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FEATURE: Sake brewers score hit with songs in Germany.

BAMBERG, Germany, July 22 Kyodo

Ten Japanese sake brewers received a warm reception recently when they traveled to Germany to perform traditional brewing songs in their first overseas singing tour.

Clad in ''happi'' coats reaching the hip and wearing split-toed straw sandals, the rice wine brewers, known in Japan as ''toji,'' from the town of Koshiji in Niigata Prefecture sang songs on the making of sake that date to the Edo period (1603-1867) in appearances in Bamberg, Erlangen and Cologne.

A toji is the chief brewer in a sake brewery who takes charge of washing, steaming and fermenting rice.

The brewers who visited Germany are all members of a group dedicated to keeping alive traditional sake brewing songs in Koshiji.

They made their initial appearance in the Bamberg University hall in the central German city of Bamberg on July 15. They performed in Erlangen on July 16 and Cologne on July 19. Germany is a country where classical music concerts are held almost every day.

Singing songs with lines about brewers' enthusiasm for washing rice to make sake for shipment to Edo (now Tokyo) and their commitment to produce high-quality sake, the brewers' high-pitched and plaintive voices reverberated through the hall.

They used wooden buckets and sticks while singing to simulate the process of making sake. In a climax at the end of their performance, the brewers were accompanied by violas and mandolins played by university students.

University staffer Linde Stix, 62, said, ''It was a wonderful concert. The combination of the songs and sound played on sake-making instruments was impressive.''

The audience enjoyed sipping sake in a post-performance exchange with the brewers.

The singing group in Koshiji was organized in 1997 out of a sense of crisis about the increasing mechanization of sake production, which is leaving brewers little opportunity to sing traditional brewing songs.

The group of about 50 members, including brewers, started teaching the songs to younger people, producing their own CDs and making concert tours in Japan.

The brewers toured the three German cities at the invitation of a number of people, including Max Peter Baumann, a professor of ethnic music at Bamberg University who was inspired by sake-making songs during a visit to Japan.

German brewers also have their own working songs. These serve a practical purpose of confirming whether all workers are safe in handling hot water on the job.

The similar traditions may have helped the German audience to relate to the Japanese brewers' songs.

The group's leader Yoshio Go, 69, was relieved to find that the ''heart of sake making got through to the Germans.''

''We refrained from singing songs in front of other people in the past because we did not want to recall our hard work,'' he said.

Baumann said, ''The effect of modernization has meant work songs are becoming an artisans' skill that is on the brink of extinction. Koshiji's way of tackling it is particularly worth paying attention to.''
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Comment:FEATURE: Sake brewers score hit with songs in Germany.
Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jul 29, 2002
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