Sake, or Japanese rice wine, is a must-try for tourists to Japan, and highly recommended as your drink of choice to go with sushi. Sake can be drunk hot, lukewarm, at room temperature or cold – the last being recommended for the hot summer weather.
Like wine, there are dry and sweet types of sake. But the focus of this piece is on the containers that sake is served in, such as in the picture above.
First time drinkers of sake may be confused as to why there is a container under the sake glass filled with more sake, and a bit puzzled as to how to approach this two-tiered drink.
The square box below is called a masu, and while some are laquered, some retain the natural grain of the wood they are made from. Masu made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) are popular for the fragrance it lends to the sake it is filled with.
Now, impress the locals by drinking the Matryoshka of sake (in the first picture above) the proper way, which is to take a big sip of sake from the glass cup, then pour the sake in the masu into the glass – not so complicated!
In Kochi Prefecture in the Shikoku Area, where the most sake is drunk per resident in the whole of Japan, special sake cups called bekohai are used.
They either come in shapes that don’t allow you to put the cup down on the table as it will topple over and spill any sake you try to leave behind, or have a hole that you have to cover with your finger until you finish all its contents.
These conniving cups also come in a deceptively harmless shape such as the sorakyu, which also cannot be put down on the table without toppling over.
Drinking sake in Japan can be a duel between you and your sake container to see which topples over first, but in any case, sake remains a masu try drink during your trip.
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節（kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.