Japanese sake brewers revive interest by using Western fermentation processes to create “Champagne Sake”


RocketNews 24:

As imports of Western drinks increase, interest in Japan’s native alcoholic beverages has been declining. There have been efforts to bring drinkers back to traditional drinks such as sake and shochu, but they face tough competition from the likes of wine and champagne, which evoke fashionable, sophisticated images in the minds of Japanese drinkers.

One way to revive interest could be to apply Western fermentation techniques to Eastern beverages such as sake, Japan’s “rice wine”, to create unique twists on traditional drinks.Champagne sake” is an example of this done deliciously right.

Traditional or “real” champagne is sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France which, after the usual fermentation process, are fermented a second time in the bottle to produce the carbonation. In other words, it’s this special process of secondary fermentation that gives a glass of bubbly its bubbles. People all over the world, including Japan, like to crack open a bottle to celebrate special occasions. At other times, many Japanese people are partial to sake, or nihonshu as it’s known in its native land, a popular alcohol with a long history made from fermented rice.

But what do you get when you apply the fermentation process used to make champagne to sake? Well, you get an effect similar to champagne, but with that special rice wine flavor!

Because of the in-bottle fermentation process, as with champagne, you get the fizz of fine bubbles jumping out at you when you open the cap. It’s different to “sparkling sake“, which has recently seen a boom in popularity, which is simply sake with added carbonation and is more like an alco-pop with around 5% alcohol content. When using the champagne secondary fermentation process, the resultant drink has a fruity flavor and is around 12% proof. It’s very easy to get carried away drinking too much of it but, since it’s made from only rice and natural water, if you’re going to drink alcohol then this is probably a reasonably healthy choice! Apparently it goes well not only with Japanese food, but with Chinese and Western cuisine, too.


Shusen Kurano is the oldest sake brewer in Nagano and the seventh oldest in all of Japan, and they are extremely proud of their “champagne sake”, called Kawanakajima-Fuwarin, which is different to all the traditional sake they produce. Founded in 1540, Shusen Kurano has over 470 years of history and it’s even said that the famous daimyo Takeda Shingen drank their sake at the Battles of Kawanakajima. While champagne sake may not have been around at the time, if it had been he surely would have enjoyed cracking open a bottle after a win on the battlefield.

Kawanakajima-Fuwarin retails on the brewery’s website at 450 yen (US$3.70) for 180 ml, 750 yen ($6.20) for 300ml, and 1,250 yen ($10.30) for 500ml. If you do pick any up, be sure to let us know what you think.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s awesome samurai armor exhibition

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RocketNews 24:

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, also known by the acronym LACMA, the museum is right in the middle of its exhibition titled Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.

Swiss transplant and Texas real estate mogul Gabriel has amassed a staggering array of samurai protective gear, a portion of which is currently on loan to the museum located adjacent to Hancock Park on Wilshire Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles.

▼ Note the tengu (raven) motif of the face plate for the left set of armor.

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▼ Helmet ornamentation, from animal-like to religious to just plain massive.

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More than 140 pieces including lamellar breastplates, helms, face guards, and barding are on display. The exhibit is centered on armor worn by high-ranking samurai and daimyo, the regional warlords who ruled fiefs during Japan’s feudal era.

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The pieces vary in age from 14th to 19th century examples, and this broad range is reflected in changes made to armor design as the samurai adapted to the changing nature of battle. During the period in question, military engagements evolved from horseback archery to clashes of spear and sword-wielding infantry, and finally musket volleys when firearms became prevalent after contact with more technologically advanced European nations.

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The exhibition is scheduled run until February 1, so clear out your calendar quickly if you don’t want to miss the opportunity to see these awesome remnants of Japanese history.

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Museum information
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Address: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection website

The Guinness World Record-holding oldest hotel in the world – in Japan, and established in 705 A.D.!



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Keiunkan Inn in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture is famous for holding the Guinness World Record for being The oldest hotel in the world. Established in 705 A.D., it boasts such notable former guests as daimyo Takeda Shingen, shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and numerous emperors of Japan.

The inn itself is located in the southern alps of Yamanashi Prefecture, nestled in lush valleys in the very heart of nature. It’s the perfect location for escaping from the hustle and bustle of city life. What’s more, the inn is built upon prime hot springs ground, which means guests are able to enjoy numerous open-air and communal hot spring baths. Each room’s shower, bath and sink facilities are fed by pure hot spring water, which is neither treated nor heated by any artificial means. In fact, except for the toilets,the entire inn uses the hot springs water in its daily running, which makes it a very special and luxurious place to visit.

