Sake warehouses and canals

Hot on the heels of the Hida folk museum we hop on a train to the quiet little town of Hida Furukawa.

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The historic, canal-lined streets, temples and museums of Hida-Furukawa are less crowded than Takayama and the town has a wonderful calming feel, due to small canals full of carp that flow through the streets.

The Seto River and the townscape of white-walled warehouses makes Hida Furukawa a pretty sightseeing spot.

Delicate bamboo water features add a gentle watery calm and a constant ‘boc boc’.

The old streets remain intact, quaint and quiet. Allowing for a peaceful stroll to soak up the atmosphere.

In the old town white walled warehouses sit alongside adorable tiny little canals.

Furukawa, like nearby Takayama, became prosperous in the Edo Period due to the rich timber resources of the surrounding mountains which include cedar, cypress bamboo and pine.

With good water, good rice, and good food, Hida is deeply rooted to sake production in terms of culture, history, industry, and festivals.

This is evidenced by a plethora of Sake breweries and associated paraphernalia.

My favourite cheeky deity, tanuki – the raccoon dog, pops up yet again with his jaunty hat and angled, expressive little face.

Below colourful adverts for Sake and a brewery displays its Sugidama, a distinctive cedar ball.

Sake makers would hang up a fresh green sugidama in November or December, right after they pressed sake made from the new rice harvest.

Customers knew that a few months later, when the sugidama turned completely brown, the sake was ready to drink. It would appear that this brewery’s booze is ready to drink!

For Sakes sake . . .

Another of my Japanese obsessions is the beautifully ornate Sake barrels often found displayed close to shrines.

There is a particularly impressive Sake barrel display close to the entrance of Meiji Jingu Shrine in Shibuyu.

When displayed near a Shinto shrine, such barrels are called kazaridaru, which means “decoration barrels.”

The barrels on display are empty of wine but they do have plenty of spiritual significance.

In some of Japan’s oldest texts the word used for sake is miki, written with the characters for ‘god’ and ‘wine.’ People would go a shrine festival and be given rice wine to drink.

These days, the word miki is reserved for rice wine used in Shinto rites and festivals and drinking it is an act of symbolic unification with the gods.

Therefore Shinto shrines and sake manufacturers have a win win relationship where the shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for the prosperity of the brewers, and the brewers donate the Sake that shrines need for ceremonies and festivals.

Brewers will tend to provide a single bottle, or an empty barrel for display as it’s the kimochi (gesture) that’s important.

Empty barrels received as donations are stacked and bound together, then fixed with rope to a simple frame to keep them from falling over.

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A brief note about the shrine itself – Meiji Jingu Shrine  is a Shinto shrine located in a 175 acre forest. The peaceful forest has around 120,000 trees of 365 different species and is a great people watching spot.

The shrine is dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.

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