are literally being abandoned. Historically, a family passes down a house to their children, but all the young ones are off to the big cities, which ultimately sucks more money out of the small communities as they try to help their children achieve their goals. But of course in the city, much of this money is frivolously spent on things that are solely necessary in the city: travel, various forms of entertainment, high priced meals, etc. But of course they get paid more. And this is truly the irony of it all. They aren’t paid more because the jobs are better, they are paid more because of the cost of living in and around the big cities. So at the end of the day having a lower paying job, somewhere further outside of the cities would essentially yield you the same if not more money to do things YOU truly want to do as compared to a much “better” job in the city. These are the issues that we keep hearing about here and in the states. As Tanaka-san says, ‘if you can talk about an issue, you can better understand it, so that why I’m interested in beer, it’s a communication tool!’.

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Nonetheless, the ride mellowed out as we approached the city and the conversation turned less heated. We talked about things everyone loves like beer, boobs, bells, bacon, bacations (no letter v in Japanese, its starts with a b), and many other things starting with B. Along the way we even got to take a pitstop at their supporting company and meet their friendly pet goat, who only seemed to want to fight.  

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In Osaka, after a quick but large meal ordered from a vending machine and handed to the waitress, we got to our hostel. This night we got to sleep quickly. Tomorrow was another early in the morning but an exciting one. We were going to meet Kaori-san of Minoh beer and head into the mountains to pick Yuzu for their winter ale!

CRAFTBEERU Vol 3. – Tokushima

So plans changed a bit as they often do, and often everyday when traveling. When we first started this journey we were very excited and we really thought it could be something great. Now we are thoroughly elated and are convinced this project will blossom into something great. And this is very much all thanks to the abundant support we continue to receive, so Thank you, everyone, even just for reading this, it’s hard to describe–especially through such an interface–but we are very thankful to have every bit of help and support. And though you have by no means heard the last of this appreciative oration, I’ll continue onto to the nuts and bolts.

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We traveled to Wakayama city, the largest city in the Wakayama prefecture located to the South of Osaka. After checking into Rico, a lovely guesthouse with a particular love for Portland OR, we headed off to Nest, a local beer bar run by Majime-san a good friend of Yasuhito. The spot is awesome and a definite recommendation to everyone. It’s located in what was the ticketing room on the bottom floor of a old movie theater. Lots of wood, and walls covered in amazing original artwork by a wildly incredible Nara-based artist we actually more recently got the pleasure to meet. (Whos name I will have to find later). And besides the amazing art along all the walls and counter, all the wood and the four taps of local joy, the attached once movie theater was renovated into an indoor rock gym. Pretty Cool. We met the local staff and some local patrons and gave Yasuhito a special bottle we had brought, which he, in spendid fasion, wanted to open immediately with everyone–shout out to Plough Mondays, we love your Breaky Porter http://ploughmonday.com/ Drink thier beer, its organic and delicious, out of Veneta OR. 

Though quite tired from travel, with all our luggage, we could not refuse having a second round as the company and environment was just too stellar. This quickly turned into getting some Takoyaki at a local spot, another friend of Yasuhito’s. The place is called Eight and it consists of a single bar stretching maybe 14 seats and darn is it good. Not sure if you reading this have ever had takoyaki, but essentially it’s a savory ball pancake with a peice of octopus in the middle. Might not sound that appetizing to many westerners, but it’s well worth trying–just please be careful because takoyaki more than any other Japanese food has a tendency to burn the tiddlywinks out of your mouth. As it was late at this point I recall having a few alcohol induced conversations, most of which climaxing at the point of both Elijah and I being  わかいーな[wakai](so young). Of course I suppose this is true, and boy did it blow people away when we pulled out our multilingual card and proclaimed we were making a documentary. =) Oh the joy of life in Japan.

Heading back to Rico we found ourselves heading to the roof to check the scene of wonderful Wakayama. If you ever get a chance it is a wonderful town with kind people, excellent ramen, good beer, and an cool castle in the center! Soon there after we got hit the hay. Tomorrow was early up as we were going to travel quite a ways to Kamikatsu’s Rise and Win Brewery.

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Yasuhito, our ever-present and benevolent guide on the way to Kamikatsu. 

The next morning came without hesitation. Elijah and I, most likely out of excitement, were quite on time, even after having to organize all our luggage and equipment before embarking. To our surprise though, we had to wait a few minutes and I was able to once again bound to the roof and catch the morning mist as it caressed the warmly lit buildings of Wakayama. Yasuhito and Majimesan picked us up and we headed for the ferry. It was a two hour trip from Wakayama city harbor to Tokushima on Shikoku island which is the island to the south of Honshu (Japans main island), and to the west of Osaka. The ferry was a nice opportunity to relax and regain a bit of sleep lost the night before. Interestingly enough, but not surprising, the ferry had its own pair of two young anime characters which showed up around the boat, like in the bathroom, cafeteria and even on the hull itself. I also remember commenting on how most westerners would probably not know what to do in the lounge because the majority of the hang out area was essentially just flat carpet space where people would take off their shoes. It even took me a minute to figure out what exactly the space was used for. 

