Sake for celebrations
With over 2000 years of history, Sake is found at the heart of Japanese culture and, as such, often has strong connections with times of celebration. In fact, sake is often referred to as “the drink of the gods” and all sake breweries have a small shrine for the god of sake production, “Miwa no Kami”, within their brewery as they believe the god of sake helps the sake fermentation process.
Sake also has a long history with religion and drinking sake is even considered to be an act of purification. It has an important role in Shinto weddings where sake is served to the bride and groom in three special ceremonial sake cups. Both the bride and groom sip from each cup three times in a ritual called “San San Kudo” meaning “three times three; nine times”. As three cannot be divided in to two it is particularly auspicious for a wedding.
Outside Shinto Shrines you will find a display of sake barrels from the local breweries. These are purely symbolic. However, the breweries will make actual donations of sake at the time of events and festivals held throughout the year. You may also find that sake is one of the offerings made to the gods at the smaller family shrines in homes. Sake is even used to sprinkle over a new home in a special ceremony to bless the house.
Sake is enjoyed at several ceremonies throughout the year. For instance, at New Year, alongside the tradition of eating Osechi Ryori (a special cuisine eaten at the beginning of the new year where each ingredient has a symbolic meaning such as health, many offspring, prosperity, a good harvest), sake is enjoyed warmed and seasoned with medicinal herbs. This is drunk to purify the body from any illness suffered in the previous year.
It is also enjoyed at events to celebrate the changes of the seasons such as Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing, chrysanthemum sake where petals are floated in the sake in September and Yukimi, snow viewing. The start of many celebrations are also marked by the ceremonial opening of a sake barrel called “Kagami biraki” where a lid is placed on the top of a sake barrel and broken open by wooden mallets and then sake stored inside is distributed and drunk in the square masu cups.
There is even the ultimate sake for celebrations or to be given as gifts called “Kinpaku sake” which contains flakes of gold leaf for added decadence. Due to the inert nature of the gold it does not affect the flavour of the sake but simply the appearance.
And for those that think bubbles are essential for any celebration, why not celebrate with sparkling sake?