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.
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.