“The loss of a friend, Masahiko Katsuya”

We believe that sake relieves stress, improves health, and makes people happy. But there have been times when that belief has been shaken. One of my friends, Masahiko Katsuya passed away because he used to drink too much, too often. The first time I met him was in 1998. He was a small, overweight man, wearing sunglasses with a black T-shirt under a blouson that looked like it was released by the U.S. military. To me, he looked like a scary looking thug.

He came to interview me about Dassai for a series of articles for the magazine “Shosetsu Hoseki” called "Guide book on Japan’s sake producers" (i.e. Nippon Kuragura Kikô). Back then, Dassai was still made in our old wooden sakagura. When I showed him around, he asked me to take him for lunch where he could try Dassai. I figured it had to be a restaurant close by, but I didn't even know which places were carrying it at the time. So I took him to a yakiniku restaurant located in the nearby town, we had Dassai 23 with the grilled offal. The meat was good, but it was not something to be paired with a high-class sake. Since then, he never forgot and would tease me years after years on the fact that I got him to pair grilled meat with a Junmai Daiginjo.

The first time I truly thought of him as a friend was when I was about to open a local beer restaurant in our hometown of Iwakuni. He called me and told me right away to not do it, that such a project was bound to fail. He told me: "Don't get involved in something like a local community building: you're being fooled”. But the project was at such a stage where I could not back down anymore. When I told him, he understood and began to help me out by recommending what kind of meat was trendy to serve in the restaurant, etc. Sure enough, the restaurant ended up being a failure, but that didn't change our relationship.

I'm not sure how many times I've been invited to participate in his show, the "Katsuya Masahiko Show" on Sun TV after Dassai became popular. We would record at his place in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, but also at our bar “Dassai Bar 23” in Kyobashi, Tokyo. Once he sent me a short mail saying: “Who do you think I just was drinking with at an izakaya? ....  It's Abe Shinzo! He actually brought a 1.8L of Dassai himself!”

I was really surprised when he passed away. Sure, he was the kind of man who drinks in the morning, but he was a strong drinker. He was sensitive, serious, and a tremendously righteous man. When I heard that he was drinking in the hospital, even though he was hospitalized for liver problems, I thought I could never drink with him again, but I didn't think he would die. There was a wake in his hometown of Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. It was raining lightly. It didn't feel real to me, up until I got there. That night, I had a drink too, but all the bars around Amagasaki were packed with people in mourning. I thought, "That's indeed the kind of man Masahiko Katsuya was.

Next story: "Dassai Sparkling"