Location: Okayama City 岡山市
When: Annually around May
Every year around mid-May, the normally quiet Sunday back streets of central Okayama come alive with people drunkenly staggering from one Izakaya (Japanese pub) to the next. No surprise really when you realise that they are all participating in an event that's name literally translates as just that, Drunken Staggering! The concept is brilliant in its simplicity. Participating venues are paired up with Sake Breweries from throughout Okayama Prefecture and a few from neighbouring Hiroshima and Tottori. Each brewery provides 2 to 3 examples of their Sake, and the venue provides a small snack to compliment the drinks. All the customer has to do is buy a certain number of tickets (500yen each) and using a map provided by the organisers make their way from one venue to the next. With around 25 participating venues each serving a minimum of two drinks per customer, it's not surprising that many end up doing just as the name suggests.
What makes the Chidori-Ashi event so special though is how it manages to simultaneously bring the Brewer, Seller and Customer all together in the same place. This is a win-win for everyone as consumers get a rare chance to meet the brewers and ask questions about the Sake. Reciprocally, the brewers are both able to speak directly to their customers, whilst at the same time observing the hard working people of the restaurants and bars that are serving their products night-in night-out. As I have now said on numerous occasions, knowing a little bit about the people behind the brewing, for many at least, goes a long way to increasing your enjoyment of that particular beverage. As for the brewers who have mostly all just finished a tough brewing season, it's a great opportunity to feel that the hard work they have put in over the winter is being appreciated..
In terms of benefitting the Sake Industry as a whole, this type of event is also a great way to attract new customers to drinking Nihonshu. Given that participants can try such a wide variety of Sake with very little outlay, it is no surprise that the customer profile attending Chidori-Ashi is incredibly diverse, and includes both young and old, male and female, Japanese and foreigners alike. Furthermore, the event organisers have reported that the number of participant is increasing each year as the event gains more popularity. Although a long way off the huge numbers that attend such large-scale events as the Hiroshima Sake Festival, Chidori-Ashi perhaps offers a more personal event whereby the customers that are new to Sake can really take the time to enjoy and learn about this fantastic drink. So, if you are in Japan around mid-May and want to witness a truly local Sake Event, why not make your way to the Land of Sunshine and stagger for a bit (just a little) through the beautiful streets of Okayama City...