Around the first day of spring, the Shonai region reaches the peak of brewing new sake, made from the rice harvested in autumn. In February every year, ‘new brew festivals’ are held at various locations in town. Among them, Oyama New Sake and Brewery Festival is quite popular. There are four breweries in Oyama, a suburb of Tsuruoka, and each brewery serves visitors with freshly brewed sake as their specialty on the day of the festival. Although the snow was drifting in the morning, as usual, the special two-car train, Kirakira Uetsu, was fully packed like a commuter train in the city center of Tokyo. Nearly all of the passengers on the train intended to get drunk with the new sake brew as today’s agenda. The train was already filled with an uplifting of emotion and a curious sense of unity.
Getting off at Uzenoyama Station and lining up for an hour, we finally could enter the first brewery. Right away sake was poured into our sake cups. A clean taste just spread through the mouth, and the body immediately warmed up. Pouring newly brewed sake just continued. Even with a sojourn time of only 15 minutes between each brewery, people already had gotten to know each other while being in line and became good friends with the help of sake. “Where are you from?” “Come every year?” We also noticed regulars. One of the guys offered us dried snacks from his pocket. Another guy just lifted his shirt to show us his disposable pocket heater sticking to his body. Then people headed off to the next brewery.
In addition to the breweries, this festival is one of the biggest town events also organized by the community center, the commerce and industry association, and the shopping street. Neither the drifting snow nor the freezing wind affects the event. On the contrary, the event is wrapped with a festive atmosphere. It seems that people already sense the signs of spring to come. The snow, blown upwards by the wind, is damp and makes jackets wet. Even so, the town is filled with energy from the new brew that is the symbol of the moment of being freed from the winter.