The Gangi and I
The clear Nishiki river flows through eastern Yamaguchi prefecture, and branches in two just before it empties into the Seto Inland Sea. This sake brewery where I work, which has made sake for generations, stands on the banks of the Imazu river, one of those branches.
The grounds where our brewery stands once held a storehouse for the Imazu Teahouse. According to historian Miyata Itsumi, “The Imazu Teahouse was a second home for the Kikkawa Daimyo, a port facility, and a government office. When the Daimyo set out by boat, on their procession to Tokyo and so on, they would use this spot as a rest station before boarding or after landing, and when marrying, the bride would arrive by boat and reach land via the gangi (a stair stepped stone landing pier). She would stay a while at the teahouse, and from there leave for the manor. … It was decommissioned in April of the third year of Meiji, and transferred to private ownership.” That private owner was my ancestor.
The founder of Yaoshin, my great-grandfather, repurposed the former rice and washi-paper storehouse into a saké brewery, and began making this drink I still make. The Teahouse’s primary facility for serving as a docking station was the gangi. A gangi is like a set of stone steps leading down into the water serving as a pier or quay connecting the river and the land, where boats could dock. At our founding this gangi was used to unload rice which came down the Nishiki river by boat for use in saké making.
By the time I was born, in 1956, it was no longer used, but my heart will always be tied up at that gangi.
When I was a child, and summer vacation came, I would spend days jumping off the gangi to swim in the river, and played wild games of tag on the landings and the narrow stair lanes parallel to the river, called “dog runs.” In those days, there were fireworks shows on the Imazu river, and the gangi served as seating for crowds of spectators.
In my youth, when I was obsessed with Coltrane, I played the saxophone to the river there. At other times, I sat with friends and shared secrets while we stared into the water. At others, I walked the gangi drunk and almost fell into the water (and sometimes I did fall!). In difficult times, I came to the gangi to heal, and in glad times, I came to the gangi to calm down. It is part of uncountable memories.
When I was in Tokyo for university, the gangi was replaced with concrete as part of a grand scheme for bank reinforcement work to help defend from “once in a century” floods. The old gangi stones were taken away, and one third of its width was replaced with concrete steps mimicking its design. But the now cramped, unsightly riverbank is a pale imitation of what it once was.
Back when the gangi was still there, and the riverbanks were still stone, I remember how crabs would come up from the river and crawl around our house like they owned the place. And we often saw white snakes creep from between the rocks and swim across the water, as well. Which goes to show just how integrated the water and the land ecosystems were at the gangi, demonstrating so clearly how it was a place of growth and life. And so, ever since I came to lead Yaoshin Shuzo, and created the label Gangi, we have made our sake with the belief that “life is born from the water.”
Fifth Generation Kuramoto, Yaoshin Shuzo KK
From “Kikkawa Archives Newsletter”