Pumpkin Daze Homage–October 31: Suntory Craft Select, The Pumpkin

Suntory Craft Select The Pumpkin


Ingredients: malted barley, hops, “pumpkin”, artificial flavoring

Price: 148円 / $2

Welcome to my second and final post on Japanese pumpkin beer this year. It would have been awesome to have had a collection of 31 delicious bottles of suds to count down the month like my man did over at Pumpkin Daze. But, geography was not on my side. The craft beer / micro beer boom has definitely hit Japan big time in the past six years, but breweries here are just not risk takers–maybe the market is too fragile yet.

Anyway, a large company like Suntory has money to burn and more than enough space to pump out a few thousand gallons of random pumpkin beer on a whim. And so they did. Not only did they put out one but they doubled down with TWO! (slow applause) Last year there were 0 pumpkin beers in Japan (to my knowledge) and this year there were two. Next year I’m guessing there will be 5 or so… we’ll see.


  • Whoa! That’s fragrant! As soon as I cracked back the tab I was hit with a sweet fragrance. It smells exactly like the Pumkin Special I had last night but much more potent.
  • Nice color–like a burnt orange, but looks like a really light body.
  • Head: the head on this one stuck around long enough to actually drink it.
  • Tasting: This must be the exact same thing as the Pumpkin Special!! Isn’t it?! Again, the taste is really sweet at the front of the mouth and tip of the tongue. The after taste lingers a little while and is also really sweet. The sweetness is something that I’d expect from a soda or something though.
  • I’m weary of drinking too many of these–really sweet alcohols tend to make me ill the next day.

The Package:

The Craft Select seal

The Pumpkin is the 5th beer that I’ve seen in Suntory’s “Craft Select” series; the others being a Brown Ale, Special Bitter, Märzen, and a Pale Ale. I’ve only seen them in cans. The can designs are all very simple and easily recognizable by the circular, black, “Craft Select” label. There are no distracting illustrations or superfluous non-sense that other Japan Big Beers tend to have on their cans.

On the back (front? whatever!) of the can they offer a tasting profile:

Actually, wait–haha… the tasting description on here is exactly the same as on the Pumkin Special! Way to cut & paste, Suntory!

Tasting profile scored in pumpkins–nice, creative touch

Ok, the tasting profile (in pumpkins!): Flavor (umami) 3/5;  Aroma/fragrance (kaori) 5/5; Bitternes (nigami) 2/5; Body (bodei) 3/5.

I definitely agree that it is very aromatic. It is not bitter at all though, which isn’t good or bad. As for body, check this out:

Liverpool 3-1 Chelsea

I can see right through it! The fact that I can pretty much see right through the beer strengthens my impression that this is a really sweet soda and not the full bodied pumpkin beer that it could be. But hey, this is Suntory’s first so let’s hope they up the ante next October! In closing, it’s pretty much the exact same thing  as Pumpkin Special. The differences being Pumpkin Special is 198円 / $2.50 and 5.5%; The Pumpkin is 148円 / $2 and 5%. The Pumpkin is virtually see-through; Pumpkin Special is slightly not see through. Other than that they are exactly the same…


Pumpkin Daze Homage–October 30: Suntory Pumpkin Special

Suntory’s Pumpkin Special

Suntory Pumpkin Special


Ingredients: barley, hops, malt, sweeteners, pumpkin, artificial fragrance

Impervious Rex over at Modern Borefare and Pumpkin Daze kicked off his Pumpkin Beer countdown with Duclaw‘s 62 Imperial Pumpkin Ale. After reading his review, I have the impression that it was only a lackluster beer. But being in Japan, I would be thrilled to have even a lackluster selection of pumpkin beers.

