If you drive around Unnan with a Yamata-no-Orochi tourism map, you can find your way to places like Kamaishi, a stone that marks the spot where the sake was brewed eight times over, or Kusamakura, a set of hills the monster used as a “grassy pillow” when it was tipsy.
Perhaps the most important site is Inze-no-Tsubogami, where the basins that held the potent liquor were buried (couldn’t have those falling into the wrong lightweight hands, after all!).
There’s not much on this mountain, but it does have atmosphere. The fenced area is around the rocks that closed off the sake basins from the outside world. A curse upon anyone who tries to dig them out!
Like the previously mentioned chopsticks, this legend is one of the first records of sake production in Japan. It is not the only legend that suggests the Izumo region was the first to enjoy the stuff. Rather, it’s association with Izumo City is stronger than with Unnan City, given the fame and prominence of Izumo Taisha even in modern Shintoism.
Izumo Taisha is where all the gods in Japan congregate for their annual meeting to decide the fates and interminglings of people and nature–otherwise known as en. It’s not all work, though–those gods are known for drinking lots and lots of sake. This perhaps has less to do with drunken kami-sama so much as sake‘s purifying qualities, hence, it is used extensively in Shinto rituals. Because there are so many gods to offer sake to at Izumo Taisha, it means that there is lots and lots of high quality sake contributed there.
Izumo Taisha is not, however, the leading sake shrine. Instead, that would be Saka Shrine (yes, there is sake-related history behind that name). You can read a more thorough description of the brewing-related rituals that take place there on the Connect Shimane website, but suffice to say for our purposes here that the main deity is the patron of brewers, and this is the lead shrine among all others that also worship that kami. This shrine is also sometimes called Matsuo Shrine, which should indeed sound familiar if you’ve been to this famous old shrine in western Kyoto.
So Shimane has history with sake, perhaps the first to make it. Sure, that’s great. But is it any good?
I tend to stick with Matsue’s tea and wagashi culture rather than drink alcohol so I can’t say for sure, but the general concensus is that it’s phenomenal.
Here’s what Sake-World.com has to say about it:
And most importantly, what’s it taste like? Indeed, Shimane sake has one of the most easily identifiable, describable, and likeable flavor and aromatic profiles in the country. In short, Shimane sake is comparatively dense in flavor, yet fine-grained and clean. There is usually a higher amino acid content, giving Shimane sake plenty of “umami.” More concretely, much sake from this region has a nutty touch with a subdued sweetness in the background, full flavor, and a brilliant acidity that both spreads the flavors and provides some backbone. Aromatically, flowers, melon-like fruit, and touches of autumnal things like pumpkins are common in Shimane sake.
Shimane is already known for award-winning rice due to the clean water and ideal temperature conditions in the mountains, but those qualities don’t just make for good staple food. To borrow more of Sake-World’s explanation:
Even more commendable is that 60% of all rice used in sake brewing in Shimane is proper sake rice. As 80% of all sake brewed in Japan is “table sake,” most of this does not use premium sake rice, but rather run-of-the-mill stuff. The fact that Shimane is way above that average is encouraging.
I’d ask the Yamata-no-Orochi if it agrees with all this sparkling praise of the sake fit for kami-sama, but it’s a little beat up and buried now. With that monster out of the way, Susano-o and Kushinada-hime had wedded bliss to keep busy with, which we’ll take a look at next time.