Sake – The more you know about it, the better it tastes

“Magic water” is a match for any cuisine
Like beer and wine, sake ingredients are fermented to produce alcohol. Whether it has been heated up to a piping 55°C, or cooled to 5°C, sake can be enjoyed in a range of temperatures. An excellent companion to food, sake complements any kind of cuisine. For example, with either fish or shellfish, sake tends to amplify the delicious elements of food while neutralising any fishy smells. Unlike many other drinks, it also harmonises nicely with fresh fruit. Sake goes well with soup dishes and blends superbly with soy sauce and miso.

The 1,700 sake breweries spread throughout Japan create sake with a variety of different flavours. Sake flavour depends on the quality of the main ingredients: a special type of rice, and water, which constitutes 80 percent of a typical brew. The brewing process itself plays a key role in determining sake flavour.

Sake production methods
Sake can be broadly divided into the three categories of Ginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu and Junmai-shu, depending on the amount of polishing that the rice has undergone. For example, if the rice is polished to 60%, this means the outer part of the brown rice has been taken off by 40%. Rice polished as close to the core of the grain as possible creates a clear, clean taste. Ginjo-shu sake uses white rice polished to less than 60%, koji yeast, water and brewer’s alcohol and employs the Ginjo method of brewing. It has a fruity aroma and a clean taste.

The ingredients of Honjozo-shu sake are white rice polished to less than 70%, koji yeast, water and brewer’s alcohol. It is usually reasonably priced and has an appealing clean flavour. The final category, Junmai-shu sake places no limitations on the degree of rice polishing and is made using only rice, koji yeast and water. Compared to Ginjo-shu and Honjozo-shu, Junmai-shu has a true rice flavour and acidic characteristics.

Niigata's big three quality sakes

These can then be split up into further categories called: Daiginjo-shu, Junmai daiginjo-shu, Ginjo-shu, Junmai ginjo-shu, Junmai-shu and Honjozo-shu.

Taste, aroma and smoothness
Sake can be classed into four main taste categories:
1. rich aroma
2. light and smooth
3. mature
4. full flavoured
Each type matches well with different types of food. Essentially, a light and smooth type of sake suits cuisine that is delicate and subtle, whereas a full flavoured sake suits rich, hearty dishes.

Sake bottles come labelled with a number that shows the Sake Metre Value (SMV). This number gives an indication as to whether the sake is sweet or dry. The lower the number, the sweeter the sake, while a higher number indicates a dry sake with less sugar. Dry sake has a crisp style and sweet sake tastes softer.

Should sake be heated or drunk cold?
Compared to other types of alcohol, the temperature for drinking sake is varied. In Japanese, the terms hiya (chilled) and okan (heated) are used to describe the two different ways to enjoy sake. So should it be hiya or okan? Sake types that taste better chilled are those with a lovely aroma and clean, clear taste such as Ginjo-shu. But be warned, if chilled too much, the aroma vanishes so the best temperature is between 10°C – 15°C.

Full flavoured or acidic sake , like Honjozo-shu, taste better heated. A good way to heat it is to warm the sake bottle in hot water. When sake is heated it becomes sweeter so it’s not recommended to heat more than 35°C. On a chilly winter’s night, nothing tastes as good as a piping hot drink of sake. However, if you enjoy a natural sweet flavour, it is better to keep it to a lukewarm temperature.




Unique Skiing Destinations at the Foothills of Mt. Myoko


©Nagano Prefecture   ©JNTO

Myoko Kogen was the first area to draw the attention of Australians in Niigata Prefecture, one of Japan’s greatest snowy regions. The unique skiing areas spread out along the slopes of the majestic Mt. Myoko, also known as Echigo Fuji for its resemblance to Mt. Fuji, have gained immense popularity. Part of its popularity is also due to its accessibility: it is only a 10-minute drive from the closest highway exit or train station.
A large-scale area with some 60 courses in total, Myoko Kogen is a surefire hit with families, beginners, and experts alike. There is the Akakura area formed by the Akakura Kanko Resort Ski and Akakura Onsen Ski Area, the Ikenotaira area with the Ikenotaira Onsen
skiing area, and the Suginohara area with the Suginohara Ski Resort, each with their own unique features. The Akakura area boasts numerous courses for advanced skiers and facilities aimed at children. Many Australian instructors are available, and the Myoko Snow Academy offers lessons in English for overseas visitors. Moreover, the hot spring town in the foothills is a lively spot with shopping opportunities, offering a great place to visit after skiing. The 800m cross-country course, the many park-style options of the Ikenotaira Onsen skiing area and the extraordinarily long 8,500m course of the Suginohara Ski Resort are also very popular. The variety of hot springs is another big draw to the region.



Hot Skiing Destinations


One of Japan’s Greatest and Most Easily Accessible Snowy Regions


Starting in Niseko in Hokkaido, the ski slopes of Japan became an overnight sensation amongst Aussie skiers for their high level of snowfall and the high quality of the snow itself. After this initial boom in popularity, the wave spread throughout Hokkaido and moved to mainland Japan where areas such as Nagano Prefecture, host to the 1998 Winter Olympics, boast a variety of skiing areas that are popular amongst skiing enthusiasts. However, there is one area that is capturing the attention of overseas skiers on the lookout for the latest and greatest skiing experience. That area is Echigo Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture.
One of Japan’s greatest snowy regions, where the snow builds up several meters in height, Echigo Yuzawa is a location where many bought resort mansions during the initial skiing boom that came to Japan. It is no exaggeration to call Echigo Yuzawa the most popular of the ski resorts in Japan at the time. One of the secrets to this popularity was not just the high quality of the snow and the many attractive skiing areas there, but its ease of access from Tokyo.
Travelling via the high speed bullet train, Echigo Yuzawa is a mere hour’s trip from Tokyo. With such a short travel time, it is no surprise that many jump at the chance to head out from the hustle and bustle of a major urban center like Tokyo to the quiet of the snowy ski resorts.