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Driving out to the country-side always makes me personally feel a bit nostalgic and it’s a nice buffer time relax into a more rural feeling, from the quite fast paced cities of Japan. Rise and Win brewery is just beautiful.

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Sitting on a hill, you are confronted with a beautiful red building, one face of which is made entirely of windows of different sizes and shapes. The entire building actually is made of 100% recycled materials and this definitely comes through into the character of the building. It sits on top of a hill overlooking the small town of Kamikatsu, which itself is nestled into a small valley at the base of 3 converging mountains. The scenery is stunning. The brewing portion and the shop portion are separated by a covered entryway. Both entries are made of full glass allowing viewing into both the shop and the brewery. Entering the shop, you see a magnificent wine bottle chandelier. They were cleaning this day and it was beautiful seeing the contrast of the windows and the man with his pole scrubber washing them. We met various employees of the brewery and were given a full tour. After taking some B roll, we headed up the road to have some lunch and learn more about the town. After a wonderful traditional lunch, consisting of many small dishes with rice, we stopped at a recycle center and and began to learn more. Turns out this town was once known for its trash.

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Kamikatsu like many small towns had a bit of a trash problem. There was no trash service this far out and so most people burned their trash and reused what recyclables they could. But Kamikatsu did one worse and all the people burned their trash together; everything, in one place. And other surrounding towns took to this and started using Kamikatsu as a dump. This obviously led to a great deal of burning trash and to the point where the fire would burn 24/7. We learned all this from a good friend Eisuke, who had lived there his whole life. He said it was this very spot where people would bring their trash, throwing it off the edge onto the ever burning fire. “Hell, we used to call it” he said. And if you can imagine at all, trash burning 24/7 for months, even years in one location you an imagine this place. Of course however the townspeople soon realized they could not do this forever, and were inspired to clean it all up and begin their movement. This town today is known for being the zero waste town.

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On the same location now sits a recycle center with a whomping 47 different categories of trash recycle. As of last year it recycled or composted 80 percent of its waste and the goal is by 2020 to be 100 percent zero waste. And the brewery fully embraces its towns model and it was because of this movement the location was even decided. The brewery is known by many to be the zero waste brewery. As said before their entire brewery is made of recycled materials. They compost all their used materials and even use ingredients creatively in their beer that would otherwise just be disposed of–like yuzu peel, a type of Japanese citrus.  

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Nakamura-san (aka Yoda) showing us artwork on the second floor of his home.

As if this wasn’t amazing enough. After seeing this we then went to visit a legendary character everyone kept referring to as Yoda–which lets be honest thats a hard name to live up to. But good lord this guy. So we drove up the ravine between the mountains further and further until we were climbing the mountain and just about 200 feet from the top we stopped and tucked the cars into a small  driveway. Rounding a bend in the path we come to a house that looks like it came from the 1700s–not that it was old looking, on the contrary it seemed very well unkept. The style was quite old tho. There was a woodshed with a water tank on top and a two story wood home. I will post a video because the place was stunning. All the technology was old. Wood heated home, fire cooking, and only one small light we saw. And then Nakamurasan, himself, the legend. Beaming with a smile not dissimilar to the Dahli Lama himself, he greeted us and welcomed us into his home. He talked to us about how he lives and things he needs, which weren’t much. Simply put it is very inspiring to actually meet these people walking the walk. Of course its great to live in the woods and separate ourselves, from all the distractions of modern living–all the conveniences that really only distance us from things that really are quite important in life: food, our home, family, friends etc. This guy if I could only explain was amazing. It is an experience that I honestly have a hard time putting into words–spending time with this man. He had traveled for 15 years by himself studying in Tibetan monasteries and learning calligraphy and woodblock skills. He told us of his travels and showed us all homemade journals and books filled with his beautiful art. It is a day I will not be forgetting soon.

Take a look at Nakamura-san house HERE

Leaving his home, truly feeling as if our heads were in the clouds over the prophetic man we had just spent time with we left Kamikatsu and headed for Kamiyama, (God Mountain). In Kamiyama we took part in a Future conference with Yasuhito. The conference centered on positive solutions for a changing country. Specifically discussing ways to revitalize communities where many of the young people have moved to big cities. We’ll talk more about our experience in our next blog update!

That night, before going to sleep, the moon was bright and stars were out in full for us to capture the skyline.

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