Our reporter, Yoshio, decided to book a stay in “the oldest hotel in the world” in order t oshare his experiences with the good readers of RocketNews24. Read on for many, many gorgeous photos of his trip!

Here’s Yoshio’s report on everything that Keiunkan Inn has to offer!

The baths

As we mentioned above, the entire inn is serviced by the natural water of the on-site hot springs, including of course the onsen baths and the open-air bathing pools. As you can see from the pictures below, they’re pretty much amazing. Yoshio reports that the quality of the water was top-notch, and the view of the valley from the baths was incredible. What’s more, every single one of the many baths is open for bathing 24 hours a day!

The accommodation

The ultra-Japanese building comprises a total of 35 guest suites. Yoshio was pleasantly surprised to discover that his accommodation consisted of two large Japanese-style rooms, giving him plenty of space to relax. They were also spotlessly clean and neat. The only potential issue for guests could be the price – at 32,000 yen (US$269) per night, it’s a little on the expensive side.

The cuisine

Dinner at Keiunkan is kaiseki style, meaning that your meal is brought to your room and served to you dish by dish. The cuisine included lots of fresh ingredients from the local mountains and river, and there was plenty to satisfy even the heartiest eater. There were also several unusual dishes that you don’t often get the opportunity to taste in Japan – like “acorn soba”. The only complaint Yoshio had was that his “salt-baked char” (a type of fish) was a little lukewarm. After all, when it comes to char, it’s gotta be piping hot, right?

Breakfast was similar to dinner in that it comprised a vast array of dishes which more than filled up our reporter’s stomach. Yoshio tells us that instead of serving the usual white rice, Keiunkan provides okayu rice porridge with breakfast, which is gentler on the stomach. Overall, the quality of both meals served was excellent.

The hospitality

Unfortunately, after all the piping hot onsen water, spotless rooms and delicious eats, Yoshio felt that the service failed to live up to his high expectations. Since Keiunkan is supposed to be famous for being the oldest hotel in existence, he was expecting there to be more information about the history of the hotel available. Even when he asked the staff, nobody seemed to know all that much about it. Sure, the hotel staff are rightfully proud of its reputation and its Guinness World Record, but they weren’t able to answer in-depth questions. Since the hotel almost certainly gets a lot of guests as a result of its fascinating history, it does seem a shame that there wasn’t really any opportunity to find out more about its past. Also, for a place with such a distinguished history, several of the staff seemed overly casual in their approach to the position, with some giving off an “I’m only here part-time” kind of vibe. Sure, that kind of attitude isn’t really a problem at budget hotels, but Keiunkan is supposed to be the oldest hotel in the world – costing over 250 bucks per head a night, no less – so our man felt that a little more effort would certainly have been welcome.

While Yoshio was left disappointed by the service, he still recommends a visit as the baths and cuisine were both excellent. Hopefully in the future Keiunkan will put up some signs and so on explaining the details of the hotel’s past, as well as educating their staff about its incredible history.


We’ll leave you now with photo-tour of the oldest hotel in the world! Enjoy!

If you’re interested in visiting the oldest hotel in the world yourself, the inn’s website is: www.keiunkan.co.jp


Samurai bling: Crazy armor and helmets from medieval Japan

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gamou ujisato

When people think of Japan, they often think about anime or giant robots or giant robot anime. They are also likely to think of Japan’s medieval version of giant robot anime: the samurai. For many of us, the first introduction we got to Japan was through the amazing films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, leaving with us images of unrelenting master swordsmen.

While the world may mostly be entranced by the swords, it’s impossible to deny the beauty of the armor we also saw on the silver screen. Though surely nothing so fancy was everactually worn during the years of Japan’s civil wars, right??


