Event: Lecture on Sake Etiquette

I recently attended an online lecture on sake etiquette. Here are a few notes from the lecture.

In 2020, the Japan Society’s Annual Sake Lecture & Tasting was held online. View

Normally the Japan Society holds an annual sake lecture and tasting, which I’ve missed in previous years. Due to the restrictions on large groups, they didn’t hold an in-person event but they still held an online lecture on sake etiquette.

The lecturer was Timothy Sullivan, founder of UrbanSake.com. He was very knowledgable about sake etiquette and sake. He had a long sake list, with tasting notes, which you can find on the Japan Society website.

Here are a few tips from the lecture.

Sake Etiquette Tips

Here are eight tips for enjoying sake, if you want to have proper etiquette:

Tip 1: Don’t pour for yourself. I’m not sure if this is bad luck, or bad manners, but this was the Number 1 tip our lecturer made sure to share with us. He later explained that “O-shaku” is the manner of pouring for others.

Tip 2: Keep the Wa. Wa (和) is a Japanese concept of peaceful unity and conformity in a group. It focuses on harmony. In general, it’s rude and/or impolite to disturb the wa – including in sake etiquette.

Tip 3: Use 2 hands when pouring for others.  Our lecturer compared pouring sake with 2 hands to the way business cards in Japan are received with 2 hands, too. I think this practice holds true for more formal situations, but it’s considered more polite.

Tip 4: Don’t “slam” your sake when drinking. Although the small sake cups resemble Western shot glasses, that’s not why they’re small. The smaller cups allow you to pour for more people.

Tip 5: When pouring for other people, only fill the glass about 80% full. It’s considered rude to do this. When it’s full to the brim, it makes it difficult to actually drink from the cup without spilling.

Tip 6: Offer to pour for someone else, to get someone to pour for you. Getting back to the first tip, if you want more sake and your cup is empty, offer to pour for someone else.

Tip 7: When receiving sake, use 2 hands to hold your cup. One hand holds the cup, while the other supports from below.

Tip 8: Don’t drink before the kanpai. Kanpai is like the group cheer and it disturbs the wa to drink before the kanpai. At formal gatherings, often the sake will be already poured so that they can do the kanpai quickly and no one has to worry if everyone has been served.


Drinking Styles

Kenpai/Henpai

This is a style of drinking and sharing sake in which two people of unequal social or professional status actually share the same drinking cup. The junior person pours for their senior, who drinks the sake. Then there’s a large dish of water that the sake cup gets rinsed in. Then the senior person pours for the junior person. This style of sake etiquette is apparently restricted to only one region and discouraged when anyone might be sick (like now).

Mokkiri, overflowing style

This is more for casual drinking settings. In this situation, a taller clear glass is set inside one of those wooden sake boxes. The sake is poured into the glass until it overflows into the wooden box. The lecturer recommended lifting the glass and drinking from that, first. Then when the sake level has gone down, pouring some liquid from the box into the glass.


Finally, one last tip…

In casual settings, the rules relax a little. But, even in a casual setting, it’s polite for everyone to drink the same drink. For example: don’t ask for sake if everyone else is drinking beer. Remember: don’t disrupt the wa.

FIAF Animation First, Feb 7-10, 2020

Over the weekend of February 8-9, 2020, I attended the third iteration of Animation First at the French Institute Alliance Française. It was also the third time I’ve attended the event, but looks like the first time I’ve written about it. As with the previous two events, I enjoyed myself and the animations.

Here are a few of my highlights and a few photos at the end.


Highlights

Louise by the Shore

The feature-length film I watched was Louise by the Shore (2016), by Jean-François Laguionie, the guest of honor. It was a movie about remembering the past and living simply.

 

Animated Shorts, by Jean-François Laguionie

I also watched a series of Jean-François Laguionie‘s early animated films, which had been recently restored and digitized. His works were both hand-drawn and stop-motion, such as the example below.

The animation style was relatively rudimentary, compared to today, but the stories were really good. I saw some student works and I’d say one of the key differences came down to telling a good story over technical ability.

The video below needs no translation.

Lorenzo Mattotti: Panel Discussion and Illustrations

I also attended a panel discussion with Lorenzo Mattotti, who recently directed The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily. He has also been an illustrator for New Yorker magazine for many years and examples of his magazine covers were on display.

After the talk, he signed books. Those lucky people got a sketch from him, right there on the spot. Amazing.

FIAF Animation First, Feb 2020


I wanted see the The Swallows of Kabul but it came on right after Louise by the Shore. I didn’t want to sit for back to back films and I wasn’t in the mood for something super heavy. Hopefully it will be released in the US, soon.


