Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ten Merits of Sake

"O what an ugly sight the man who thinks he’s wise and never drinks sake!
--Otomo no Tabito (c. 662-731)

The Japanese have long valued Sake, for its taste, medicinal use and even as a beauty product. For at least 2000 years, Sake has occupied a special place within Japanese culture. I have often tried to promote the benefits of drinking Sake and recently learned about a historical list of the "Ten Merits of Sake." This was a fascinating list of the benefits of Sake and I wanted to share it with my readers, to give you more reason why you should partake of this wondrous beverage.

This list was provided in a kyōgen play called Mochisake which was written during the Muromachi period (1338-1573 AD). Kyōgen is a form of traditional comic theater, often including slapstick and satire, and the plays are usually short, containing only two or three roles. They are meant to be easy to understand, intended to make people laugh, and there are over 250 plays in the official repertoire. Makes me think of a Three Stooges episode.

Mochisake, which can roughly be translated as Rice Cake & Sake, is a play about a couple farmers who each are traveling to the city to pay their back taxes, which they had been unable to pay because of a terrible snow storm. Each of the farmers is also carrying a special item which they hope might cause the tax collector to be easy on them. Kind of a bribe. One of the farmers has some kagami mochi, mirror rice cake, which looks like two oval mochi atop each other. The other farmer has some kikuzake, sake flavored with chrysanthemum petals.

The farmers do not know each other but meet en route and end up talking with each other, discussing their mutual problem. When they finally reach the city, they go before the tax collector, explain about the blizzard, and present their mochi and sake. The tax collector is in an excellent mood and he forgives them both. In fact, they end up celebrating together, sharing the mochi and sake as well as singing and dancing.

During the course of the play, the Ten Merits of Sake are mentioned:

1) Sake can be better for your health than any medicine. 
2) Sake will enable you to live longer. 
3) Sake will recover you from fatigue and weariness. 
4) Sake will drive gloom away and cheer you up. 
5) You can make friends with anyone over a drink of sake. 
6) Sake will create the atmosphere where everyone can express their opinions frankly (even to their superiors or seniors). 
7) Sake is a good friend of those who live alone. 
8) Sake will make you feel warm to endure cold weather. 
9) Sake can serve as a versatile but nourishing meal during a trip. 
10) Sake will be a great gift when you visit friends.
(from Sake, Health and Longevity by Yukio Takizawa)

This is a great list, though one could make the case that it could apply to wine as well. It is indicative though of the deep love the Japanese possess for Sake, of how deeply it is rooted in their culture and history. In addition, Sake is not seen as a drink for the elite, as some pretentious, hoity toity alcohol, which is a problem that sometimes plagues wine. Sake is a drink for everyone, of whatever social status, of whatever profession. It pleases both peasant and Emperor.

As the holiday season approaches, remember #10, that Sake makes a great gift.


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