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RP Nothing but an Ice Queen

Andrew

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Taro couldn't help but chuckle at Mikael's comment, "Believe me, I don't need a private tour or any other kind of special treatment. I'm happy to share my time here with whoever may come along. " He took a deep breath of the chilled air and made a motion towards Fusako and nodded in agreement to her words, "Yeah, what she said. Plus what joy would anyone get out of this place if it was lonely. Sake is good; it should be enjoyed in good company." The Motoyoshi Clan leader gave a final nod and caught the brief sighting of the antlered form as it emerged and then disappeared back into the forest. If this trip continued much more along these lines he was going to be tempted to book an entire vacation in the village.

He had actually foregone the virtual tour that Mikael had mentioned, it was something of a downer to preview every place he visited. Taro turned his attention briefly from the tour as he heard the girl call out, "It seems this is a very popular time for you, it is good to see such interest," Taro said to Fusako. That nimble, lithe movement through the snow, the retired Shosho was about as impressed by it as he had been when he first entered service; henceforth came the Nekovalkyrja in all of her splendor and by the look of it she had quite the steady control of herself. A fitting introduction too; Fusako's words about the water and its force somehow seemed almost prophetic now. Taro awaited the promised reveal though, it was what he had come for after all. To see the amazing wonder maker of Ice Queen Sake, develop her tasty social lubricant that warmed the tummy even during the coldest nights.
 

hyralt

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When Fusako heard the call to wait, she stopped and turned to see an ebony-haired and alabaster-skinned Nekovalkyrja moving swiftly through the snow towards them. The older geshrin woman's eyes went wide and she gasped, thinking that she was seeing the ghostly snow woman 雪女 of local legend. After a few rapid heartbeats, she returned to her senses and remembered that this approaching figure matched the description of another of today's scheduled guests, Koyama. The sake maker put her polite face back on, but couldn't help but feel dazed by the ghostly apparition fueled by her suddenly overactive imagination.

"We are exceptionally fortunate today," Fusako replied to Taro, turning to him and giving a small bow of her head. "We rarely have guests, but occasionally there is enough interest that a local company arranges a bus tour. I am honoured by any and all who would make the journey."

Fusako felt somewhat conflicted. She wanted to wait until Koyama joined them to greet her, but she also wanted to go and retrieve another gift bag so that she could have it ready when her guest arrived. The sake maker peeked at the two-storey building out of which steam had been billowing only minutes ago. The steam had largely dissipated, but the sliding doors remained open, providing a window to the activity within. A young Yamataian woman with her long blonde hair done up in a bun, a brown and white Phod, and a human-sized anthro squirrel passed by. Each of whom wore traditional dark blue robes and pants a shade above black, with white undershirts, and white headbands with thin blue stripes. They also wore tatami sandals with white straps, and each one was carrying a dripping wooden bucket whose contents seemed quite heavy.

The geshrin woman knew that she could call one of them over and have them bring a gift bag for their latest arrival, and for a long moment, she was quite tempted. In the end, she turned back to look at Koyama and decided that she could wait a little longer for the gift bag. After all, although it wasn't her habit, it was proper etiquette to leave gift-giving until later so that guests didn't feel that their business was rushed.

"Welcome, Koyama-san," Fusako said as Koyama arrived, bowing deeply. "I am Kinoshita Fusako, it is an honour to meet you."
 

demibear

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Mikael simply nodded his head as Taro spoke. He was about to speak about when he heard the call to wait coming from the forest. He turned to look and remained quiet as the Neko made her way over to them. He wasn't sure what to make of her, but he was on vacation. He was actively restraining his training from surfacing and ruining the experience.
 

Soresu

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Koyama seemed to stop dead in her tracks as the old woman emitted her gasp, eyes widened. For her part, remaining still, her own eyes seemed to go wide in response accompanied by a few flicks of her ears. Yet the look about her smoldering golden eyes seemed to hold patience and kindly observance as they remained upon the owner of the woman. It was then that she returned the bow, equally as deep with an apologetic if embarrassed expression upon her pale countenance.

"Thank you for your warm greeting, Kinoshita-san. You honor me as well for accepting my request in booking this tour. And I apologize for my tardiness." her somewhat low, if lyrical in its tone.

