There is place in Tokyo called Amazake Alley, a stretch of road from the exit of Ningyocho Station up to the Meiji Theatre. It was named after a shop that used to sell sweet sake here during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Over the years, this “alley” was widened into a much larger road but the name stuck. I went to Amazake Alley in search of Amazake, a traditional Japanese sweet drink made from fermented rice, but unfortunately found none (I did find some amazing tea at ShiZen Tea. They have a tea tasting course that I highly recommend once we can all travel again. I left tea drunk and happy).
Disappointed and craving Amazake, I went in search of another option. I, luckily, ended up at Amanoya just in front of the Kando Myojin Shrine. Apparently, the founder arrived in Tokyo from Kyoto not to seek fortune but to settle a grudge. When he failed to do this, he instead decided to open this shop and sell unrefined sake. When the Meji period government raised the liquor tax, they switched to selling non-alcoholic amazake. That was over 180 years ago and the place, and their recipe, has no changed since then.
I had the whole place to myself this morning. Although the staff didn’t speak English, they could sense my interest and kept bringing me photo albums with historic pictures, binders with articles about the location (all in Japanese unfortunately) and directing my attention to various trinkets on the walls. The family uses the mould grown in the tunnels in the basement of the café to make their amazake. This isn’t a quick drink to make by any means. First they wash and soak the rice, then steam it and let it cool. Mold spores are then added and the rice is wrapped in a cloth and stored in the cellar to begin cultivation. Three days later it is moved to a separate fermentation room where it cultivates for another day. On day four, the rice is ready. To prepare the amazake they mix in equal parts of this rice with freshly steamed rice and let it rest for another two days before serving. They have a little shop on the premises where they sell a multicoloured selection of pickled vegetables. Each amazake is served with a small plate of pickled daikon.
I have never sipped a drink as slowly as I sipped this one. I was literally savouring every single rice grain, taking the time to look over everything the family send over. When we sip something, we never really think about the history of what we are sipping. But in this location, in this moment, I could not just taste it, but feel it.
Verdict: I suspect, and hope, that if my great grand kids come to Tokyo one day, nothing here will have changed. Amanoya, Soto Kando 2-18-15, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan