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The Craft

Hanami Season in Japan 2018

Every spring, usually between the months of March and April, the vast number of cherry trees found in parks all over Japan begin to bloom, only lasting a couple of days before the pedals slowly fall off. As these flowers signify a major transition from the cold winter to the humid summer months, many Japanese gather under these blossoming trees to enjoy the pink petals of cherry-blossoms with their friends in great hanami (花見) parties.

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The Chinese characters for hanami literally mean “flower viewing” but has taken on a celebratory connotation and has become one of the most looked forward to events in Japan, with most of the country getting out to enjoy the full glory of the cherry trees.

Hanami has a long history leading from the aristocrats and courtiers from the late 700’s, the ability to see cherry-blossoms in many parks open to the common folk is thanks to the Tokugawa Shogunate which oversaw the planning of the famous trees in public spaces, with local Feudal Lords quickly following suit in their own areas. There are many correlations between samurai and the flowers which are still persistent in historical TV shows and movies, made more famous (and romanticized) in Western media through movies like Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samurai” (2003).

 

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Celebrations, Graduations, and a Bright Future

Modern hanami, however, is more closely related to new beginnings as it coincides with the start of a new school year and is the time when companies have on-boarded the years fresh batch of new recruits. For most Japanese, hanami focuses more on celebrations and bright new beginnings, rather than a somber reflection on the fleeting lives of the samurai.

This becomes apparent as parks full of pink-blushed flowers fill up with soon-to-be red-blushed 20-something university students and new employees with crisp business attire, intermingle with their relative senpai’s (a senior in either position or age) to set off to give cheers to the flower petals slowly falling around them.

 

Sakura pedals fill this small river in Tokyo.

Sakura pedals fill this small river in Tokyo.

A Product of the Times

With hanami season comes a spike in alcohol sales throughout the country with beer, Japanese rice wine, and shochu being the (almost) nationally-preferred drinks. In preparation for the festivities, many producers either produce limited seasonal versions of drinks or re-label their mainsail product in the beautiful pink petals.

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First up are the special cans of Asahi Super Dry.

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Clean, clear, and sharp, Asahi Super Dry is one of the staples of convenience store beer that you will have no trouble finding. This light and crisp beer delivers a surprising amount of flavor and is perfect for both warm and cold days.

First produced in 1987, Asahi Super Dry was the first successful "Dry" beer in Japan. Utilizing a specialized yeast strain and other brewing techniques to deliver a highly attenuated lager-style beer. The term commonly used in Japan to describe this dryness is "Karakuchi" and Asahi is known for their Karakuchi style of drinks.

Super Dry is often marketed with an abundant amount of metallic, clean, and simple imagery, usually focusing on the clear and simple can design of polished steel, this almost surgical-feeling design changes with the hanami season to include an abundance of metallic pink on their cans.

 

Kirin Ichiban Shibori

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Same as Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban Shibori is one of the staples of convenience stores beers that is not difficult to find anywhere and is a delightful, malty beer.

First launched in 1990, is a flagship brand of Kirin Brewing and is known for its particular brewing process; the first press. The term Ichiban Shibori itself literally refers to the first press of the wort ("Ichiban" means first, and "Shibori" to squeeze or press) which is used exclusively in this beer to help maintain a rich flavor derived from the malt. Utilizing a selection of hops imported from Czech, this beer has a mild hop aroma that helps to accentuate the rich body.

With a usually light-yellow and golden can, Kirin Ichiban Shibori forgoes the individual cherry-blossom flowers and focuses full-force on the whole tree for the hanami season. Wrapping around the whole golden-hued can, the trees look inviting and completely full of the soon-to-be-lost flowers, with the dreamy pedals falling down like snow-flakes.

 

THE PREMIUM MALTS

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Suntory's The Premium Malt's is a Japanese take on a European pilsner but brings a fair amount of original malty flavor to the table. Conceived by Ryuzo Yamamoto, a Japanese brewer who studied many Czech and German-style pilsner beers, The Premium Malt's was carefully crafted over a decade-long R&D period and has helped to solidify Suntory as a premium beer manufacturer.

Similar to Kirin's Ichiban Shibori, The Premium Malt's has its own specialized manufacturing process known as the Double Decoction Method. This method heats up the mash twice in a specific way to break down more of the sugars for the yeast to convert to alcohol and also allows the beer to have a distinctly crisp, dry malty characteristic common of many German or continental lagers.

Usually touting a solid gold and blue color scheme, The Premium Malt’s has a special can combining both the happiness of a new calendar year and the oncoming of spring with their limited can of Geishun (lit. “the welcoming of spring”). These cans were sold from November of the previous year and feature distinct imagery of the New Year, including a stylized dog (2018 is the year of the dog), iconic imagery of Mt. Fuji, and the full-blossoming cherry-blossoms for the annual hanami parties.

 

The Choice is Yours!

So, which of these designs catches your eye the most? Where will you be cracking open a cold one this spring? Let us know in the comments below!

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