123rf photo Hot sake is poured into a sipping cup. On Feb. 28, a sommelier will lead people through the cultural history of sake and how it’s made with a tasting to follow.

Yukon’s Japanese association launches its first sake festival

Former president says the hope is to bring people together to learn

The desire to build bridges between people is what spurred the Yukon’s Japanese association to introduce its first sake festival, according to its former president.

Fumi Torigai said there’s a political plug to the event. There’s a push to pacify, even if the contribution is as small as sipping sake.

Toriagi, a community relations advisor for the association’s sake committee, said political issues are rocking Canada currently, referring to demonstrations by the First Nations people and their allies. Some railways that traverse the country have been blocked for nearly two weeks, causing some companies to freeze their services and conduct temporary layoffs.

“I’m hoping we can contribute in a small way, that if we get together and have a good time and we see each other, eye-to-eye, then we can somehow find a way to work it out peacefully, without getting into confrontation,” he said. “I’m hoping it will make everybody friends. Bottom-line.

“Let’s try to just create a peaceful society, where everyone can work together, rather than blocking traffic.”

The Wet’suwet’en in the British Columbia have been fighting to protect their traditional territory from a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline.

RCMP officers have raided camps twice in one year. The conflict spilled over earlier this month when officers once again broke through several camps along a forest access road in central B.C. and conducted a rash of arrests of land defenders. The Tyendinaga Mohawks have blocked a rail line near Belleville Ont. in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. On Feb. 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for patience rather than a direct use of force in order to end blockades.

Torigai said the sake festival is a means to bring about understanding and respect.

The festival “is a very important, meaningful opportunity to celebrate the diversity of cultures in Whitehorse, the Yukon and Canada,” Torigai said. “Diversity itself, we have to treat it very carefully, because of what’s happening right now.

“We really don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I hope it’s going to be fun for everybody.”

Torigai said food is inextricably linked to Japanese culture. Rice, a staple in Japan, is the base of sake, a drink that’s more than 1,300 years old, he said.

“Sake goes way back, for sure. When Japanese people get together for any kind of occasion, be they weddings or funerals or business meetings, sake plays a very important part in those gatherings. Sake is very often used as a ceremony of, say, government and it’s always there in the official functions. It has a very deep and long connection with Japanese culture and history. That’s also just an excuse for having a lot of fun.

“Hopefully it will be an opportunity for guests to familiarize themselves with aspects of Japanese culture that they have not known before.”

At the event there will be two groups of sake — “top class” ones from Japan, then four from British Columbia. The rice is grown in that province, Torigai added.

A sommelier will lead people through the cultural history of sake and how it’s made (sake is brewed, not distilled). A tasting is to follow.

“In Japan, you have to go to very special places and pay big bucks to do that kind of tasting,” Torigai said. “That’s how unique it is, this festival.”

The festival takes place on Feb. 28 between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Tickets are $45. There are 150 of them available. There will be some catered food. The menu is to be determined.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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