"I had taken too much time enjoying the scenery of the surrounding area, mountains, and forests. It is not often that I come home to Yamatai. Let alone a place I once visited as a youngling and fell in love with." the two men seemed to go on unnoticed, though if they had been paying close attention the subtle flick of her gaze before bowing had shown she'd taken them in at a glance and moved on. Her attention had been on the more pressing of matters.

"I am gladdened that so little has changed since my last visit many years ago." with that she stood straight. Turning to the two men, first to Taro, her eyes catching the light just a little as her gaze rested on him. The young woman took his appearance in, the little logo on his scarf. Yugumo. He seemed familiar... her eyes closed just a little as she thought and then ran his face against PANTHEON. Then the flicker of recognition behind them was all that was needed. That somewhat intense scrutiny passed and her look turned soft once more as she bowed again albeit somewhat less than she had to the good lady Kinoshita. It wasn't a slight, she'd been late, and had bowed so deeply to show her shame at such a thing. Still respectful as befitting his station amongst the Elders of his clan.

"Motoyoshi-Ieyasu-sama. A pleasure. Your niece speaks... fondly of you." there was only one of the three she could be referencing that she was familiar with. The one who called him 'Old-Man Taro' sounded a little insulting but in truth, it had been their way when addressing him in their own affectionate way.

"As I had explained to Kinoshita-san, I am sure you understand. I must apologize not only to you but to the gentleman beside you." Mikael seemed to bear a much more intense moment of quiet observation in a manner befitting one sizing up another as a curiosity and not a threat. As the moment passed, her eyes slid from him and down to toward her feet. She felt the wet coldness of melting snow against her lower calves and a mental 'tsk' of annoyance registered. With a little shift of her feet, Koyama decided it was worth the admonishment warring in her mind and sprung into a little hop upward.

Floating gently up, and then down upon the snow's surface. There wasn't so much as a puff, crunch nor disturbance as once booted foot touched upon it, toes first then the other. Her slight body finally resting entirely upon the pure white surface of cold and frozen water. It seemed she'd had enough of slogging through it and getting her pants wet. With a small, soft smile, the third member of the tour group closed the remaining distance to the three. Although she appeared to still maintain some measure of her control for she emitted not a sound upon the snow's delicate surface as she did so. Her breath puffed a barely perceptible white in the cold air around her as she stood within their group. Raking a hand through her hair to smooth down the few flyaways within the sheet of her jet-hair. Readjusting the flower to a more secure position within her hair and not behind an ear it seemed she was ready.

"I am quite looking forward to your tour, Kinoshita-san. I admit I have never been to such a place before and am curious how sake is made. And must hasten to add I have never tried sake before. Let alone alcohol in general. So please, Kinoshita-san, if you feel you must go further into detail I would thank you for it." her smile widened just a little as she confided and seemed to ease into something a little less formal in her manner.
 
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Andrew

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Taro smiled at the newly arrived Neko, and bowed forwards slightly in a polite greeting; "I have to admit, you have me at a loss, I'm unfamiliar which of my nieces you speak of, but welcome, It is nice to see so many people out for this tour today," he said. It appeared that this tour was rather full, hopefully, this would compel the owner to leave out the special treatments associated with his status and rather provide the usual tour.

He watched as the Phod and the anthro passed by and tried to get a look at what was in the buckets they carried without leaving the spot where he stood.

The introductions had come to a close; he silently hoped they could get on with the tour. He glanced around them with curiosity wondering what wonders Fusako had to reveal to them.
 

Soresu

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Koyama emitted a soft chuckle barely above a whisper as Taro seemed to not recognize whom she spoke of. It seemed Kazumi had been keeping their friendship a secret, or hadn't spoken of her yet or planned to do so at all. Kaoru's baby sister was indeed known for keeping secrets, waiting for the opportune time to unveil them, or just plain kept them to herself. And was often distracted with her work. She was a diligent Neko, dogged in her unraveling of things, self-improvement and keeping attempting to put forward the Motoyoshi's interests. Though she had been a bit of a hellraiser and troublemaker as a Youngling.

"Kazumi, Motoyoshi-Ieyasu-sama." Koyama amended. "Old-Man Taro, she calls you." the young lady added for more emphasis and just to prove it was accurate. The black paneled member of what was now the YSS Mazu's crew was known to keep most outside of the Clan at arm's distance. Picking and choosing those she got closer to considering the Motoyoshi's delicate position and personal if picky preference. "We became friends while serving on the Tokyo. And share many mutual interests on and off duty." as if that were enough to go on. Koyama looked toward the oldish Geshrin woman though spared a second glance at him.

