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Saké (rice wine)

Japanese authentic beverage

Saké is the most authentic alcoholic beverage in Japan.
But  it’s also Japanese most all-too-common beverage.
Because in Japan, all alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, whisky etc.) are called Saké in general.
When we want to make it clear, we use the word Nihon-syu (日本酒) which means Japanese Saké.
(“syu” is another pronunciation for the character 酒 Saké.)


Kanji –Saké

The Kanji ( chinese character) for Saké is “酒”.
This character has its origin in the form of a pot of Saké and running water .
It is also pronounced as Syu. 

1. History of Japanese Saké

The history of Saké can be traced back to the time when rice was introduced into Japan (maybe about 3000 years ago).

Saké made from the first harvest of rice was dedicated to the gods saying “thank you” for a good harvest and praying for the better harvest next year.

Ancient Saké resembles yogurt with less water than today. 


In the 14th century,
people started making clear Saké in prestigious Buddhist temples in Nara and this movement was gradually commercialized. 

 New techniques such as heating for the finishing called “hi-ire” were born in this era.
These techniques had come down to other places such as Nada, Itami.


In the 17th century
when Edo (now Tokyo) became the center of politics, they began to transport a lot of Saké from the West to Edo (the East). 

At that time, the West was called as “kami-gata” (literally, the above area), because the Emperor stayed there. 
The Saké was considered to “descend” from the West to the East.
(As for the difference in culture between the West and the East, Visit here
the West and the East)

This large-scale transport produced some new systems such as money order, Sakéwholesaler, and Izaka-ya.
(For the stories about soy in Japanese traditional festivals, visit here
I-zaka(e)-ya )

2. Saké (rice wine),
not with grapes

Since ancient times, most of the Japanese alcoholic drinks have been made from rice

Grapes (vitis vinifera) has been cultivated since the 12th century and in the forests they could find wild grapes (vitis coignetiae).
Yet they did not make wine with them.
The grapes produced in the temperate and humid climate just like in Japan are very acid and lack in sugar to make wine.
There was no chance to add sugar which was extremely expensive at that time.
The first authentic wine was made in Japan at the end of the 19th century under the influence of Westernization.



Shôkôsyu of China is also made with rice.

Using sticky rice and rhizopus for fermentation, Shôkôsyu possesses strong aroma and dark color, while Japanese Saké is generally mellow with light aroma. 
Yet of course, they have some in common. 

  • Firstly, the custom to warm before drinking.
    We can enjoy a totally different taste after heating them. 
  • Secondly, the production process called “kake” .
    In this process, the 
    rice, Koji and water are added little by little in several times, gradually increasing the scale of fermentation.