JOK Notebook

Gathering Up the Lees

I just came out with essay 2066 on 酎 (shochu), and in writing it I discovered that the Japanese have a brilliant way of repurposing waste in the world of alcohol.

For instance, consider this word, in which the first kanji is non-Joyo:

粕取り焼酎 (かすとりしょうちゅう: shochu made from saké lees)
     saké lees + taken + shochu (last 2 kanji)

To make this sort of shochu, you take the saké lees (the sediment you filtered out while producing saké) and distill that substance. So the waste generated while manufacturing one kind of alcohol becomes the fodder for another type of alcohol!

And that's not all. It also works in the other direction! Saké producers often use kasutori shochu to prevent saké from fermenting before it is complete. Kasutori shochu made for this purpose is known as follows:

柱焼酎 (はしらしょうちゅう)     support + shochu (last 2 kanji)

I like the idea of this endless loop!

And I love doing the same thing with JOK Notebook posts. In this space, I can look more closely at what couldn't fit into an essay. Today I'll present some of what I filtered out from essay 2066, though some of this material did make it into that piece.

Kasutori Culture

I've mentioned kasutori shochu. There's another type of kasutori alcohol, and it has led to mix-ups and even death! 

In postwar Japan, where good alcohol was in short supply, people illegally brewed “moonshine” shochu out of substandard ingredients, sometimes including a methyl alcohol that sickened or even killed people! That’s what the men are enjoying in this photo from 1947. The bottles in this picture don’t have manufacturers’ labels because the whole operation was surreptitious. The piece of paper on each bottle doesn’t state the ingredients, only a percentage to indicate how strong each concoction is.

People came to refer to makeshift shochu with the slang term kasutori, rendering it as カストリ, says Wikipedia. This type of kasutori is entirely different from 粕取り焼酎 (かすとりしょうちゅう: shochu made from saké lees). The identical names have caused a great deal of confusion in Japan. And the bad reputation of the moonshine kasutori has sometimes damaged the reputation of real and respectable kasutori shochu. 

Intriguingly, says the same article, the term カストリ gave rise to the expressions “kasutori literature” and “kasutori culture.” In those terms, the カストリ means “very low quality,” likening such products to the moonshine. The Japanese no longer use such words to denigrate low-quality publications or products.

All that is in the essay, but this part didn't make it in: Kasutori alcohol is so low quality and strong that if one drinks 3合 (さんごう: approx. 540 milliliters) of it, one will become dead drunk or 酔い潰れる (よいつぶれる: to become dead drunk). When magazines were of such low quality that they were inevitably discontinued (潰れる, つぶれる) by the third issue (3号, さんごう), people called them カストリ雑誌 (カストリざっし: kasutori magazines). The joke hinged on two bits of wordplay:

1. Both -合 and -号  carry the sound -ごう here. But -合 is a traditional unit of volume, with 1合 equivalent to about 18 milliliters, whereas -号 is an edition number.

2. The following verb has multiple meanings:

潰れる (つぶれる: (1) to be crushed; be broken; collapse; (2) become useless; cease functioning; be wasted (e.g., time); (3) go bankrupt; go out of business; fail)

When it comes to being dead drunk, "to become useless" and "to cease functioning" are the applicable definitions. And when a magazine ceases to be published, "to go out of business" is relevant. 

Thus, the two phrases sound similar but mean different things:

Drinking 540 milliliters of kasutori alcohol will make you dead drunk

酔い潰れる (よいつぶれる: to become dead drunk); -酒 (-しゅ: alcohol)

A magazine so bad that it's discontinued by the third issue

If You're Hoppy and You Know It ...

Photo Credit: Samuel

This is part of a photo that also appears in essay 2066, just as it did in essay 1795 on 泡 (bubble). Even though I'd written about this image in depth there, new things jumped out at me this time. 

Take the 25° in this line:

1. ホッピーと甲類焼酎(25°)、ジョッキを冷蔵庫でよーく冷やしてください。
Hoppy and a type of shochu (25 percent alcohol by volume). Please chill it well in a beer mug in the refrigerator.

ホッピー* (Hoppy, the brand name of a beer-flavored drink that’s almost nonalcoholic); 甲類焼酎 (こうるいしょうちゅう: a type of shochu); 25° (にじゅうごど: 25 percent); ジョッキ (beer mug, stein); 冷蔵庫 (れいぞうこ: refrigerator); 冷やす (ひやす: to cool, refrigerate)

I learned that in the context of alcohol, the Japanese use the degree symbol to stand for 度 (ど: percent).

It's strangely inconsistent that the % symbol appears in the next-to-last line:

The shochu-Hoppy mixture will have about 5 percent alcohol by volume.

約 (やく: about)

The English (which came from my proofreader) doesn't match the Japanese closely. In particular, the Japanese doesn't mention a "shochu-Hoppy mixture." I inquired about this, and he replied as follows: "Right. The ホッピー has no alcohol in it, so アルコール約5%のホッピー is an oxymoron. The ホッピー in the sentence obviously means 'shochu-Hoppy mixture.' They probably wrote it that way because 焼酎のホッピー割り or something would be too lengthy. All the same, the Japanese sounds somewhat illogical to me, too. The direct translation of the Japanese is something like this: 'The beverage will become Hoppy with 5% of alcohol in it.'"

Unexpected Symbols

An image on an Amazon Japan page also contains some doozies. This is just a small part of the image, which accompanies a bottle of shochu by the manufacturer ニッカ.

In the top line, the obsolete katakana ヰ threw me for a loop! It was pronounced wi back in the day and has been replaced by イ. So ウヰスキー is an old-timey way of writing ウイスキー or ウィスキー (whiskey).

Here's the second line:

Nikka—the barley shochu

ザ (the (one and only))

The ザ stopped me in my tracks until I realized that it’s the Japanese approximation of the English word “the.” One use of “the” is to say “the (one and only),” as when we say, “That is the place to go for a drink.” In Japanese, ザ serves that purpose.

One more thing about unexpected symbols. Another image had “100” written as 一〇〇, and it surprised me to hear that the circle is also a kanji, one that we can read only as レイ. (It therefore shares an on-yomi and a meaning with 零.) My proofreader says of , "It’s not a traditional kanji that we can find in, say, Kangxi Dictionary, but since 〇 has a definitive shape, yomi and definition, it’s considered a kanji." 

More Alcohol, Please

If you want to sample alcohol rather than just the lees, figuratively speaking, be sure to check out essay 2066 on 酎 (shochu):

Catch you back here next time! 


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