Indeed, one of the great draws of Echigo Yuzawa for overseas travellers is not just the skiing, but the ease of travelling between this region and Japan’s major urban centres, including Tokyo. The word ‘yu’ that forms part of the name Echigo Yuzawa stands for ‘hot water’, a nod at the hot springs in the region. Echigo Yuzawa is one of the world’s greatest hot spring destinations, being an incredibly popular destination for local Japanese seeking onsen vacations. And it is this combination of hot spring visits and skiing adventures that is another of the reasons that drives the region’s immense popularity.
The waters of the hot springs possess the power to ease tired muscles, making them a great spot to visit and refresh after a day’s skiing. However, there’s more to the hot springs than the refreshment they provide. Simply sitting back in the hot waters amidst the cool weather with a view out over the snowy landscapes and the bright night sky is the very picture of luxury. How about donning a yukata and having an ice-cold beer after warming your body in the hot springs, followed sake and shochu accompanied by traditional Japanese cuisine?
For those looking for a bit more variety, the town of Echigo Yuzawa leaves you spoiled for choice, its many restaurants and hotels offering a style to suit all tastes. From Japanese restaurants and sushi restaurants using local produce to izakaya and western dining, every day offers a new option.


14 ski areas for unsurpassable skiing choices


Echigo Yuzawa is home to 14 ski areas, both large and small. From fresh powder snows to fully groomed runs, mogul skiing and slopes, half-pipes and more, a myriad of options are open to you, regardless of your tastes and style. Perhaps the best known of the ski areas in the Echigo Yuzawa region is the Naeba Ski Resort. This ski resort boasts the highest average elevation of all the skiing areas at Echigo Yuzawa, and an incredible size with long courses up to 4km long. It is also home to the giant Naeba Prince Hotel with 1,224 guest rooms along the slopes, various restaurants, shopping areas, hot springs, and more. The windows of the hotel offer a direct vantage out over the courses, and the rare ski-in, ski- out locations make it easy to get out and hit the slopes. Between the nearby Kagura Ski Resort, formed by the Kagura, Mitsumata, and Tashiro ski areas, and the Naeba Ski Resort, you can find one of the world’s longest gondolas, the Dragondola, which stretches 5,481m in length. The Dragondola makes it easy to access the Kagura, Mitsumata, and Tashiro ski areas from Naeba, creating a massive skiing area with 35 ski lifts and gondolas, and 44 courses. There are many family-oriented courses and a range of advanced courses, and the region is set to be the host for the Alpine Ski World Cup in 2016. With all this on offer, Naeba Ski Resort is a must-see skiing spot for any experienced skier.



Another of the must-see ski areas in the region is the Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort. First-time visitors might be in for a surprise at how easy the skiing area is to access as you step foot out of the bullet train station and straight to the station for the skiing slopes – and all this located just 77 minutes from Tokyo. Another of the resort’s great attractions is the ability to go skiing without having to bring any gear. Over 5,500 of the latest skis and snowboards are available via rental, and with this much choice, you’ll have no trouble finding just the right gear for you. Of course, there are plenty of skiwear facilities on offer, with change rooms, and spacious powder rooms for women. The ease of access from Tokyo and the ability to get all your gear on the slopes makes this ski resort an experience unlike any other. Come and enjoy this rare experience that you will find nowhere else in the world!
Needless to say, the skiing areas themselves are also a great attraction. Gala Yuzawa is a relatively large-scale area with 16 courses, and is connected with the Yuzawa Kogen and Ishiuchi Maruyama skiing areas, allowing you to enjoy three skiing areas at once. Echigo Yuzawa also hosts many other unique skiing experiences that deserve a look.


An area loved by a prolific literary figure

The setting of the world-famous literary work Snow Country (Yukiguni), which begins with the famous sentence “Passing out of the tunnel, the train entered into a world of snow” is none other than Echigo Yuzawa. The tale, which tells of the women living out their lives in the hot springs town as seen by a man visiting this world of snow, is a work of beauty. Reading this work by winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Yasunari Kawabata before travelling to the area will surely add to the enjoyment of your trip.
There are many sights within walking distance or a five-minute taxi ride from Echigo Yuzawa station, and you will have no lack of options for those days away from the slope.
Niigata Prefecture, where Echigo Yuzawa is situated, is known as home to many varieties of wonderful Japanese sake, and the Koshino Muro museum for Japanese sake is a must-see for fans. There are also museums that display exhibits of life as depicted in Snow Country and where you can enjoy foot spas, a tradition of hot spring towns in Japan.
Visitors can find many local goods in Echigo Yuzawa station itself, and there is no end of options for shopping. The station area is Yuzawa Onsen Snow Festival crowded with options for good food, making it a good choice after a day out on the slopes. Another of the area’s attractions is the great range of events held throughout the year. From the start of the season in December until the end of March, fireworks are held throughout the town on the weekends. Then there is Candle Live – SNOW CRYSTAL where over 10,000 candles are placed on display in the hot spring town and skiing areas, as well as the Yuzawa Onsen Yuki Matsuri snow festival which feature portable shrines, fireworks, a beauty context, and people carrying flames while skiing down slopes, and the entire town comes together in an atmosphere of festivity.