I recently caught up with Chizuko-san at the beautiful Ippudo Ramen Restaurant and asked her some questions about cup sake. She provides us her unique perspective on this fun and fashionable way to drink sake!
Q: Before you studied to be a sake sommelier, did you have any experience drinking one cup sake in Japan? What was your impression?
Chizuko Niikawa: I had cup sake just a couple of times when I was in my early 20s for experience when I was in college. I don’t remember what sake I had, but definitely I hated it! Then I was convinced that One Cup Sake is cheesy, bad sake only meant for men over 50! (sumimasen men over 50 years old!….) because I had seen many drunk old men always drinking One Cup Sake on the train platform in my hometown very often when I was in high school. They smelled so bad! However, at the same time, I was longing to try One Cup Sake in a train someday like them because they seemed to be enjoying freedom as grown-ups, and some One Cup Sake designs were so pretty. In fact, I used the cute One Cup Sake glass as my regular glass at my home. I don’t know where it came from, but I could see so many One Cup Sake everywhere in my hometown Akita when I was a little, and I had imagined having One Cup Sake as a grown-up! What a stupid kid!
Q: Later, when you worked as a sake sommelier did you ever get to serve Cup sake? Are there any you can recommend?
Chizuko Niikawa: I served some samples of One Cup Sake at my work for just few customers. It was frozen sake in One Cup Sake glass. You have to shake the glass before open the lid. It tastes so refreshing like a sorbet. They changed my mind in a good way about One Cup Sake right away. I really liked the cup design, too. It had a cute plum blossom print.
And my first One Cup Sake experience in New York was Kikusui Funaguchi. I heard that Kikusui Funakuchi is the number one “Cup Sake” in Japan. It’s Honjozo, but Nama and Genshu. So fresh and rich! It was my first “wow!” impression of a One Cup Sake.
Now, I highly recommend “Gegege no Kitarou One Cup Sake” from Chiyomusubi in Tottori prefecture! They are all Junmai Ginjo, and all use a different sake rice. Gegege no Kitarou is super popular and the most classic Japanese cartoon character. Most Japanese grew up with Gegege no Kitarou. I wish the label wasn’t on paper, though. If the characters were printed on the cups directly, I definitely keep the cups!
Q: Sometimes people believe that one cup sake means lower quality sake. What is your opinion?
Chizuko Niikawa:I don’t want to say they are “lower quality”, but the big point of One Cup Sake is to make it easy to find anywhere like in grocery stores and at train stations, regular delis or automatic vending machines on the streets in Japan. So, One Cup Sake is supposed to be a cheaper price, and hold it’s flavor longer than premium sake. That’s why most of One Cup Sake is Honjozo or Junmai class.
Q: Cup sake has many cute designs. do you have any favorite cup designs?
Chizuko Niikawa: Yes. My point is, definitely the print is on the glass directly. Not paper label on the cup. Of course, the paper label cup can be recycled, so I don’t ask them to change the design. I just want to keep the empty cup for using regular glass, if the design is very cute. Panda print of Miyozakura from Gifu prefecture and Bambi print of Akishika from Osake are exactly my taste. Little nostalgic old fashion design is my favorite part of One Cup Sake design! (They are not available in U.S. market)
Q: Right now, one cup sake is relatively hard to find in the USA. Do you think it could become more popular someday?
Chizuko Niikawa: It’s hard to say actually. Many sake breweries have been able to brew premium sake nowadays, and the quality is getting better every year. I wish I can have premium One Cup Sake in NY casually, but I heard the bottling system of One Cup Sake is little different. It costs more than regular one, and One Cup Sake hasn’t been had like 20, 30 years ago in Japan now. Of course, some of them are still very popular, though.
One Cup Sake has a big lid, and is not easy to keep long the first fresh flavor probably, but many breweries have brewed great Honjozo and Junmai class sake in all over Japan. So, I don’t ask breweries which have not made One Cup Sake to try making One Cup Sake for people in the world, but if you already have the system, please please never stop to make One Cup Sake in the future!