Saturday evening, the Tokyo Sake Meetup invaded Shimane-kan, a store in Nihonbashi devoted to promoting Shimane Prefecture, or as the staff said, “the least known prefecture in Japan.” Shimane-kan sells Shimane food and craft specialties and runs a travel agency devoted to getting you there. The Meetup started with a lecture about Shimane: tourist sites, food, and culture.

Tokyo Sake Meetup at Shimane-kan
Photo: Shimane geography lesson.

Tidbits: “Thank you” in Shimane-ben (Shimane dialect) is dan-dan. Matsue is one of three main tea ceremony centers in Japan; the other two are Kyoto and Kanazawa. Matsudaira Fumai, a daimyo of the Matsue clan in Izumo, was a famous Edo-era tea master. Matsue Castle is one of the few original castles remaining in Japan. Even though October is kannazuki (the month without gods) everywhere else in Japan, the Izumo Grand Shrine enjoys the patronage of eight million gods that month. That’s right, once a year the gods forsake you to hold a convention in Izumo. The Iwami-Ginzan Silver Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; at their Edo-era peak, the mines produced up to one-third of the world’s silver. Oh, there was so much more, like why the soba there is extra dark in color, and the origins of kagura dance, but let’s move on…

Lecture over, we did the obligatory matcha and sweets.

Making tea at Shimane-kan
Photo: Making tea.

Then the group moved next door to Mondo, a restaurant serving Shimane specialties and, more importantly, sake. The dinner included an appetizer, an interesting cod and hot pepper kamaboko (fish paste), anago, a glorious sashimi course, an excellent chawanmushi, a braise of shinjiko shijimi (small Shimane clams) which made a clam broth we drank down like hungry ghosts, and gainadon (gai being Shimane-ben for “big”), a mixed rice dish with egg, ikura, shiso, nori, tofu, saba, myoga, and mitsuba, which you then garnished with a rich clam broth. Absolutely delicious.

Shinjiko shijimi
Photo: Shinjiko shijimi, with their elixir.

We tasted five Shimane sakes. With plenty of time to enjoy the sakes, we got all Brideshead Revisited on them, a group effort finding “ginger and white pepper” in one, the specific taste of a McIntosh apple in another, and “the metallic edge of canned pineapple juice” in one that was roundly dismissed. See notes below.

Rihaku tokubetsu junmai
Photo: Rihaku tokubetsu junmai. Soft and gentle, sweet with not much mouthfeel, no nose. We felt this was extremely quaffable, but not particularly distinctive.

Juji Asahi junmai ginjo genshu
Photo: Juji Asahi junmai ginjo genshu. Aged one year. This is from a tiny kura by the Izumo Shrine. Great umami, nice mouthfeel, smoky with a long tail, layers of taste. The hit of the evening. Delish.

Kaishun junmai murioka nama
Photo: Kaishun junmai muroka nama. Honeydew nose, not much body, a huge alcohol fireball on the exhale, but clean tasting. Sweet aftertaste with hints of ginger and white pepper. Made from Kami no Mai, a local Shimane rice.

Kokki junmai
Photo: Kokki junmai, mukaatsu funeshibori. Rice nose, medium body, McIntosh apple sweet/tartness. Tasty. There was an amusing discussion about the label and the name Kokki which is written in archaic kanji, and which means “this country shines” (with the requisite ultranationalistic overtones).

Not pictured: Nanaganba (7 Crowned Horses) junmai. Honey, cotton candy, perhaps even a canned pineapple juice edge (Thanks Todd!). Not a favorite, too sweet.

Et-chan and Te-chan: Dan-dan for another great evening!

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