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Gauntner's Japan Times Stories 2001

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How Tiger got his game back in five easy sips



Recently Tiger Woods secured his place in golfing history by winning this past Masters tournament. But there's a secret to Woods' recent success that few know about: sake.
It seems that last month, Tiger was in a bit of a slump. After the first day of the Bay Bridge Invitational, Tiger stood at 71, wading in a quagmire of mediocrity down in 35th place.

According to an article in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on March 20, Tiger left the course without saying a word to the media. That evening, with close friend and fellow pro golfer Mark O'Meara, Tiger went out and relaxed with a drink or two of nihonshu.

It is said that while on tour, Tiger doesn't drink a drop of alcohol. But apparently he needed to break the pattern, and the sake helped him relax enough to do just that. He shot in the 60s from Day 2 onward and ended winning his first victory of the season.

Who knows? This may have fueled his momentum enough to help him win the Masters this month. And most people think it's his concentration and diligent practice. See what sake can do for you?

When Tiger comes to Japan, he will no doubt take a limo to and from the airport -- unlike most of us, who may more commonly pass through Tokyo Station. Here is where we have an advantage over Tiger: The Daiei department store has a terrific selection of sake.

The stock here covers an incredibly wide range in terms of price, brewing region and bottle size. There is a rack of 1.8-liter ishobin bottles, a huge selection of the more manageable 720-ml yongobin bottles and even several dozen tiny 300-ml bottles.

The staff are usually actively promoting several sake, so you can sample one or two. They also are fairly knowledgeable, and as you peruse they may of their own accord step in to suggest a sake or point out what is rare or particularly good. Quite helpful, actually.

A few of the myriad sake available include straightforward Urakasumi (Miyagi), fruity Koro (Kumamoto), several nice Niigata sake like Shimeharizuru and Hakkaisan, as well as earthy Shinkame (Saitama) and rich Kaiun (Shizuoka). Mellow and sweet Nishi no Seki (Oita), smoky Kamoizumi (Hiroshima) and sturdy Narimasa "Jun" are available here as well.

Ask for any of these, or wade through the shelves for some of your own favorites. A more complete listing of what is available can be found at my Web site (, where there are no space limitations.

There are several rather hard-to-find sake here, including a bright red sake called -- surprise, surprise -- Akai Sake. Looking much like a fruit drink or lighter red wine, Akai Sake is made with a special koji mold that gives the sake its reddish hue. Akai Sake seems to be popular with some tourists for its uniqueness. While it may not be as delicate, fragrant and fine-grained as some sake, it is soft, slightly sweet and perfectly enjoyable.

Whether you are going to or coming from Narita, to business in Osaka or skiing in Tohoku, there are plenty of opportunities to pass through Tokyo Station. Daiei gives a reason to dawdle a bit on the way.

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Tsuru no Tomo (Niigata Prefecture)

Tsuru no Tomo is a classically clean, bright and light Niigata sake. It's one of those sake that only the geeks know about and is usually quite hard to find outside of Niigata. It was a pleasant surprise to find it at Daiei.

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The Japan Times: Apr. 29, 2001
(C) All rights reserved 
BELOW PHOTO: Tsuru No Tomo's ginjo-shu from Niigata Prefecture


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