"She's a good girl. And I did try to keep her out of trouble and help her when I could. It was her first posting after all and such things can be a bit overwhelming." it was a statement of fact. Koyama had been in her shoes once. Though much more timid and shy. She'd had no family to support her during her first assignment on Leo Star Fortress in the Tenth Fleet, nor subsequently on the Ryuusei's Motome. Just Chi and not a gaggle of Clan members around her. Thinking back on those times brought forth a ghostly, mysterious smile. That celebratory night aboard the Tokyo had been a cakewalk to navigate in comparison to what she'd waded through as the naive young thing she'd been amongst the old guard. The Neko of the Second Draconian Fleet that had been rescued from their imprisonment and brought back into Yamatai's fold. Or as her roommate had so succinctly put it, 'The hardcore golden oldies.' of a time when Yamatai was less politically compromising in the presence of other nations of the sector and more in line with what it had been like long before her time in this universe.

With that, her attention returned to the oldest member of this little group.
 
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hyralt

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"I accept everyone's request to visit," Fusako interjected when Koyama mentioned accepting her request for a tour. "My home is open to anyone for as long as they would like to stay, but be warned: anyone who stays long enough must help make sake."

The sake maker listened, noting the neko's use of the "sama" honorific when addressing Taro. She wondered if perhaps she should do more research on her guests in future. The older woman jumped in again when Koyama referred to the man standing next to Motoyoshi-Ieyasu-"sama."

"Mikael, this is Koyama," she began by introducing her earlier-arriving guest to her later-arriving one. "Koyama, this is Mikael. All of my guests today have expressed a deep appreciation for the spirits of nature around us, which I most certainly share. But both you, Mikael, and you, Koyama, are distinguished by arriving on foot, which is a level of appreciation to which I can only aspire."

Fusako, ever attentive to her guests, noticed when Taro tried to get a look at the contents of the buckets being carried by the passing figures inside the sake-making building.

"Those buckets will be full of steamed rice, ready for inoculation with koji, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us begin with water."

The older woman resumed her shuffling glide, the movement of her legs severely restricted by the long, tightly-wrapped black and gold kimono. Though she didn't glide as well as someone who could float above the ground, she was well-practised in manoeuvring because of the formality that she observed during tours and business meetings. She was much more comfortable in her work uniform, which was identical to the ones worn by those who passed by carrying buckets, but it was important to her that she made every guest feel honoured, and that meant dressing in her finest.

She led them around the steamy building, down the path along which she had driven only moments ago until after a short distance it began to follow the river. From there, she doubled back around the tall building, navigating between it and the flowing water until she was standing next to the great water wheel.

"There are four ingredients in sake: water, rice, koji, and yeast. The water we use comes from this river, which flows from the Ice Queen Mountains," she explained while making an exaggerated gesture to the mountains visible in the north. The action was further emphasized by her wide sleeves, giving her the semblance of a dancer performing some well-rehearsed routine. "We are fortunate that there is little between the mountains and our location, except the nature that we all enjoy so much. The water here is very pure, and we are far enough south that the river never freezes over. If it did, we would be forced to halt production until it flowed again."

"We use the water both as an ingredient,"
she swept her arm towards a pair of wooden aqueducts, one which led into the building, and another which led out. Then she traced an arc in the air in the direction of the huge lumbering water wheel. From this angle, it was easy to see that the location of the wheel was chosen carefully. There was a small waterfall against which the wheel had been placed, letting the falling water provide more force than if the wheel were only turned by the water moving horizontally. "But also for its assistance in a physical part of the process. In fact, the first part of the process involving rice, which will be the next part of the tour. In the time between the start of the rainy season and the first harvest, when the rice has been spent and the sake is resting, we even use the turning of the wheel to generate electricity, as Motoyoshi-Ieyasu-san so keenly surmised."

Just like the dancer that she was beginning to resemble, she turned to them and bowed as this section of the tour reached its conclusion.

"Do any of my honoured guests have a question before we move on?"
 