Which leads me to Pumpkin Days, or as the kids call it, “Pumpin’ D’s.” I was super excited to see this beer in the local grocery store. I live in Akita, which is truly a craft beer town as it is home to Aqula, Tazawako, and Kohan no Mori (three of the BEST microbrew / craft beers north of the Sumida River) so the chances that this might actually be a good beer were initially rather high…

…then I saw “Suntory” on the side of the can. To be fair, Suntory has really jumped in katana-deep to the beer movement happening worldwide these past few years. Instead of just tweaking their main American style lager swill to give the appearance that it is “new” and “edgy” and “cool,” they actually have put out a line of beers called “Craft Select” which is a collection of about 4 beers. The beers are a Brown Ale, Special Bitter, Märzen, and a Pale Ale–I enjoy drinking them despite coming from the bowel of Big Beer. But here we have Pumpkin Special.


  • Is this beer flat? By the time I poured my beer in the kitchen and sat down on my living room sofa, the head had all but disappeared. Drinking from a can, one wouldn’t notice, but from a cool glass like mine (see picture) it’s not too aesthetically pleasing.
  • It has a nice color to it, but looks like a really thin, light beer.
  • There is almost ZERO aroma or bouquet.
  • Is this candy? Wow–really sweet taste right in the front of my mouth and the tip of my tongue. It’s not offensive or off-putting, but I would not associate the taste with any autumnal beer that I have known to grow and love. I wouldn’t say it was pumpkin-flavored.
  • Where did the pumpkin go? Once it moves to the back of your mouth there is little to no taste. When it’s swallowed there is no aftertaste.
  • As I finished the glass, I felt as though the taste was lingering longer and longer in my mouth, which isn’t bad, but it took a long time to get there. The sweetness didn’t make my stomach turn, but I wonder how many of these I could drink. Would I be nauseous? How would the next day be? It’s the type of sweetness I would expect from soda, but not one I have ever had in beer before.

Hey, nice package!

I’ll attempt to decipher the can for you. As you can see in my photo above, Suntory has really taken the Halloween thing to the max here. On the left of the can you’ve got the haunted mansion with a witch flying on a broom (after a long day of delivering packages, no doubt). Under that Halloweeny image, are two big, fat orange pumpkins, the likes of which I’ve only seen in Japan once. Japan has a massive agricultural sector, so no doubt someone, somewhere grows Halloween-pumpkins, they’re just not the norm like they are back home in the States.

In the image of the poured-beer in a glass, the head is frothing over the rim–nope, that’s not happening in my glass.

Under that it says, panpukin fūmi no honnori amayakana kaori to koku (slightly sweetened aroma, pumpkin flavored body). hmmm… It is certainly sweet tasting.

Ah–then there it is: the happōshu label. To cut & paste from Wikipedia, happōshu “is a tax category of Japanese liquor that most often refers to a beer-like beverage with less than 67% malt content. The alcoholic beverage is popular among consumers for having a lower tax than beverages that the nation’s law classifies as ‘beer.'” It’s usually frowned upon by beer purists, but, it’s cheap. It’s basically like a classy Colt 45.

In closing: I’ve been in Japan for almost six years now and I rarely ever see pumpkins over here like the one’s that have inspired things like pumpkin baked-goods, pumpkin spice lattes, and pumpkin beers. There are Japanese pumpkins that are super hard, have thin green skins and nice soft orange insides–but they are hardly like the big ol’ orange pumpkins that we have back in North America. So, where did Suntory get their pumpkins to make this?! The Halloween packaging screams #culturalappropriation #wherestheoutrage !!

I would not drink these on a regular basis.

Rating: 1 Pumpkin out of 5 

The ubiquitous Japanese kabocha–taste great! But not the same as “pumpkins”

Shout-out to Pumpkin Daze

When I was back home over summer vacation, I was down in Virginia visiting my newly birthed nephew. As fate would have it, my good friend ImperviousRex from Modern Borefare had recently moved from Queens to only a few blocks away from my Virginia-dwelling sister and brother in law. I went to visit Impervious in his pristine, peaceful, family friendly apartment. The apartment was very well lit with plenty of windows to let in the light. There were baby toys all over the place. His lovely wife and adorable daughter were there to greet me when I arrived.

