Enjoying Japanese SAKE

The "yomoyama” story

Here we present short articles on various topics related to sake

History of sake

History of Sake

Japanese sake begins with the "Kojiki (Japan's oldest historical chronicles)" and the "Nihonshoki." "Yashiorino sake" is said to have been used to get rid of the Giant Serpent of Yamata in the myth of Izumo of the "Kojiki," and "Amanotamu sake" appears in the myth of "hyuga" in the "Nihonshoki." Perhaps they were sake made for farming rites, for farmers to eat and drink with the gods after praying for a good harvest to these gods. In any case, this was a period of mythologies in a far away place. And there are no clear writings that the sake was made from rice.

The Ritsuryo period was the time when Japanese sake making had come to include the use of rice as the main ingredient as well as the characteristics of the climate in Japan, and it was a period that spanned about 300 years from the reformation of Taika (645 AD) covering the Yamato and Nara periods up to the start of the Heian period. The "Engi Shiki" was enacted in 967 to regulate the fundamental policies and principles of the Ritsuryo state. Towards this end, the contents of the sake making in the courts at the time are recorded in detail, and it is said that the sake making leader, the "sake no kami" and 76 court artisans would follow these details and make 15 types of sake.

By the transfer of authority from the Heian nobles to the military, the Shogunate was established in Kamakura in 1192. Sixty years after that, the Shogunate officially announced the "prohibition on the (buying and selling) of 'koshu' (sake)," and ordered the closure of every sake dealer in the city of Kamakura. It can be said that the Kamakura period was a dark past in the history of the production of Japanese sake. In Kyoto, however, who was in opposition to this movement, tsuchikura sake shops who also ran money loaning businesses began to appear in the background in these middle ages to penetrate the economy in the cities of disarray in the Nanbokucho (i.e., north and south dynasties) period. Since 1392 when the north and south dynasties united, a period of prosperity emerged said to have involved about 340 sake shops both inside and outside the territory. The famous among these were Yanagi sake shop and Ume sake shop. The Yanagi sake shop itself is said to have had a share of 24% among the 340 shops in terms of annual taxation.

While the sake shops in the capital prospered, a big occurrence in the middle ages in the production of sake was that temples would profit greatly as brewers and sellers. The sake made by these temples were called "soubou-shu," and the temples in the middle ages would get their raw rice materials from their lands. Most of these temples were located in the mountains and could therefore obtain clear water. Towards this end, a vast number of shrines had favorable conditions including a vigorous work force of priests in their sake production facilities.

History of Sake

At famous temples, there were Amano-san Kongouji in Osaka (Kawachi-nagano city), Bodaizan Shourekiji in Nara, Shakasan Hyakuseiji in Shiga (Aitou town), Hiozan Kanshinji in Sakurai city, Hakusan Hougenji in Fukui (Maruoka town), and so on. Among these, the Amanozake of Kongouji received high acclaim (people would say "no comparison to Amanozake"). The great war load Hideyoshi has great admiration for this alcohol. He would send a bright red mark to indicate the addition of no tree ash, etc., and this was a lasting treasure for the temple. In addition, Shourekiji made sake by using white rice with "kojimai" and "kakemai" in the same way as refined sake is made today. In other words, it is famous as the temple at which "morohaku (sake of 100% polished white rice)" was first made.

Even for the "soubou-shu," the most influential sake in the middle ages, because the capacity able to be acquired in the production of sake was a jar or a pot, the amount of sake prepared was possibly 540 liter at most. It was necessary to wait until large-size wooden vats became available in order to produce amounts in excess of that. It was from the 14th century to the 16th century that large saws, pre-grind handsaws, unite planes, etc., necessary for making such wooden tubs, were imported by Japan from the Asian continent. Japan at that time was moving from the Sengoku period to the Muromachi period. At the same time, the prosperity of the temples had moved to rural towns due to the dominance of civil strife.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Hideyoshi's famous cherry-blossom viewing at Daigo (south of Kyoto) took place in 1598. Because Hideyoshi's rich life came to a troubling close 50 days after the viewing (he was 63 years old), it can possibly said that this was his last instance of extravagance. Food and drink from various countries were presented, delicacies of the mountain and sea fit for a feast. The sake offered were only famous local sake of the time. They included Hakata (Fukuoka), Nerinuki, Asachi-zake of Bungo (Oita), Kikuzake of Kaga (chrysanthemum sake), Nara Soubou-shu (southern "morohaku" of Shourekiji), Amanozake (Osaka), Kojima-zake (Okayama), Egawa (Shizuoka), and so on. In a way, this might have been the first "period of local brands of sake" in the history of Japanese sake.

Sake production centering on the winter season called "fuyu-zukuri (winter production)" was introduced in Nada, and it was in the middle of the Edo period that the seasonal work of the "toji (master sake brewers)" started. Today, the "toji" are aging, and may disappear without heirs to replace them, but...