Andrew

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Taro moved along with the group, as Fusako presented the information about the water he quietly made note of the setup, the information she gave about the mountain source. The way the elder woman presented it, she made it abundantly clear that arguments of technicality for example; water is water, sound distant. The source of the sake's main ingredient was probably just as important to the marketing process for it as the actual water was for the sake, such aged techniques created an emotional or nostalgic response of ages past which but value on the product. It might have been business 101, but it was a reminder to Taro that if he was going to place this Sake in Takeda House he would need to find a way to capture what he was seeing now in how it was described on the menu and by their wait staff.

The Motoyoshi Clan leader dismissed the active thought that he had purposely downplayed his introduction both in proceeding communications about the tour and in the previous discussions. He swallowed the fact Koyama was a respectful Neko; hopefully, she could understand his body language and demeanor that his list of titles and achievements were not something needed on a Sake tour, even if respectful social interaction demanded it. "My nieces are such charmers, I fear for the mates they one day attract that sweet candy demeanor they all hold has a tactical side to it; so much like their mothers..." he said, hoping that it would give a casual direction to the following conversation.

Mikael seemed quiet, Taro wasn't sure of what to think about the man. Hopefully, he would be a little more involved as they went on.

"Just a question if I may, Is the water filtered? If so is it a basic filtration or an osmotic process. I can't help but wonder if the mineral content of the water is adding something to the overall flavor profile of your Sake?" he asked his questions of their guide, curious as to what her answers would be.
 

hyralt

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"That is another excellent question," the sake maker beamed. "Legend has it that water is so important in the process that the earliest sake makers, of whom all records have likely been lost, would flock to wherever the water was proven to yield a good final product. I can't tell you if that's true, but I certainly came here because I knew sake had been successfully made here for some time, and I know that the water source is an important determining factor of that.

"As for your question about filtration, the answer is again somewhat complicated. We use basic filtration on the output water because otherwise, we would be sending a lot of rice sediment downstream. It is of the utmost importance to me that I don't cause any harm to the spirit of the river so that anyone can enjoy this beautiful water as I do."


Fusako also imagined that she worked in cooperation with the spirits of nature, and was honestly afraid of their retaliation if she ever drew their ire. This she left unsaid, as she expected her guests were not of the spiritual sort and that it might make them uncomfortable if she spoke literally of nature spirits.

"Most of our input water is unfiltered because the koji and yeast are much happier when they have certain minerals in abundance, which the untouched water here seems to provide. If I ever had problems with koji or yeast, I would immediately suspect an issue with the water. I endeavour to take a water profile analysis every few years so that I could recreate it if the water ever turns sour. I'm not sure exactly which minerals they enjoy so much, but I imagine someone has studied it by now and could tell you with some authority."

The sake maker was a little sceptical of the kind of reductivism that sometimes accompanied scientific study, especially when it came to matters of taste. Again, she thought she had better not bring this up around her honoured guests.

"Finally, water is also added at the end of the process, once the koji and yeast have had their fill. I have been known to fuss over the water at this step because blending in even trace amounts of certain minerals can unbalance delicate flavours. I have a reverse-osmosis system for this, but once filtered I re-introduce certain elements largely to taste."

Fusako seemed like she wanted to go on, but she stopped herself and smiled, looking a little embarrassed.

"Water will come up again in each of the upcoming stages of the tour, so if something still isn't clear, please don't worry - I will be able to explain in more detail soon."
 

Soresu

Well-Known Member
Koyama's hands had remained in her lap, gaze having turned a little melancholy as the sake maker spoke. While it seemed her attention had turned to the babbling and gentle slosh of the river, one of the Neko's ears had fully stayed in the direction of the others. Although eventually, her gaze had peeled off from the clear waters to Fusako. Having not said anything as the older woman mention the much taller Minkan. His momentary scrutiny of her earlier had been dismissed. Clearly, she hadn't considered him a threat or had pretended not. When you were born to, grew up with, ate, slept, bathed, and trained with Samurai it gave you a sense of hypervigilance to one's surroundings and people. He just didn't seem to register on her threat'o'meter as consequential. Yet as she continued following behind the Geshrin, Koyama looked up from her study of the ground. Aspergillus oryzae, the mention of koji having brought the more scientific name of the fungus to mind. She was no sake maker, yet she did dabble with an ever-increasing fervor of the biological and genetic engineering field. Like grandfather like granddaughter she supposed. Karl had, had a hand in the older NH-series.