After a while, when we had finished catching up on the good ol’ days and filling each other in on current goings-on, Impervious’ demeanor suddenly changed. A mischievous grin stretched across his face. He stood up. “Come with me,” he said. “I have something to show you…” I thought I had seen the whole apartment: living room filled, dining area, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. What other rooms possibly could there be? “It’s down here,” he said. His normally deep voice was about to crack  with excitement. When I arrived at his apartment I had taken off my shoes, but now I quickly put them back on–by his wry grin I could not be sure of where he might be leading me.

We walked down a long narrow stairway to the first floor landing. To my surprise, behind an unmarked door, the stairway continued down into a dark, dusty underbelly of the house–well below the peaceful, inviting-suburban streets. As I inhaled my first breathes of mildewy, damp air I thought to myself, “Where is he taking me? Am I to become some poor Fortunato?” Leading me to the farthest end of the chalky basement awash with spiderwebs and musty cardboard boxes, I soon discovered the source of his glee:

A kick-ass beer collection! Impervious had been collecting dozens and dozens of bottles of brew! He had two collections going on: stouts for his Stout Fest (which he may be doing in November??) and pumpkin beers for his Halloween pumpkin beer countdown. With the same excitement I that I once had telling friends about the Red Ryder BB gun that I had wanted for Christmas, he was showing me these beers he had collected from about 10 different states, countless beer shops and breweries, and over the course of months. With a virtuoso spirit he introduced me to a number of bottles that he was particularly proud to have added to his collection. I could see that he had become not just a regular convive whom you would see hunched over cold swill served at a local tavern, but a true connoisseur.  The many labels illustrating far off, wonderful worlds and multidimensional states of mind mesmerized me.  He had some real gems in his stout collection, but his collection of 31 pumpkin beers to countdown Halloween was the best idea I had heard in a while.

I immediately felt the impulse to stop by every bottle shop between the Potomac and the Schuylkill and buy each and every bottle o’ pumpkin beer that I could find. Sadly, budget and luggage restraints squelched that idea.

Fast forward two months and here I am in Akita, reading with lustful jealousy Impervious’ Pumpkin Daze blog, with no hope of finding pumpkin beers of my own to drink. Then just the other day, while out shopping for groceries, what  is it that I should see at my local supermarket: not one but TWO! TWO pumpkin beers! Thank you Great Pumpkin! Just in time for me to count down the last two daze of Pumpkin Days 2015 in solidarity with ImperviousRex.

See next post for review of Suntory’s “Pumpkin Special”…

The Results of 4th Japan – Russia Haiku Contest: English Section (1)

Akita International Haiku Network

Results of 4th Japan — Russia Haiku Contest: English Section (1)

The Judging Committee for Haiku in English –Hidenori Hiruta (Akita Prefecture), Satoru Kanematsu (Aichi Prefecture), and David McMurray (Kagoshima Prefecture)– is pleased to announce the following results from the 4th Japan – Russia Haiku Contest.

Akita International University President’s Award

Ben Grafström(USA)

Full moon in summer—

ripples in the lake reach the shore

kissing our toes

Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry President’s Award


night flight

a thousand winter fires

outline the lake

David McMurray’s Favorite Haiku

Adjei Agyei-Baah(Ghana)


as I canoe by…


10 Honorably Mentioned Haiku

Marietta McGregor(Australian)

a family of teals

breaches the lake ice

receding winter

Simon Hanson (Australia)

heading home

crossing the lake

the shadows of pines

Kala Ramesh(Indian)

A barn owl hoots

the stillness of the lake

before dawn

Rita Odeh(Palestinian)

lake lily—

landing on its shadow,

a honeybee


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Battle over Bashō: Adachi or Arakawa?

My friend, Kaori, from grad school sent me the link to a recent article about the famous 17th century haiku poet Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉, 1644-1694). When I graduated from CU, I was fortunate enough to have been selected (along with Kaori) by our adviser, Dr. Laurel Rasplica Rodd, to guide a group of American teachers through Japan and trace the steps of Bashō’s famous journey up through northern Honshū–the journey that Bashō wrote about in a book titled The Narrow Road to Oku, or Oku no hosomichi 奥の細道. Bashō’s travel writing is very introspective, and self-reflective. He writes about the nature of those with whom he comes in contact with on the road, as well as on the nature of the environment through which he passes. I teach a class on Bashō every spring and sometimes attempt to write haiku, so Kaori knew that I would be interested in the article.

