"A Sakagura-born boy"

My sakagura is located in an underpopulated mountainous area called Osogoe in Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. It's 40 minutes by train from Tokuyama station and another 15-minute drive on a mountain road. The current sakagura is a 12-story, 60-meter high building but before that, it used to be a 230 years old, two-story wooden sakagura. It dates back to 1770 during the Edo period. There is even a record of a sake-making license issued by the Mori clan.

However, it was not for our family. The real beginning for our family was in the late Meiji era when my grandfather Kiichi Sakurai took over the management of the sakagura and opened the Sakurai Sake bar. After my father returned from the war. five existing sakagura merged in 1948, and the name was changed to Asahi Shuzo.

I was born two years later. I wasn't born in a hospital, but in our sakagura, thanks to a midwife. The thing is Japan was still very poor. When I went to my friend's house, there were not even cups to drink from. They were using jam jars or something like that instead. I was the boy of the local sake maker, so people were jealous of me. You know the character “Nobita” from “Doraemon”, right? As a kid, I was kind of like that. My studies were okay, but I wasn't good at sports at all. Back in the days, sake was only made in winter. In winter, the Toji (i.e. sake master) would come to craft it with his seasonal staff. In summer, the sakagura would be empty - I remember playing there. Because I couldn't beat my friends at softball, I would hit pebbles by myself in the empty sakagura. Back then, we were making sake called "Asahi Fuji", and at the time the sake grading system was still in place.

Then, something happened and I had to leave the sakagura. When I was in the fourth grade, my mother suddenly left home. One night she just told me that she had to go far away and that I wouldn't be able to see her as often. I guess it wasn't really out of the blue, somehow I always knew that my parents didn't get along but, it is always a surprise for the kids. Actually, it was a shock. My father never said exactly why my mother was leaving. I felt like it was my fault, for some reason. Kids are like that, aren't they? I felt sad and helpless that I couldn't convince my father not to let my mother leave.

My father became the president of the company, following in his father's footsteps. Later, a woman from our company became his wife. I somehow knew it: she was always so kind to me and close to my father. My mother never asked for a divorce, I suppose there was a conflict between resentment and love for her children. My mother-in-law was not legally my father's wife, but at some point, she was recognized as his wife by everyone around her. I never hated my father or my mother-in-law for this. But I think my father was afraid of my reaction. When I was in the sixth grade, I was sent to live with my aunt in Hiroshima. From then on, I would live in Hiroshima, “the big city”, for six years until I graduated from high school.

Next story: "Discovering the joy of food in Hiroshima"