Energy Well

Walking from Kami-imaichi station, the experience was not truly exciting at first! 5 km East of Nikko, alongside Road 121, Imaichi looks too much like another “shutter town” at times … until at last, behind the large rust-tainted metal sign of the brewery, I am welcomed by the smiling Katayamas in their venerable family sake brewery. Together with his toji brother (the toji is the master brewer), Mr. Katayama (6th generation) is crafting Kashiwazakari sake, whose name is derived from Kashiwazaki, the Niigata town the founder of the brewery was coming from, searching for pristine water to brew sake. He found it in 1880 in Imaichi, about 12 meters under the Daya river, downstream of the “Spring of Sake”, one of the sacred waters of the Nikko shrine complex. Visitors come everyday to the brewery to fill empty bottles at the well, one of the 100 famous waters of Kanto. The kura still has its century old wooden structure, which resisted the 1923 and 2011 quakes. For their tiny production (about 18 thousand liters), the Katayamas are still using the labor intensive traditional “sase” pressing method. Cloth bags are filled with moromi (fermentation mash) then lined and stacked up in a press looking like a bathtub (called “fune”).

The best for me that day follows the good sake tasting proposed by Mrs Katayama senior though, who incidentally shows you the fading newspaper picture of her son wearing a football jersey for his university. Energetic Mr. Katayama has now undertaken to bear the standard of Imaichi to change the face of the city with tourism. Shutters are the sign and result of depopulation and aging in what used to be a flourishing trade post on the road to Nikko. Thankfully, as often in Japan, one only has to scratch the surface. Mr. Takayama takes me to discover the amazing old access route to Nikko, a dirt strip lined up with cryptomeria, which still covers about 37 km across and around Imaichi. There is the Daya River Park as well, whose waters come form the Nikko mountain range, the original house producing Tamarizuke pickles, and the other sake brewery, belonging to the not-less smiling Mr Watanabe’s family, amongst a few other landmarks.
Visitors or pilgrims, rather than the railroad to Nikko, why not walk or cycle the last 10 km or more in the shade of cypresses, at the pace of daimyos heading to Nikko to pay tribute to Ieyasu Tokugawa, without neglecting buying a beautiful bento and filling one’s bottles at Katayama shuzou? The excursion then starts to take another meaning…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s