The creak and deep resonant groan of wood or some form of composite catching her attention whilst Fusako explained. Attention following the sweeping gestures of the beverage maker, the youngest of the group felt a little smile tug at the edges of her lips. That Kaoru had several 'mates' already if the victory day celebrations in a certain suite of offices during a night of debauchery. The more experienced, yet still virginal Nekovalkyrja had shielded the younger, more impressionable, and drunk girl from the predators on the prowl. It had culminated in the duo having retreated to Katsuko's office, their discussion long and deep regarding the next expansion release of their MMORPG. The expansion would've added a series of new dungeons, raids, and world bosses. All complete with new drops for their respective classes. The guild they were in had been known for the dogged pursuit of world firsts and progression. That was until the young Intel Specialist had fallen asleep. Koyama resting her head on her lap, the uniform jacket acting as a makeshift blanket.

It only struck her now how motherly that moment had seemed.

One raid, in particular, called for hundreds to complete. A small army. All had to be coordinated, timed across the sector for the small, yet elite guild to band together and complete. It was all for the experience, the thrill and bragging rights out of hundreds of millions of players.

"I've taken to trying to guide her through some of the more difficult circumstances of her job. Offering advice and support. Not a head for engineering like her father. But the same creative passion for the solution to a problem. It just lay elsewhere. Loves her manga and games. The walls of her quarters... you practically can't see the gray of the plating it is so full of color due to it. Chiharu forbid you try and touch the collectibles if you're not a fan." her voice measured, polite, she'd dropped the 'sama' and had gotten the hint. Perceptive girl. But a pang of regret and loneliness pricked her heart. Mothers. She hadn't seen hers in years. A spat between them had left a bitter taste in her mouth. Wounded pride and an adamant stubbornness keeping her from apologizing over something years passed.

Though at Taro's question, Koyama had moved off just enough to inspect the little aqueducts of crystal clear, life-giving waters.

"The closer to the mountains it is more minerally."
her mind had wandered just a little, speaking absently while squatting down just enough to give it a closer inspection. "The further down you go this becomes a different flavor profile." she could almost taste the richer mineral content of the high waters on her tongue. Where she had lived had been deep in the forests. The same waters had flowed there of course but she had been further up the range than further south where they stood.

"It can become sweeter, the Kuīnzutiāzu that is."
she resisted the urge to dip a finger in and taste the result. "I had not guessed it was used for Sake. But it made for such excellent drinking water while I was here." a wistful smile was on her face as she stood up and rejoined the group.

"The koji you use, Kinoshita-san. It is local? Not cultured from Kyoto or outsourced from offworld? But naturally derived in the area?"
steamed rice had tickled her nose. So distant yet her delicate sniffer had picked it up. Her interest lay more in just what was used on the rice than water.
 

hyralt

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The sake maker nodded as Koyama talked about the properties of water in relation to its distance from the mountains. "That sounds quite reasonable."

Fusako tilted her head at the question about koji. "I brought with me koji rice from the sake brewery where I was an apprentice, but I think the room where we cultivate the koji had enough healthy spores that I needn't have done so. As a result, it is likely a hybrid of the batch I brought and that which was used before I took ownership of the premises. I don't know how to naturally derive it."

The geshrin woman seemed a little embarrassed again. "Honestly, during my apprenticeship, I struggled to get koji to cooperate with me and I'm very glad that whatever strain we have now seems to be quite happy with whatever I feed it."
 

hyralt

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"Let's move on to the next ingredient in sake: rice!"

Fusako led them into the once-steamy building. She took off her shoes as she stepped up onto the veranda, briefly disappeared inside, the re-appeared wearing tatami sandals, and holding a pair for each of them.

"Please wear these indoors, carry your shoes with you, and try to make way for my coworkers. If we make the floors wet, or block the passageways someone could get hurt."

The interior of the building had two sections separated by a wall of sliding wooden dividers. One of the panels had a black border and an ancient painting of a dragon that was still recognizable despite being very well-worn from decades of daily use.


This panel was pulled aside and the young blonde Yamataian woman and anthro squirrel were carrying buckets full of fluffy-looking rice in from the other room. They completely ignored the group of tourists and each put their buckets on a small platform, then pulled a rope which tugged the platform up to the second level, where a moment later, the platform would return with empty buckets that the two workers would carry back into the other room.

