黙々人 Moku Moku Jin

As we enter July, we’re in the midst of this period’s typical rainy weather, with cloud and rain interspersed with the odd sunny day, reminding us of exactly what we have coming the moment the rainy season is declared to have finished. The sound of cicadas arrives now as well, reverberating around our ears and telling us that we have truly entered summer. For all its intensity, it’s a time full of energy and celebration in Japan, with traditional festivals and fireworks all part of what one can enjoy, especially in the evenings when the heat is slightly more bearable.

While most of us are thinking about the season ahead, we can also look back and realise that it was exactly 6 months ago that people’s lives in the Noto peninsula, Shizuoka, had been destroyed or at least turned upside down by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. What of the people there now? Has water returned to Suzu City, where the supply had been cut off? Were those unable to return to their homes able to move into air-conditioned temporary housing ahead of this arrival of heat?

Having visited in March and seen a small portion of the harsh conditions that many were enduring, we were naturally concerned about what would be coming next. With the rising temperature, we could only imagine how unbearable the situation would be were conditions to remain unimproved.

With the number of news reports decreasing, it’s easy to assume that many of the problems have been resolved, and that reconstruction is progressing well. We are in a position, however, to hear a little more from people on the ground as to the situation, having made more connections with people in the areas, and also through talking at length with Kot’as from KOBO Brewery in Toyama prefecture.

Originally from the Czech Republic, Kot’as lived in Noto for almost 10 years, where he worked as the head brewer for Nihonkai Club, a company that operates restaurants as well as their brewery just south of Suzu city. Unsurprisingly, given their location, the brewery was severely damaged and unable to produce beer. While he now operates as the head brewer of KOBO, which he started up, Kot’as has been working hard to help and ensure that beer production can resume. Beyond that, he has donated as much time as he can, on a regular basis, travelling around Noto and donating relief supplies. On these trips, he has set up kitchens and cooked for locals who had been limited, often to nothing more than instant noodles, helping them enjoy some real food and gain some needed nutrition.

A tall presence, aside from being a world class brewer of traditional Czech beers, Kot’as is full of genuine kindness. No doubt those in Noto who meet with him gain some relief from his warmth, in addition to the food and supplies that he voluntarily brings around. While we did a little for the region in brewing a double batch of beer for offering, as well as sending up some further other beers, about half of this was actually distributed by Kot’as. Looking at his immense commitment and selfless generousity of both time and personal resources, we can’t help but feel bad at not doing more, and living up to his extraordinary sacrifices. Being the person that he is, however, he has said nothing but thanks for what we have offered, spoken as if he were born and raised in the region himself.

Naturally, this opportunity has given us a chance to become closer to, and get to know Kot’as better. Off the back of this, it only felt natural that our next collaboration would be with him and, being a massive fanatic of Czech beers, we also brought in our close friend Luc Lafontaine of Godspeed Brewery. Our connection with Luc goes way back, and he was with us for the first few brews of KBC beer in 2015, where he helped to make sure that everything worked out with our brewhouse’s first runs.

With Kot’as and Luc both being passionate about making traditional Czech beer in the correct and painstaking way that has been done for many years, we knew that we wanted to make a style of beer with history behind it. After discussing what kind of Czech beer to make for some time, we finally settled on a beer style that was Polish!

The Grodziskie is an old wheat-heavy and highly carbonated low-alcohol beer that is very light in body, and known for its mild acidity and highly smoky character, created from the 100% wheat malt base, which in turn is 100% smoked. Despite the smoking of the wheat malt being light, with the amount use it comes through very prominently. While “smoky” and “refreshing” often don’t go together, the light body and high carbonation, for which the beer style is sometimes dubbed “Polish champagne”, makes this a great beer for warm weather.

And so, with the beer style decided, we welcomed Kot’as and Luc to our brewery to brew together. The smoked wheat malt all came from a butcher that also smokes a portion of their meat, another contribution from Kot’as, who buys charcuterie and sausages from the butcher. It wasn’t long before our whole brewery was filled with the smell of the smoked wheat malt, which we all breathed in throughout the day.

As they worked, these true “shokunin” had a look of focus, from which the name “mokumokujin” came, a phrase that means someone working diligently with concentration, as well as a reference to “mokumoku”, an onomatopoeia for billowing smoke.

There is a phrase we learned following another disaster, the enormous earthquake and Tsunami in Tohoku. Roughly translated, it means “eyes are timid, hands are demons, but the nuance is more akin to the notion that eyes see the horror, while hands contain strength and will. When one sets their eyes upon something insurmountable or terrifying, their heart becomes filled with fear. When one sets upon using their hands to work, their heart becomes filled with determination and devotion to a cause.

This is certainly true. Were it not for an earthquake, it would be a phrase we might never have known, but we saw it in person when visiting Wajima and Suzu in March.

In our previous blog, we shared about Kinoshita Chizuru-san, and the Ishikawa Prefecture Disaster Volunteer Association. We've continued to be in touch, and she along with her organization continues to tirelessly offer care, support to volunteers, provide important resources and aid, as well as helping to group and organize logistics to get aid to where it needs to be. All of this is voluntary and for no direct benefit to her and her company that she is using as a storage base. If anyone exemplifies the idea of hands containing strength and will, it's surely Kinoshita-san.

When we met Kinoshita-san in March, we shared with her our original concern, that our beer is not something that people might be in need of so much as basic supplies. To this she responded to say that, while it is good to provide a tonne of one type of food, after 3 months those living in the affected areas are just as much in need of a choice of food to lift their spirits, and our beer was therefore another example of something that would bring important relief for the soul, which she felt was every bit as important as the true essentials.

Since then, her organisation has been helping with a temporary return project for evacuees, and from June supporting people in temporary housing, including providing transportation. Other more recent activities have included bringing students in to help bring some much needed cheer, especially with many of those needing support being older. The importance of these people, and those such as Kot’as can never be underestimated. For while there is of course financial and human support being provided by the government and many other organizations, it might well be the difference provided by these heroes dedicating their hearts and souls to the cause that help to really save the spirit of the region.

All profits from Mokumokujin will be donated to non-profit, non-government organizations supporting victims and reconstruction of the Noto Peninsula.

  • Those who wish to support a volunteer cause in Noto, or even look to try to volunteer themselves, consider the following options (sites are in Japanese):
    Sadamaru Village (Suzu-based community support and volunteer NPO)