(Place) In Shingu, Wakayama
Saki: I didn’t know that a liquor store is here! Let’s buy some bottles of plum wine for my friend in Tokyo…
Matoba (the owner of the liquor store): May I help you?
Saki: Oh, I’m looking for a bottle of plum wine as a souvenir for my friend… Which do you recommend?
Matoba: What do you regard as important for the gift? Appearance, cost, size… Or do you want truly delicious one?
(Saki’s monologue) I know he must have good eyes on sake!
Saki: Please let me buy sake you recommend!
Matoba: Which beer do you like better, Suntory Premium Malts or Asahi Super Dry?
I wrote this article just after meeting shisho (master from whom I learned a lot about sake), the owner of “Miyukiya” Teruyuki Matoba, in September 2014. Since I drew his portrait only by memory, it doesn’t look like him enough…
Even though I have often visited all of Japan to try tasty sake and dishes since I was not a sake sommelier and writer, I found the liquor store of fate coincidentally where I visited for the other purpose.
The store is located in Shingu, Wakayama.
When I was a student, I came to this place with pals of the literature seminar for several times because it is the hometown of a great Japanese novelist Kenji Nakagami.
After graduation from the university, I sometimes came here for personal interest, even though here is the farthest place in Japan — extremely inconvenient to access.
On the last weekend in August 2014, the day after I enjoyed the Yata’s fire festival at Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine with one of my friends, I visited Hayatama Taisha Shrine near Shingu station. When I was browsing in the town to kill time before the train comes – giving up climbing the steep stone steps of Kamikura Shrine due to rain, I found a liquor store along National Route 42.
Although basically I always enter a liquor store when I find it, as I draw in the manga above, I didn’t intend to seek sake at the store. This is because I didn’t know Wakayama sake at that time — I tried to buy a plum wine for a friend of mine in Tokyo since I only knew Wakayama is famous for plums.
Passing through under the shop curtain, however, I found a sake showcase was placed right in front of me, in a close range only one person can barely stand there. I invited my friend who was waiting outside because I noticed it was definitely a unique store.
When I was looking for a plum wine for my souvenir, a man came up and talked to me. He was Teruyuki Matoba, the owner of this liquor store.
For my request that I’d like to buy a plum wine for my friend, he asked with powerful eyes, “What do you regard as important for the gift?” Immediately, I noticed that the way I put the question was not honesty.
In order to wait and see, I said “because it is just a souvenir, it is important that it screams Wakayama.”
After Matoba explained about each bottle of plum wine, he gave me a small sake cup.
“To make sure whether what you said was right or wrong, please taste and compare these bottles,” he said.
What he recommended, I chose the word deliberately, was SUPER delicious. Generally, people soak plums in white liquor or shochu (Japanese spirits) with high alcohol to make plum wine. However, the plum wine I tried, “Saika Ume-shu” by Konoesaika, was made with sake base. I recommend you drink this plum wine straight, without putting water, soda or ice.
Because the bottle was cheap, I could understand he wanted not to sell expensive products, but just to sell really tasty ones. Since I didn’t want him to misunderstand that I was a girl who can only drink sweet drink with low alcohol, I asked him, “Would you recommend me some bottles of sake?”
Then, he asked me the question in the manga above, “Which beer do you like better, Suntory Premium Malts or Asahi Super Dry?”
According to him, this is the question to judge that the customer prefer whether fragrant or refreshing taste.
Besides, to research my preferences, he asked various questions like “Do you drink this sake with or without food?” “What kind of food do you pair with this sake, simple sashimi or rich stewed dish?”
I was really impressed that his way of proposing best sake for each guest… even though I tried as many bottles as possible because I was too greedy about sake. Additionally, he gave me a cup of oolong tea to refresh my tongue before he let me try another sake.
Probably because he was satisfied that a young woman from far away reacted severally, he allowed me to try a rare bottle.
“I allow you to taste this but it never means I want you to buy this, because you can’t buy this. Instead, please tell your friends the story about this sake after going back to Tokyo,” he said.
The dramatic sake is “Ryujinmaru” by Takagaki Brewery.
This brewery lost the previous toji, a traditional chief brewer, several years ago. However, his wife has made effort to rebuild the business with outside helps including Matoba: eventually, she succeeded to produce sake highly evaluated.
Being asked my opinion, I answered, “I believe the tastiest sake feels like delicious water in which delicious components of rice dissolve… I think this sake is exactly such pure one.”
“Yes! That’s it! I want to use your words to express this taste!” he entirely agreed with my answer excitedly.
Finally, I bought “Kuroushi mu-roka nama genshu (unfiltered, unpasteurized and undiluted sake)” by Nate Shuzou Corporation besides “Saika Ume-shu.”
I was stunned that Matoba’s said “Since this sake is immature, the taste would be better if you ripen it by sealing with cellophane instead of the regular lid.”
Before that, I totally believed that sake is vulnerable; drinkers should finish the bottle as soon as possible after opening the lid in order to preserve its fresh taste.
On the other hand, he suggested making sake aged to bring out inherent taste.
I keenly realized that I had only book knowledge and I have to experience sake with all my senses to learn sake in the true meaning.
Since Matoba let me know the important fact as a sake professional, I started calling him as “shisho” (the Japanese word meaning “master” or “personal teacher.”)
The name of this liquor store is “Miyukiya.”
Even though it is the farthest liquor store in Japan with poor public transportation, which requires spending long travel time and expensive transportation expenses, I believe it is truly worthy to visit this store!
Address: 4-5-11 Kamikura, Shingu-shi, Wakayama, Japan
Tel: +81 735-23-1006
Regular Holiday: Tuesday