The room in which Fusako and her group now found themselves had a log-sized wooden axle running across it just below the ceiling. The axle turned slowly groaning deeply as it did so, and they could see through the still-open sliding walls to the outside that it was turned by the water wheel. The axle was mounted on both sides of the building in well-greased metal sleeves that seemed to contain bearings so it could spin freely. Just inside from the veranda on the side of the building with the water wheel, a set of metal baskets covered the wall. They sat at an odd angle: almost sideways, but tilted up just enough that they could spin without their contents tumbling out. And indeed, they were spinning furiously, as they were linked to the great wooden axle. At the same time, water was trickling down onto each basket from an extension of the aqueduct they had seen outside. The water seemed to wash over the contents and trickle down into a grate below them.

"Here is where we polish rice. As you may be aware, rice has an outer layer of fats and proteins and an inner layer of nearly pure starch. The koji converts the starch into sugar, which the yeast converts into alcohol. The fats don't incorporate well into sake and can go rancid before too long. But it isn't as simple as polishing away the outer layer, because koji also creates enzymes that break down proteins and these are largely responsible for all the flavour that is possible in sake besides the most basic starch, sugar, and yeast byproducts. It is a delicate balance, and highly dependent on your koji, which can be quite temperamental."

Fusako glanced at Koyama while she mentioned koji, anticipating that the neko would most enjoy the next section of their tour. Then she swept her wide-sleeved arm towards the grates under the rice polishing setup and looked to Taro.

"This is where much of our output water comes from, hence why we would be producing a lot of rice sediment if we didn't filter it. Since we do filter it, we are able to make use of the sediment to make things like rice crackers. It also works well as a protein supplement."

On the floor of the room, there were wooden tubs full of rice, and wooden sticks along one wall away from the rice polishing rig.

"Once we have polished the rice to the desired protein/starch ratio, a process which takes several days, we then soak it."

As if on cue, a male Yamataian worker appeared from the other room. He wore the standard dark blue work uniform that the other workers wore, but instead of a bandana, he wore a cap. A stopwatch dangled around his neck, and he smiled nervously as Fusako gestured to him.

"This is Tumara Ikko, and he is the tōji today, which means that he is in charge. Soaking the rice is such a crucial part of the process, it is up to the tōji to measure how much time the rice has spent soaking and prevent it from absorbing too much, or from being drained too early."

Fusako then led the group into the next room, which was almost entirely occupied by a couple of massive tanks that were only about waist-height, but looking down into them, they were clearly set deep below the floor level. A light mist was still rising from one of them, which had clearly been the source of all the steam earlier when everyone was still arriving. Towering over the misty tank was a Kodian with mostly black fur, but who had a patch of white on their chest that the dark blue uniform didn't quite cover. The Kodian looked at the group with disinterest.

"This is Hitonokuma Kumi, one of my very best kurabito."

While the ceiling in the first room was quite low, the ceiling here was quite high and far above they could see a large opening to allow the steam to escape. Both tanks contained very moist rice, but only the steamy one was warm.

"Once the rice is soaked, we steam the rice here overnight."

As Fusako spoke, her coworkers repeatedly entered the room with empty wooden buckets, handed them to the Kodian, who filled them with steamed rice and handed them back, then disappeared again.

"Do my honoured guests have any questions before we move on to the koji section of the tour?"
 

Andrew

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Taro smiled and gave a slight nod to what Koyama said, it was good to hear that his niece had a friend. A later conversation would maybe in order, it was helpful to hear feedback on the girls from their peers. As the tour continued, he found himself moderately preoccupied with the presentation of what was a primitive and nostalgic process which gave a magical quality to the product that Fusako produced. The tour appeared to move quicker than he anticipated and further questions about the water would need to be fielded at a later time.

When prompted, Taro switched to the indoor sandals and carried his boots as instructed. He also unbuttoned his jacket as he was a little warm with it still on. He observed as the tour continued and Fusako continued to explain this art in which she was obviously quite invested in. His questions dried up though as the pace made an observable change; such things were ill-suited for much else than a nod or quiet observation. The fact that they made crackers out of the byproducts made for an interesting note; the deeper the tour went into the process the more he was occupied in thought, perhaps that polished newness of the ventures of his own company needed to consider a few deployments of exclusive and traditional measures.

