Let me be the first to say that sake is not for everyone. It has a very strong taste to it that is unlike any other alcohol. In my opinion, you either love it or you hate it. You can put up with it, but you still hate it deep inside. That being said, I. Love. Sake.
This rice based liquor can come in all kinds of flavors and levels of smoothness and you can find so many of them here at the Hiroshima Sake Matsuri. This is an opportunity for distilleries from prefectures all over Japan to display their products to hundreds of patrons. That’s right! From all over the country, Japanese distilleries offer over 900 types of sake for our drinking pleasure.
900! That is UNREAL.
Now, to avoid confusion, let me say that the matsuri itself isn’t technically in Hiroshima. It is actually located in a smaller town outside of main Hiroshima, called Saijo. So, just remember that if you plan on visiting this festival, it is NOT in Hiroshima proper. Don’t stress though! It is only a quick train ride from Hiroshima Station to Saijo and once you get there it is IMPOSSIBLE for you not to find the festival; follow the crowd, the tents, and the sounds.The festival itself is an all day event, which a few of my friends happily partook in. My group and I, however, spent half the day at Miyajima and as a result, we didn’t arrive until around 6 PM. We were a little unclear as to whether we were going to the right place but once we arrived at the station it was obvious that we were there. The station was completely filled with people, some drunk and some sober, trying to get into trains or bathrooms or just plain stumbling around. My male friend and I looked at each other and said, “Oh yeah, this is the place.”
After we forced our way down to the street from the main station, we followed the crowd south, the entire time hoping we would eventually find the festival entrance. Along the way, all I could see in any direction were rows after rows of booth selling any type of Japanese carnival food imaginable: yakisoba, beef, pork, tempura veggies, takoyaki, sushi, french fries, sweet potatoes, soda, beer, pretty much everything! Since it had been hours since we last ate, we decided to carbo-load a bit before the endless sake that was soon to come.Like I said, the food stands seemingly went on forever but we eventually found our destination. We finally arrived at the entrance to the Sake Matsuri ! We flashed our tickets, which were $30 by the way, and mentally psyched ourselves up for the next few hours of unlimited sake.First things first, find my buddy who lives in Hiroshima and has been at the matsuri the entire day. Well….why not pick up some sake on the way. My first sake of choice: Okinawa.
After getting multiple shots of Okinawan sake I ran into my friend and his fellow Hiroshima JETs. From here the night turned into a constant conveyer belt of hopping from one prefecture’s stand to the other, trying multiple types of sake from each booth. Unfortunately for us, a lot of types were sold out; only the extremely strong or extremely weak sake was left. Which do you think we chose?
What I found to be really fun was how willing the booth runners were to just keep pouring sake for us. My friend told me to say “nami nami” so that the staff would fill our cups all the way to the overflow point. It definitely worked. It turns out, they just needed to get rid of all the sake they brought and as a result, they were having fun with all of us foreigners who kept coming back for more, uttering “nami nami” the whole time.
Some people were even using multiple glasses inside each other, in order to get the maximum amount of sake.Oh and about those foreigners….there were tons of them. Everywhere I looked there was a pocket of gaijins here or a pocket of gaijins there. I kept meeting new people throughout the night and it turns out that most of the foreigners were JETs from around Japan. Needless to say we all instantly bonded and couldn’t be more excited about speaking tons of English, since we’re almost constantly surrounded by Japanese.I imagine we were a pretty intimidating group to come speak to. I mean, its nerve racking enough jumping into a group of people already deep in conversation, let alone a group of loud, boisterous people who are speaking another language. However, it wasn’t too long before some Japanese girls or groups started mixing with all of us and practicing their English, through drunken slurs, while we responded in almost the same level of English.
The reason for this was because at this point many of us were so enamored with the various booths of “never ending sake” that we probably looked like Kel around orange soda. If you don’t know what I mean, here you go:
You’re welcome for that.
Anyways, like I said, people started coming and talking to us. I got lost from the Nara JETs I came with multiple times because I kept bouncing back and forth between new groups of people that I met and random shenanigans that we found ourselves in. At one point, a group of Japanese boys saw my friend, who is quite a muscular dude, and started freaking out over his muscles. They kept yelling out, “Macho! Very Macho!” over and over until we finally took a massive group picture with them showing off all of our respective “muscles.” At other times we would run into the typical person trolling after the drunk foreigners; that was kind of creepy. Regardless, it was a good time.
In the end we all left around 9 or 10PM and headed back to the center of Hiroshima and to our hostel. It was a great night, and one that didn’t end until 1 in the morning after a few of us went to a bar and met an incredibly friendly Japanese businessman who had actually studied business in America! Not only did he study in America, he studied in Phoenix, Arizona at Thunderbird International Business School! What are the freaking odds?! If that wasn’t enough, he also now works for one of the worlds leading cardiovascular companies, an Italian company! I just met a man in Japan, at a random bar, who was connected to me through my home state and an exposure to Italy; what a small world.
That ending was the perfect way to finish that day for me and if this story hasn’t convinced you to check out the Hiroshima Sake Matsuri, I don’t know what will. Just. Do. It. It’s an amazing city full of amazing people and I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Who knows, maybe you can use it as a tool for networking, that’s what I managed to do with all the other English Teachers I met. Give it a chance 🙂