Photos

IoT Meetup: TimescaleDB and CockroachDB

Back in October, I attended a Meetup on databases focused on 2 SQL-esque databases.

TimescaleDB is an open-source database built for analyzing time-series data with the power and convenience of SQL — on premise, at the edge or in the cloud.

CockroachDB – Architected for the cloud, CockroachDB delivers resilient, consistent, distributed SQL at your scale. CockroachDB is built by Cockroach Labs.

From IoT Meetup on Wednesday Oct 30, 2019

From IoT Meetup on Wednesday Oct 30, 2019

The presentations were very thorough, and as a result I found some of the details were a bit…esoteric. I don’t know that much about databases. (I was hoping for more IoT.)

But I did learn something about databases, replications, different types of databases, and node setups. Who knows where this information will squirrel itself away and pop up again in the future.

The NYC Databases of the Future: CockroachDB and TimescaleDB

Wednesday, Oct 30, 2019, 6:30 PM

Cockroach Labs
53 W 23rd St New York, NY

20 IoT’ers Went

New York City is known for many things… The perfect NYC slice, the lights of Broadway, and perpetually delayed subway trains. It is now known for something new and innovative, the databases from Cockroach Labs (distributed SQL) and Timescale (time series). Join us for networking, pizza and beer, and fantastic talks from Timescale and Cockroach La…

Check out this Meetup →

Japan Society Event: Embrace Rural

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

In late October, I attended a talk about economic development and innovation in rural communities in Japan and the US.

What got me interested in this topic was a video I watched about a rural Japanese town where pretty much the only people left were older residents; many young people had moved to big cities.

Despite everyone being 65+, the residents still try to maintain an active way of life. The video comes from two researchers focused on a study centered on “active” aging — “active” being a term created by the World Health Organization. You can read more about “active aging”, the Global Age-Friendly Cities Project, and also download the brochure on their website.

Being Old in Rural Japan

Synopsis: The story portraits two single-living seniors: the 84-year-old Shimako, a former farmer wife, with a husky deep voice, who still grows vegetables. She regularly meets her neighbors for tea chats and joins the village choir and gymnastics course. Her biggest passion however is gateball, a very popular senior team-sport in Japan, similar to croquet. And there is the 93-year-old Genichi, the oldest man in his village with driving license, who hates sport but loves composing short poems (tanka) on daily events. As he enjoys his freedom in old age, deciding for himself when to get up and when to work, he refuses to live with his son’s family. Also he still cultivates his agricultural field for self-subsistence.

I thought it was a fascinating video. It’s about 35-min long, in German with English subtitles.


Talk Overview

The talk was co-organized by New Food Economy; Design and Urban Ecologies, Parsons, The New School for Social Research; and Slow Food New York City. Presented at the Japan Society as part of their Innovators Network.

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Our first speaker was Richard McCarthy, from Slow Food USA. He went to Japan to discuss and explore rural strategies through the Innovators Network. There was a moderated discussion following the presentations, led by Kate Cox, New Food Economy editor.


Rural Japan and Kuni

The Japanese speaker, Tsuyoshi Sekihara, is an artist who is involved in rural Japanese development. He was sharing the concept of Kuni and how it developed.

Kuni Manifesto

It’s easier to show the manifesto rather than explain it.

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Explanations of Kuni:

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

 


Rural US and the Aspen Institute

I learned a few interesting facts from the Aspen Institute speaker, Janet Topolsky, focused on Rural Development Hubs:

  • About 49 million Americans live in rural communities
  • Over 50% of the Native American population live in rural communities
  • The top industries in rural areas are: education, health, and manufacturing, in that order

Rural Development Hubs: Strengthening America’s Rural Innovation Infrastructure

Rural Development Hubs Executive Summary

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

 


Observations

Seems like there are a lot of business opportunities in rural areas for creative entrepreneurs. Rural areas tend to get overlooked. Traditionally, businesses focus on scaling up. Rather than focus on scalability, the speakers suggested focusing on penetration. That is, what percentage of a population is using your business.

Marketplace, on NPR, recently discussed the lack of broadband access in rural Georgia.

A lot of rural America is a desert when it comes to high-speed internet access. And that’s a drag on economic growth: Communities without broadband have a hard time attracting new residents and businesses…

Another problem rural communities have is dwindling populations. Here’s a recent CBS Sunday Morning video about the population struggles of small towns in Japan, now facing extinction, as the country’s overall population decreases from a peak a few years ago. For instance, in the town featured in the video, the school’s 6th grade class now only has 6 students, down from dozens.

The video above reviews some of the more creative and technological solutions Japan has invented. Ideas range from repurposing malls to senior centers, to high-tech mausoleums, to robots — Japan likes robots — officiating weddings due to a shortage of monks. Lot of interesting concepts to think about.