"Your mention of the crackers has me interested; do you produce other products as well? Such as rice vinegar, miso, and so on?" he questioned as he prepared to follow the owner where ever she decided to lead them.
 

hyralt

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"In fact, I hadn't considered much aside from rice crackers and protein supplement." Fusako's face lit up with delight at Taro's question. "Those are wonderful suggestions! Miso in particular seems quite obvious in retrospect since we are already propagating our own koji." The older woman put on a cheeky smile. "Though perhaps my coworkers would miss having rice crackers with dinner every night."

When she said this, the giant Kodian released a single deep laugh that bounced around the high ceiling of the room a few times before it finally settled down. The laugh seemed to suggest that at least one coworker wouldn't miss the rice crackers very much.

"Perhaps we could try a pilot program over the summer while the sake is resting."
 

Soresu

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Koyama had seemingly let Taro's smile and nod go unnoticed. Her ears had gone perked up immediately, angling in such a way as to catch every word Fusako spoke. Despite the assumptions of one fallen prince being true. She was indeed an engineer. And could indeed cook. Along with her crosstraining in organic engineering, the whole process being described piqued her interest doubly so. Once the aged Geshrin woman began going into further detail, the Neko seemed to be mumbling to herself as she watched the process of polishing, soaking, and steaming.

She was trying to do the math on the ratios. Steaming definitely seemed to be an optimal method of allowing that particular strain of mold to begin its work. Her ears twitched in a steady rhythm while working on the problem. But a boisterous, rumbling laugh so deep it couldn't come from anything human brought her out of her reverie.

Looking up with a seemingly lost expression on her face, Koyama had picked out a few fine details near the end.

"Miso? That... would be excellent. Rice miso works so well while cooking in the summer. I would certainly purchase some handmade miso. Even the smaller grocery stores within Kyoto seem to sell almost nothing but factory-made varieties. Even what passes as 'Artisnial or Traditional' just seems a poor imitation." with a soft smile, Koyama seemed rather pleased at the sake maker's possibility of making such a thing a possibility. Rice Miso was certainly a favorite, sweeter, lighter, and mellows that overall saltiness.

"If you do decide to proceed with such a program. I would be very happy to buy and try some of the finished product. Rice-based Miso is a favorite of mine."


Changing gears, Koyama cleared her throat a little, "Kinoshita-san? The rice, it does not come out sticky on the outside from the steaming for such a lengthy period of time?"
 

hyralt

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Fusako tilted her head. "No, it isn't very sticky." As one of her coworkers passed by with a bucket full of rice, she moved with surprising speed to grab a small handful. She began to work the rice in her hands, pressing it together between her palms until it took the shape of a flat disk. "In fact, the true test of when it is done is how well it compresses into a hineri mochi rice cake. It should stretch easily and the grains should squash into a single solid mass, and there shouldn't be any white speckles or dark spots when you hold it up to the light."

The sake maker smelled the cake before she held it between her eyes and the lights shining down from above before tossing it to Koyama.

"Wait. A lengthy period of time? Did I say that it steams overnight? I must be tired today." Fusako rubbed the back of her neck in embarrassment. "I meant that we soak the rice the previous day and it sits overnight. We steam it first thing in the morning when we begin around 4 A.M., and it only takes an hour or so."

OOC: I was the one who was tired, but Fusako takes the blame IC. Sorry for the mistake!
 
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hyralt

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Fusako wallowed in her embarrassment for a moment as the kurabito passed back and forth between the rice steaming room and the rice polishing room, continuing to carry bucket after bucket of fluffy rice. She knew that the feeling would nag at her until she had something else to focus on, so she decided to move on to the next part of the tour.

"Once steamed, we bring the rice into our koji propagation room which is above where we were previously." She indicated back the way they had come, then waited for the kurabito to pass once more before she led them back into the rice preparation room.

Fusako walked past the rope and platform system that her coworkers were using to lift the buckets to the next level, and she stopped at the wall beyond the rice soaking buckets where there was a mess of sticks leaning, presumably for use in the rice soaking process. She spent a few moments arranging the sticks into a neat line against the wall and almost miraculously, this revealed a ladder that had been hidden behind the sticks. She picked it up and brought it back to where the kurabito were presently hoisting buckets. She waited for them to get their empty buckets back and leave for more rice before she stood the ladder upright.

The ladder was made of gnarly but approximately straight branches that had been stripped of bark, lightly stained, and notched together haphazardly. Like much of the building around them, it showed the signs of decades of wear. The ladder reached just barely to the opening to the second landing, where a pair of hooks latched on to the edge. Despite its questionable appearance, the ladder seemed quite sturdy and bore Fusako's weight without so much as a groan when she pulled herself up to the level above.