Bashō and Sora departing on their journey.

Bashō and Sora departing on their journey.

The article was on the Asahi news website (dated 16 October 2015) and titled, “Where did Bashō start his journey? The dispute between Adachi-ku and Arakawa-ku.” Bashō set off on his 1,522 mile-journey (2,450 km) from Edo (the area of Tokyo more or less around present day Tokyo Station) on 16 May 1689. The trip would end up being one large loop up the east of Honshū (Japan’s main island) to present day Iwate, then across to the Japan Sea on the southern edge of Akita bordering Yamagata, then down south to Ise.

Bashō is highly revered in Japan to this day. Even in countries outside Japan, students as young as those in elementary school read his haiku. It is no surprise then that all along the route that he traveled, you may find restaurants, coffee shops, statues, gift shops, inns, museums, and the like commemorating the famous writer’s journey, and luring tourists & their money!

I’m becoming increasingly interested in the social and economic effects that literature has in regions, and this is a fine case. It may seem silly that two little neighborhoods in Tokyo are in a dispute over where Bashō began his journey, but there is a real economic effect, albeit at the micro level. Every year perhaps a half dozen people or so (maybe even more. There aren’t any records–someone should try to keep track of this!) set-off on their own to re-trace the steps of the great poet. They eat at restaurants and cafes, they sleep at inns, they bathe at local onsen, they buy souvenirs, leave donations at temples and shrines, use mass transit, etc., etc., all things that require money! School students, while not embarking on the full 1,522 mile journey, will spend a day visiting museums and historical sites dedicated to the poet, which, again, require money to be spent on admission fees and the like. City councils use tax dollars to maintain areas related to Bashō’s journey, and in some cases may even apply for extra government money to create new attractions or to upkeep ageing ones.

Indeed, it is not clear in “The Narrow Road to Oku” from where Bashō departed. He writes that he sold his hut and stayed in the home of a man named Sugiyama Sanpū’s 杉山杉風 until he departed on his trip. On the day of his departure, he writes that he left at dawn and that a group of friends had come to see him off. They all got in a boat, which carried him up a river to the northern edge of the city to “a place called Senjū.” His friends accompanied him no farther than Senjū.

Modern day Senjū straddles the Sumida River (north of Ueno Station). Arakawa-ku is on the south of the river and Adachi-ku is on the north. Minami Senjū Station (South Senjū Station) is in Arakawa and Kita Senjū Station (North Senjū Station) is in Adachi. Thus, two different municipalities vying for the attention and spending of travelers, tourists, and researchers.

Bashō does not write specifically where he got off the boat, only indicating that it was “at a place called Senjū.” Canals and rivers crisscrossed and wrapped around the old city of Edo, allowing goods to be moved by boat all throughout the city. So it is not so strange that Bashō avoided the busy streets and took a boat to the northern edge of the city. It is also probably likely that his friend Sugiyama Sanpū paid for the cost of the boat ride. What is odd to me is that Bashō writes “a place called Senjū” (senjū to iu tokoro, 千じゅうと云所). He writes as if it is an unfamiliar, not very well-known place. If this is so, then why did he get off there?

I don’t know if the history of commerce on the Edo waterways is well documented or not, but I feel like if it were, then this debate could be easily answered. There are boat rides for tourists that go up and down the river as well as small Bashō museums and monuments in both Arakawa and Adachi. However, if it were decided that Bashō began his journey from Adachi, then this would cause people to avoid Arakawa altogether, thus having a definite impact on the local economy that relies on Bashō enthusiasts.

In case Asahi takes down the article, here it is:
芭蕉さん、旅の始まりどこでした? 足立・荒川区が論争:朝日新聞デジタル