Sunday, July 16th, 2007
As Typhoon No4 had forced me into idleness as far as cricket was concerned, I took the opportunity of a sudden clearing of the skies to escape the crampness of my apartment to cycle around the neighbourhood.
My wheels naturally took me on a kind of pilgrimage I had been pursuing for the last couple of months: Fuji Isami Brewery in Kutsunoya, Shizuoka City.
The Brewery had closed in 1997 because of his last owner’s poor health. Mr. Inoue finally departed from this world last year, but his son, still in his forties, had no desire to walk in his footsteps, less preserve tradition. The man had decided to become an employee of the Shizuoka Bank where his father’s fortune was deposited. Apparently he felt more pleasure and pride to sit on a treasure, counting his yen for eternity
As I arrived at the site, I almost cried.
The ungrateful son had got one step further: after ten years of reflection he had come to the decision that it was high time to make more money.
The whole Brewery had disappeared with only an ugly patch of no man’s land in its wake. Not only the kura and its tall chimney, but all the century-old cedar trees and the beautiful stone and green bush fence completely surrounding the place had gone into thin air!
I got off my bicycle and tried to find a way in, but all doors were locked.
Grumbling along I rode back until the main road.
But I was not ready to give in yet.
I turned back and left my bicycle at the foot of the stairs leading to the ancient Atago Shrine (circa 1507) and looked around.
I noticed a middle-aged man talking to an old farmer wife. Using my most polite Japanese and putting up a good face, I engaged a friendly conversation with the gentleman.
When I enquired about Fuji Isami Brewery, he replied that he knew the people well. As I explained I hadn’t been able to get in touch with the widow still living inside , he looked at me more carefully.
When I explained I wished to « interview » the owner of the house still standing beside the departed Brewery, he just told me to follow him. On the way, he told me that the widow was still living there with an old relative, and that it would be better for him to introduce me. I concluded that the son was not overly concerned by his mother’s fate. The gentleman seemed to enjoy the community’s respect as an old lady readily opened the door.
She let us in. When I asked her if there was anything left in the warehouse at the other end of the property, which must be worth quite a lot of money I belatedly realized, she answered, evidently embarrassed, that all had disappeared.
At that moment I spotted old glazed clay sake bottles behind her back bearing the Brewery’s name.
She gladly let me take pictures of them.
That is when my companion of the day took out a big framed picture from behind some junk. It was the original design of Fuji Isami Sake label! I took a photograph of the painting held up between Mrs. Inoue and my helper.
I took my leave with many bows and thanks as I did not want to embarras the dear old lady any further.
Mr. Kazuyoshi Maruo, who turned out to be no less than the « kannushi »/priest-caretaker of the Atago Shrine invited me back to his place to share a cup of tea and chat about the local history.
He went as far as presenting me with a copy of an historical essay on the Shrine authored by his father after I mentioned thet Fuji Isami Brewery had bought the brand name of their first sake, « Reihoo », from the dfunct Tadara Brewery in Komagata, Shizuoka City, just after WWII.
The gentleman did commiserate with me about the sometimes wanton destruction of culture in our city.
We shared more lore until I finally took my leave. At least I had made a new friend, and a bottle of sake is on its way to his abode.
But I felt a pang of sadness a I rode past the empty lot with only a small « torii » portal still standing forlornly at the foot of a narrow stairway disappearing under the greenery.
Even my agnostic ears could perceive Atago’s crying somewhere in the bamboo grove overlooking the barren void beacuse someone held money above culture, tradition and ecology. The latter probably never understood the real meaning of « sake », « the food of gods »…