Actually, quite the opposite! Though we doubt that the more extravagant armor and helmets you’ll see below could be found in the storehouses of lower ranked soldiers, there is no doubt that high-ranking members of the warrior class would gladly splurge on a little bit of bling. After all, no one wants to be the last guy on the battlefield to get a rabbit-ears helmet! Here are some of the craziest armor and helmets we’ve seen from medieval Japan!


gamou ujisato

Though it may look a little bit like Darth Vader strapped a catfish tail on his head, this set of armor was actually worn by Ujisato Gamou, a daimyo (basically a warlord), during the 16th century. We imagine facing him in battle felt like facing the final boss of a video game without getting the chance to level up.

katou kiyomasa

This vaguely skeletal armor, faceplate, and helmet belonged to Kiyomasa Kato, a daimyo during the 16th and 17th centuries. He was also one of the leaders during the Seven-Year War, when Japan invaded the Korean Peninsula. We guess he had a…bone to pick.

katou yoshiakira

This beautiful, squid-like set of armor was owned by Yoshiaki Kato, one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s greatest retainers and, after Hideyoshi’s death, a loyal warrior for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Allegedly, it was based on Mt Fuji, but we can’t see anything but Lovecraftian glory in it.

kuroda josui

Here’s a real “pot-head” for you! This helmet, worn by Yoshitaka Kuroda, a master strategist for Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late-16th and early-17th centuries, looks as if it were grabbed off of the dinner table just after finishing a nice big bowl of rice.

matsudaira nobukazu

Meow! It seems that even the warriors of medieval Japan loved lolcats! This armor belonged to Nobukazu Matsudaira, a well-respected, fierce warrior who received rewards from Nobunaga and Ieyasu. Apparently, his helmet was actually supposed to be based on a horned owl, but once you see them as cat ears, you just can’t see anything else!

Yamauchi toyomasa

This bunny-eared helmet was worn by Toyomasa Yamauchi, a feudal lord during the Edo Period, a time of relative peace. Even though he was considered a masterful swordsman, it’s unlikely that this helmet ever saw combat. Which is just as well! It’s far too cute for that.

Toudou Takatora

This helmet was owned by Takatora Todo, a daimyou who started out as a regular foot soldier. In addition to his snazzy fashion sense, Takatora was also famous for designing excellent castles, like Imabari Castle in Ehime. Though this helmet looks like a dragonfly, it’s apparently supposed to be based on a cap worn by officials during China’s T’ang dynasty.

Akechi samanosuke

Another bunny-eared helmet, this beautiful piece of armor belonged to Samanosuke Akechi, who you may know from Onimusha. Though we don’t think we wore anything quite so cute in the game.

Matsudaira chikatada

This one, which looks like it belonged to a very enthusiastic furry instead of its real owner, Chikatada Matsudaira, is one of the rare helmets with fur on the outside. Usually the leather or fur is on the inside for comfort. We guess Chikatada was just too badass for comfort!

rabbit helmet

The owner of this rabbit helmet is unknown, unfortunately. We can only imagine how many crappy hopping jokes he had to put up with.

Tachibana muneshige1

Adorned with the kanji for “big,” this over-sized helmet belonged to Muneshige Tachibana, who is most famous for his “sun” helmet. We can’t help wondering if there are some “small” and “medium” helmets out there waiting to be discovered…

spiney lobster

This helmet is less cute and more “delicious,” if you happen to like Japanese spiny lobster. We’re not sure who this belonged to, but we imagine he got quite a bit of attention on the battlefield. Which, now that we think about it, seems like the opposite of a good idea…

sea snail (turban)

Here’s another seafood inspired helmet! Again, we’re not sure who this belonged to, but we suppose that basing your helmet on a strong, sturdy shell makes sense. Or maybe the owner got his lunch order and his helmet order mixed up.


Boy, it sure seems like those medieval samurai just couldn’t get enough seafood! We don’t know who wore this helmet either, but we think Red Lobster should make all their employees wear replicas!

Kuroda Nagamasa

This water-buffalo-inspired helmet once rested over the brow of Nagamasa Kuroda, son of Yoshitaka Kuroda. Though not a great strategist like his father, Nagamasa was well-known for his military valor, so we imagine he fully earned the horns on his armor.

date shigezane

And finally, we have the centipede helmet! We’re not sure if Shigezane Date, the owner of the armor, was just trying to creep everyone out or if he just had a really weird thing for the insects…

Actually, it turns out that during the feudal period in Japan, it was believed that centipedes could not back down, so they were seen as a symbol of perseverance. A cool concept, to be sure, but we’re not sure its worth it to have a freaking centipede on your face…

We hope you enjoyed this very brief look at some of the unique armor and helmets from one of Japan’s violent periods. The gear might not always have been practical, but at least it looks cool in our museums now!