Now that I think about it, this story of rural villages populated by an aging population reminds me of Tokyo Story, by Yasujiro Ozu.

Japanese Court Music and Dance: Gagaku and Bugaku

I’m taking a break from all this portfolio stuff to talk about something fun I got to do recently.

Over the past 2 years or so, I have been learning about Japan and Japanese culture. Going farther back, I’ve been interested in Asian cultures for many years, having joined Asia Society Texas many years ago.

The Japan Society, decided to dedicate some of it’s programming this year to have an imperial focus, in part due to the abdication of Japanese Emperor Akihito.

Japanese society being what it is, there are many ceremonies and rituals when a new emperor ascends the throne. They involve, among other things, music. And the fun thing I go to do recently was attend a performance of Japanese court music.


Gagaku

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides the following description for Gagaku:

Gagaku, characterized by long, slow songs and dance-like movements, is the oldest of the Japanese traditional performing arts. It is performed at banquets and ceremonies in the Imperial Palace and in theatres throughout the country, and encompasses three distinct arts. The first, Kuniburi no Utamai, features ancient Japanese songs, partial accompaniment by harp and flute and simple choreography. The second consists of instrumental music (especially wind instruments) and a ceremonial dance developed on the Asian continent and subsequently adapted by Japanese artists. The third, Utamono, is danced to vocal music whose texts include Japanese folk songs and Chinese poems. Influenced by the politics and culture of different periods over its long evolution, Gagaku continues to be transmitted to apprentices by masters in the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency, many of whom are the descendants of families with deep roots in the art. It is not only an important cultural tool in confirming Japanese identity and a crystallization of the history of Japanese society, but also a demonstration of how multiple cultural traditions can be fused into a unique heritage through constant recreation over time.

Here’s UNESCO video on Gagaku:

Essentially Gagaku is the entire performance and Bagaku is the dance.

Gagaku Instruments

There are 3 types of musical instruments: Wind, String, and Percussion. I’m not sure if all of these instruments are included in every Gagaku performance, but these were listed in my program.

Program insert showing different types of instruments
Program insert showing different types of instruments

Wind Instruments

These are the wind instruments.

  • Ryûteki
  • Komabue
  • Kagurabue
  • Hichiriki
  • Shô

Gagaku translates to “elegant music” and that’s probably the best way to describe the sound of the Shô. You’d probably recognize the sound if you heard it. It’s a “mouth-organ”.

When I was watching the performance, the shô players rotated their instruments over some kind of urn. I thought it was something to catch extra moisture, like spit-valves in trombones. I learned from the video below that the shô has wax inside where the mouthpiece is located and these urns have small pieces of coal in them, which the musicians rotate the shô over to heat up the wax.

String Instruments

  • Sô (Gakusô)
  • Biwa
  • Wagon (yamato-goto)
Biwa, string instrument
Biwa, string instrument

The Gakusô is a type of Koto, which is a 13-string instrument and is the national instrument of Japan. Modern kotos are derived from the gakusô used in Gagaku performances. I couldn’t find a great photo, but the wikipedia article where I found this info is interesting.

The yamatogoto, or wagon, is another type of Koto. But it usually has only 6 strings or so. It’s also considered fully native to Japan, unlike the other types of Koto which were imported from China.

The wagon is on the left side.
The biwa is on the right side.

 

Percussion Instruments

  • Shôko
  • Taiko (tsuridaiko)
  • Kakko
  • San-no-tsuzumi
  • Shakubyôshi

Shôko is a kind of small, metal gong that sounds like someone tapping a iron/stainless steel skillet with a drumstick. The taiko is a kind of large, hanging drum. It’s struck with big, padded mallets. The kakko is a double-headed drum that’s beated with skinny drumsticks. (Shakubyoshi look like 2 wooden sticks. To be honest, I don’t remember these but maybe I was watching something else.)

These are photos I took after the performance. The theater lights helped them turn out really well! 🙂

 


Bugaku

Our program didn’t include much information about the dancing portion, but UNESCO comes through again. Here’s a video that goes much more into the dance portion of Bugaku.


When I was there listening, I felt like I had been transported into a Kurasawa film. In particular, “Dreams” from 1990. And specifically, the scene in the peach orchard when all the dolls come alive.

I love this movie a lot but I have found throughout the years that this particular scene is very difficult to find online (for free).

However, the trailer for the movie is available. The only problem is that it’s set to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Invierno and La Primavera. (Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 1, RV 269, “Spring”: I. Allegro; and Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “Winter”: III. Allegro.) It’s not bad music, but it’s not Japanese.

Anyway, if you are looking for more information on Gagaku and Bugaku, here’s some information:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugaku
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gagaku
  • https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/gagaku-00265