This spring, the Iwaya Valley seems to be especially green.
Families watching the dashed spotlight show on May 21
Wednesday, May 18. Today and tomorrow, it seems, will be cloudy and rainy. We are hoping that it will clear up by the 21st when the dashed spotlight returns to Senkoku-ishi.
Friday, May 20. The day dawns bright and sunny. We decide to go to Senkoku a day early at noon and see what we shall see.
12:48 pm. We station ourselves inside the upper grotto. The light shining on the broad side is now nearing the triangular part of the megalith but has not yet hit the triangle. (Right)
12:54 pm. A spot of light appears in the triangular area, then another. Two spots. How delightful! The dashed spotlight of May 21 will surely appear tomorrow. The peak brightness is at 12:55, and the dashes last until 12:58.
Saturday, May 21. Many people, adults and children alike, gather at Senkoku, anticipating the annual return of the dashed spotlight.
12:53 pm. And here it is! More and more dashes appear, extending downwards (left). The beam of light reaches past the edge of the triangular stone and splashes on the floor (below). We want to catch the light in our hands. It’s alive!
Gradually, the dashes start to blink out, until there is none left at 1:01 pm. We turn our attention away and start to converse with each other.
1:08 pm. Look! Dashes are reappearing, although in different places than before. The sun has moved to a new position in the sky, enabling its beam to strike other bumps on the triangular face. This is doubly delightful! This show lasts until 1:22 pm.
The spotlight of May 21, 2016 has arrived on time. Remember that we have already observed leap day on February 29. If we did not, then the spotlight would have been a day late. The leap-year observation of October 15, 2015 was indeed valid. The millennia-old Kanayama solar calendar is still keeping time accurately!
Kanayama is the home of the famed Okuhida sake. Okuhida Brewery has been making fine sake for going on 300 years (bottom middle). It is located in the center of Kanayama town, housed in a 200-year-old building with a stone floor. Out front hangs a traditional sugitama ball of sugi. When freshly hung, the sugitama is bright green. The ball we see has already turned brown (bottom right), for it was hung in December and now it is May. Sake is brewed in the early winter, from October through March. When the new shin-sake is ready, the green sugitama announces it to those who have been eagerly awaiting it. They say that there is nothing as good as shin-sake.
Mrs. Takagi greets us warmly when we arrive at the tasting room/ museum/ shop (right). She takes us on a tour of the brewery in the back. A pleasant aroma wafts out the door. We first encounter a worker cleaning the large screens which filter the sake. Right after that, we enter a room with huge green vats on the right, and white vats half that size on the left (bottom middle). The green vats contain 10,291 liters of sake. The white vats are for premium sake.
We climb the metal stairs to the bottling room. Bottles are on a kind of conveyor belt, being filled and capped automatically (bottom left). They pass in front of a human worker viewing them with a light box to check for clarity and soundness of the glass bottles. The machinery is able to handle several sizes of bottles. There is even an arm that can pick up six 1.5 liter bottles at a time and crate them.
We enjoy tasting a number of sake. All differ in flavor, some robust, some clear, some fruity, and all are excellent. (I wonder how sake made from rice can be fruity, but it is possible.) The natsu summer wine seems especially refreshing. Okuhida offers pasteurized and nama sake, filtered and nigori sake. They also produce shochu and rice vodka.
Fine sake depends critically on rice and water, among other essentials. Okuhida premium sake is made from premier sake rice Yamada Nishiki from Hyogo-ken. Its other sake are made from Hida Homare, the best sake rice grown in Gifu-ken (Hida). Water comes from the nearby special confluence of the Hida and Maze rivers which are known for their purity (top left). The brewery pumps its water from a 50-meter well and filters it before starting the brewing process.
Sake brewing is a sacred process of nature, kami and man. The presence of kami is honored and blessings are invoked. So when we sip sake, let’s remember that we are connecting with kami and with nature.