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Samurai bling: Crazy armor and helmets from medieval Japan


Japan’s top 10 handsome samurai

RocketNews 24:



Posed portraits in history textbooks can all look the same after a while. Formal clothes, dark to create enough contrast for a black-and-white photo; stiff posture because old cameras required the sitter to be still for at least a few minutes; no smiling, in case the photo blurred. It’s no wonder students love to embellish the illustrations in their textbooks with creative graffiti.

Luckily for us, Japanese site Bakumatsu Gaido, an online guide to Bakumatsu, the Edo period’s final years (1853-67), is on hand to liven things up with a light-hearted look at the samurai with the best-chiseled features, sharpest dress sense and most awesome photo poses.

Join us after the jump for Japan’s top 10 ikemen (cool, good-looking) samurai, plus a few bonus selections of our own!

The Japanese word “ikemen” comes from “ikeru” or “iketeru”, meaning cool, and “men”which means face. So an ikemen is a hot guy, specifically one with a really good-looking face. Ikemen is kind of slang, and some internet naysayers claim that the last part comes from the English word “men”, which just goes to prove that a) some Japanese people have a blatant disregard for plurals, and b) not everything you read on the internet is true.

So without further ado, let’s begin our countdown!

Top 10 hot samurai, 1853-67 (or thereabouts)

10) Tokugawa Mochinaga

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In at number 10, the first of our daimyo (powerful feudal lords) is striking an impressive pensive pose. He’s been coloured in sepia, but we like to imagine he was actually dressed entirely in brown this day.


Number 10′s younger brother, and fellow member of the influential “Four Takasu Brothers”, is this similarly thoughtful-looking chap, Matsudaira Katamori:


Matsudaira came in at number 13 in Bakumatsu Gaido’s ranking, just missing out on a top ten ranking. Older siblings get all the luck!

9)  Okudaira Masayuki


Apparently Okudaira is famous for his beautiful hands. He does seem to have very big hands (and feet!) in this photo. Actually, we’re not sure what else he’s famous for, but this photo is a great example of how colour retouching can bring the look of an old photo right into the modern era. Check out that awesome topknot, too!

8) Ogata Jojiro

Jojiro’s father Ogata Koan was the doctor who brought Western medical knowledge into Japan during the period when it was closed to foreigners. With that stern gaze, we wouldn’t like to take him on in a staring contest, anyway.

7) Yamanouchi Sakuzaemon


This adventurous guy went to study abroad in Russia, which might explain the slight hint of smugness adorning his smile in this photo.

6) Earnest Satow


The only non-Japanese person to make the list, Satow was a British diplomat and translator who played a key role in Anglo-Japanese relations during Bakumatsu (the end of the Edo period). Not a samurai at all, then! He’s better known in Japan than in other countries – even the UK – despite the impressive precision of his hair parting. He loses points for that terrible tie, however.

5) Yamaoka Tesshu

By the end of the Edo period (also called the Tokugawa era), the majority of samurai had become bureaucrats and courtiers, rather than armed fighters. Not this guy! Tesshu founded the school of swordsmanship that was to become the basis of modern kendo. Also renowned for his ability to drink large quantities of alcohol.

4) Mizuno Tadanori

Mr. Mizuno has a piercing stare that looks like it could shoot some good laser beams if he’d only been born a few centuries later. Wonderful foppish hair, too.

Before we enter the top three, another BONUS ikemen guy:

Enomoto Takeaki!


Samurai (and navy admiral) Enomoto sports an excellent mustache, probably acquired during his time studying western technology in Europe. He kept his dashing good looks and distinctive facial hair later in life, too. Here he is as Foreign Minister at 56:



3) Oda Nobuyoshi


Actually, this guy’s inclusion involved a little bit of rule-bending – he was more of a dentist than a samurai, and this photo is from the Meiji era (after the Edo period). In this oddly modern-looking picture, his arms are folded defiantly as he stares down the camera.

2) Shibusawa Heikuro


Looks like he’s wandered off a movie set out of a dry-ice haze. Heikuro was adopted by Shibusawa Eiichi, the founder of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

1) Yokoyama Tsunenori


In the top spot, Mr. Yokoyama looks like someone we could trust to feed the cat while we were away on holiday. He died tragically young in battle, which adds an extra poignancy to his thoughtful-looking pose. And he seems to have the beginnings of a fledgling mohawk going on!

Source: Bakumatsu Gaido

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Japan’s top 10 handsome samurai