When the rest of them followed, they found themselves in a room whose floors, walls, and ceiling were all lined with seemingly fresh cedar. There was a great table in the centre of the room that occupied most of the available space that wasn't taken up by much shallower tables along the walls. All the tables were quite low, approximately waist-height for a Phod. The table in the centre of the room was covered in a huge white cloth and a relatively small pile of steamed rice.

"Here we find Allobroxus diligently performing the task of transferring the rice from the buckets onto the inoculation table."

A brown and white Phod ignored the group and worked tirelessly, taking the rice-filled buckets and replacing them with empty ones. With the rice-filled buckets in hand, the Phod moved swiftly down the narrow walkways between the centre table and the tables along the walls, before dumping the rice into the slowly-growing pile on the centre table.

On the tables along the walls, there were what looked like boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling and covered with the same kind of white cloth that was covering the centre table, albeit much smaller. At the top of each of these stacks, a small device was clipped on to the edge of the box and glowed green.

Fusako made one of her theatrically-broad sweeping arm gestures to the pile of rice in the centre of the room.

"This is where steamed rice is inoculated with koji. First, we spread it out over this cloth," and she ran her hands through the pile of rice as a demonstration. "Then we sprinkle koji spores over it."

As she said this, she reached behind one of the stacks and grabbed a few of what looked like glass jars with cloth covering their openings and tied with twine. She lifted the cloth to show that the jars were full of a powdery substance that was a very light shade of yellow, just barely off-white. Then she upended one of the jars over the spread-out rice and shook it, releasing a puff with each shake. The puff danced in the air for surprisingly long before it dispersed, seemingly disappearing before it had a chance to fall to the rice below. She then handed a shaker to each of her guests so that they could get some hands-on experience.

"Once all of the rice is on this table and properly inoculated, we wrap it up in the cloth and let it sit overnight. The next day, we unwrap it. It will have dried out somewhat and the koji will have grown a fine yellow layer over the rice. At that stage, we distribute it into these boxes."

Fusako carefully unclipped one of the green-glowing devices and lifted the cloth-wrapped box to which it was previously attached from the stacks along the walls, and brought it down where her guests could see into it. She unwrapped it to reveal that it was a shallow cedar box with no lid, aside from the cloth wrapping. Within, there was an even shallower layer of small clumps of rice that had a thin coating of light yellow growth. She ran her fingers through the koji rice, showing that it had a much more pebbly consistency than the steamed rice that clumped together so easily.

"It stays in these boxes for another night before it gets moved to the fermentation vessel, which we will see in the next step of the tour."

With that, she began tossing the koji rice around in the box like a chef tossing the contents of a pan. Once it was back to a roughly-even layer, she placed the box down on the table and raked her fingers through it like a monk raking a stone garden. Then she wrapped it up in cloth again and re-attached the green-glowing device.

"This is by far the most technologically-sophisticated step, at least by my method. I keep this room at a relatively high temperature and humidity, which the koji enjoys. These devices ensure that everything is just the way my koji likes it to be. If the temperature or humidity goes too high or low, they will turn red and sound the alarm."

She then replaced the box atop the stack and smiled somewhat sheepishly.

"As I alluded to earlier, I find koji to be quite finicky. I have been very fortunate that the koji I have worked with here has been quite amenable to its conditions and has never given me trouble, but I make sure to give it exactly what it wants after all the trouble I had during my apprenticeship."

Fusako began to run her hands idly through a fresh pile of moist rice that her Phod coworker had just dumped onto the centre table. Without giving it any conscious thought, she was spreading it out at roughly the depth it would need to be.

"This step of the process is really where sake making begins. The koji releases enzymes as it grows that transforms the rice starch into sugar, which the yeast turns into alcohol. As I mentioned earlier, there is an art to leaving enough of the protein layer of the rice but not too much of the fatty layer. Koji also releases enzymes that transform the protein into some of the most exotic and diverse flavour compounds found in any food. Even a small amount of these digested proteins can give sweet, tart, fruity, and umami flavours. This is truly where the spirit of the sake is developed."

Fusako looked like she was about to continue pontificating before she suddenly seemed to remember that she was giving a tour and not a lecture. She smiled somewhat awkwardly and looked to her guests.

"Are there any questions?"
 
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