Appeal of Japanese SAKE 日本酒の魅力

Sake is shared with 9 kinds!

The labels on sake bottles have a variety of names such as junmai-shu, dai-ginjo andhon-jozo. What do they indicate?
These names are given according to the ingredients used or brewing methodemployed. Sake can be divided into two major groups, “junmai (pure rice)” andothers. They can be further categorized into 9 different groups depending on thebrewing methods.
“Junmai” type is made only of rice and malted rice. Those without the “Junmai”indication are produced by adding distilled alcohol to rice and malted rice.Distilled alcohol provides aroma, sharpness and lightness. The Junmai type hassweet, thick taste while those with distilled alcohol has dry, light taste.Indicated as “junmai”: junmai-shu, tokubetsu junmai-shu, junmai ginjo-shu, junmaidaiginjo-shu.
Not indicated as “junmai”: futsu-shu, hon-jozo-shu, tokubetsu hon-jozo-shu,ginjo-shu, daiginjo-shu.
(“Shu” means “sake” in Japanese)
The bran of the rice grains is removed more for the type of rice used for sake-making than the one we normally eat.
More of the grains is polished since the taste of rice is stronger in the center, while the bran and the section underneath have an undesired taste for sake-making.The more the rice is polished, the less remains, pushing up the production cost andthe price of sake.

Categorization of Brewing Method

Futsu-shu(Ordinary sake) Ingredients

Rice,malted rice,distilled alcohol
Usually, more distilled alcohol is used and rice-polishing ratio is higher in comparison with genuine brew or pure rice types

Genuine brew sake Ingredients

Rice,malted rice,distilled alcohol
Distilled alcohol is added
Arranged flavor and enhanced aroma

Rice-polishing ratio Pure rice Ingredients

Rice,malted rice
Distilled alcohol is not added
Softness coming from taste of rice

(genuine brew)
Below 70% Junmai
(Pure rice)
Tokubetsu hon-jozo
(special genuine brew)
Below 60% Tokubetsu junmai
(special pure rice)
(special brew)
Below 60% Junmai ginjo
(Pure rice,special brew)
(very special brew)
Below 50% Junmai daiginjo
(Pure rice,special brew)

Rice polishing ratio is a ratio of specific weight of rice after removing the bran of the rice grain. The more the grain is polished, the purer the remaining central part of the grain becomes, while the less the grain remains, and the higher the production cost is.

Japanese sake is a rare alcoholic drink in that it can be served chilled or warm.

Japanese sake can be enjoyed either hot or cold, which is quite rare worldwide for an alcoholic drink. It is best served at temperatures ranging from 5℃ to 60℃, which is a wider range that of than other liquors. This means that Japanese sake can be enjoyed in various ways either reishu (cold), kanzake (hot), or at jo-on or hiya (room temperature). Genshu, junmai-shu, and namazake can be served in a glass on the rocks, just like whiskey. Some sake taste better when chilled, and others warm, so it is best to ask about the most suitable way to enjoy the sake at the time of order or purchase.

The names of Japanese sake vary according to its temperature
Name Temperature Features, things to be noted, etc.
Tobikiri-kan Around 55℃ Even fairly well balanced sake loses features of its taste, and the aroma and alcohol become too strong. Suitable for enjoying seasonal sake like hire-zake and kotsu-zake.
Atsu-kan Around 50℃
Jo-kan Around 45℃ As the temperature rises, the acidity reduces and sweetness increases. The warmer it is, the stronger the presence of the alcohol and aroma.
Nuru-kan Around 40℃
Hitohada-kan Around 35℃
Hitohada-kan Around 30℃
Hiya Around 20℃ to 25℃ The best temperature varies depending on the dryness and acidity. The aroma varies as the temperature rises. Suitable for ginjo-shu, daiginjo-shu, junmai-shu.
Suzu-hie Around 15℃
Hana-hie Around 10℃ Cold level. Suitable for namazake, genshu, ginjo-shu. Note that the aroma cannot be felt when excessively cooled.
Yuki-hie Around 5℃

The brewery opening is a special event held by sake breweries only once a year!

On the day of the brewery opening, people can tour the inside of the brewery, which is not usually open to public, and sometimes sake specially made for the day is sold.

The brewery opening starts with a ritual called "kagami-biraki", where a cask full of fresh sake is cracked open using a mallet. The moment the lid cracks, all the spectators exclaim with excitement. Amazake and the new sake offered for free to visitors is one of the fun aspects of a brewery opening event. At many brewery openings, limited-edition sake is sold. Locals as well as people from around the country rush in search of such special tastes. Sake was originally produced as an offering to deities. On the brewery opening day, a prayer service is held to pray for the safety and success of the brewery in the coming year.

Photo credit: Funasaka Shuzo
* Brewery opening dates differ by brewery, but in the Shoryudo area, many breweries hold this event in around February to April. Check the breweries' websites for details on times and dates.

Have you ever seen a ball made of cedar branches at the shop front of a brewery?

Some mistake it as a big honeycomb, but actually it is sugitama, a traditional symbol of a sake brewery called “sakabayashi.”This object presumably originated from Miwa Shinto Shrine in Nara which deifies the god of sake. From cedar, the sacred tree of Mount Miwa, the brewers gathered branches and made a ball by combining and trimming them, and hung it under the eaves of the buildings to notify that a new sake had been produced.
The fresh green color of the ball at the time when sake was newly made gradually changed to brown, signifying the maturation process of the sake as well.

Traditionally, a sake jar was called “miwa,” and cedar trees in Mount Miwa thatdeified the god of sake were worshipped as sacred in Yamato Province (modern Nara Prefecture).

Being soft and workable, cedar has long been used for making buckets, barrels and measuring containers for sake.

Please check the changing colors of the “sugitama” when you travel to the Shoryudo Area.


A new “sugitama” and a “sugitama” which worked hard for one year