Friday, September 23, 2016
The Origins & History of Sake (Part 2)
The Nara Period (710-794), reflecting that the capital of Japan was now the city of Heijō-kyō (modern day Nara), offered numerous documented references to Sake, establishing basic information we know about the history of Sake. Prior to this period, there was a lengthy tradition of oral history but also some written documents, such as the Teiki, but those documents are lost to us.
The oldest existing book in Japan, composed around 711-712, is the Kojiki, “Record of Ancient Matters,” which presents both history and myth. It is said to have been written by Ō no Yasumaro at the request of Empress Gemmei. It contains numerous references to Sake, including tying it into a number of ancient myths. For example, the text mentions that “The intoxicating liquor called sake was known in Japan during the mythical period…” which is indicative of a belief in the lengthy history of Sake within Japan.
The Koijiki relates the myth of Susanoo, the Shinto storm god, whose rebellion led to his banishment to Japan. While traveling through the Shimane Prefecture, Susanoo encountered an elderly couple with their young daughter. The couple claimed that they once had eight daughters but Yamata no Orochi, a terrible eight-headed dragon, had devoured one of their daughters each year. Susanoo stated he would help them if they granted him the hand of their daughter. They agreed and Susanoo enacted his plan to destroy the dragon.
First, Susanoo had a large fence constructed, with eight gates, and placed a table in front of each gate. Second, he brewed a special Sake, an "eight-fold" or "eight-times brewed" Sake called Yashiori no Sake. Then, Susanoo waited for the dragon to come, hoping his trap would succeed. The huge supernatural beast eventually showed up, and each head drank one of the vats of Sake. The dragon became intoxicated and then fell asleep. At that moment, Susanoo then took his sword and played the mighty sleeping dragon.
There are a number of other Sake references too in the Kojiki. There is the term “Sakabe” which rougly translates as "liquor tribe," referencing a family that brewed Sake for Imperial dinners and feasts. There is more specifically a reference, Uda no Sakabe, the "liquor tribe of Uda." There is another reference to a “waiting-liquor.” In addition, you'll find the term, Machi-sake, which refers to Sake that is produced for an absent friend by those who are awaiting his return. Machi-Sake is later mentioned again in a number of poems in the Man'yōshū.
Another fascinating passage seems to indicate potential Korean involvement in the existence of Sake in Japan. During the rule of Emperor O-Jin, thought to be around the late 3rd or early 4th centuries, a Korean man, known as Nim-pan or Susukori, visited the Imperial Court of Japan. Susukori allegedly came from Kudara, an ancient kingdom of Korea. Susukori produced Sake for the Emperor, who was thoroughly impressed with the results, stating: "I have become intoxicated with the august liquor distilled by Susukori. I have become intoxicated with the soothing liquor, with the smiling liquor." It is certainly possible that the Japanese learned about Sake brewing from Korea.
The Harima-no-kuni Fudoki (714/715 AD) was one of the first completed Kofudoki and concerns itself with the area now within the locale of the Hyōgo Prefecture. Many of the Sake references within this document have to do with various place names, such as the following:
“Several buildings were added to the palace grounds. The site of the sake brewery became the village of Sakaya.”
“There is also a place called Saka Yama in this village. During the time of Prince Ohotarashi a spring of wine issued forth at this place. That is why it was named Saka Yama (wine hill). Whenever the farmers became intoxicated with this wine, they fought each other wildly. Hence, the prince ordered that the spring be plugged. Later, in the year of Kanoye Uma (670), someone reopened the spring. The water of this spring still retains the flavor of sake wine.”
“Sakawino: Sakawi was named after a well dug for a sake brewery. Prince Homuda constructed a palace in the village of Ohoyake, dug a well, and established a sake brewery in this field. Therefore, the place was named Sakawino (field of the sake well).”
“The princess had a sake brewery built nearby. This site was named Sakata (sake field). Once one of the brewery barrels overturned and was emptied. Thus, the place came to be called Katabukita (overturned field). (Near the brewery site was a place where) young girls (processed sake) by crushing rice.”
“There are three dales in the village of Shimo Kama; Usuwi Tani, Mitani, and Sakaya Tani. The place where the god Ohonamuchi pounded rice was named Usuwi Tani (mortar dale) and the place where' he set his winnow was named Mitani (winnow dale). The spot where the god Ohonamuchi built a sake brewery was named Sakaya Tani (brewery dale).”
Maybe the most important reference though concerns the Hamlet of Nihato, where: “(The great god once traveled through this village carrying some rice.) the rice happened to get wet. Finding some mold on his rice, the god decided to make wine out of it. (When the wine was ready) the god dedicated it (to the spirits of this land) and feasted (with his followers) there. That is how the place came to be called Nihaki (wine-dedicating garden). Today people call it Nihato.”
The use of koji-kin, a mold which breaks down the starches in rice into sugar so the yeast can turn it into alcohol, might have originated in China but there is one theory, supported by this passage, that it may have developed independently in Japan. At the very least, we can see with this reference that koji-kin mold has been used to brew Sake at this time period. It is thought that the earliest form of koji was possibly made by mixing rice with water, kneading it and forming it into ball, before letting it sit for several weeks.
Some of the quotes from the Nihongi include:
“Now Kami-ataka-ashi-tsu-hime by divination fixed upon a rice-field to which she gave the name Sanada, and from the rice grown there brewed Heavenly sweet sake, with which she entertained him.”
“On this day, Ikuhi, in person, presented to the Emperor sacred sake, with a song, as follows:— This sacred sake Is not my sacred sake: Tis sacred sake brewed By Oho-mono-nushi, Of Yamato, How long ago! How long ago!"
“The Hall of Miwa (Of sweet sake fame), Even its morning door”
“Sweet sake from Yega market-town”
“He was the ancestor of the Kimi of the Sake-makers. The younger was called the Imperial Prince Naka. He was the ancestor of the Kimi of Sakada.' This year was the year Hinoto I (24th) of the Cycle.”
“On the same day, sacred sake' was given them.”--
“...ko-zake, a kind of sweet liquor made from rice.”
With these references, we can note two different types of Sake, sweet Sake and sacred Sake, though it isn’t clear whether sacred Sake is also sweet or not. Sacred Sake was made from rice grown on temple grounds and it was customary to offer it to foreign ambassadors. There is also a passage in the Nihongi, referencing 193 AD, about a great Sake master, Oho-saka-nushi, an ancestor of the Miyakko of Kukumada.
“Township of Saka: It is located 1.5 miles east of the district office. A multitude of deities gathered together, built a brewery, and fermented rice wine in the river valley of Saka. They held festivals day after day before they dispersed. Therefore, it is called Saka, meaning ‘rice wine.’”
During Kami-ari-zuki, the "Month of the Gods," all of the gods once gathered together at Izumi Taisha to feast and drink. They brewed Sake and spent about six months drinking and eating, engaging in what is said to be called sakamizuki, which is also allegedly where the area received its name, Saka. The area where this allegedly occurred is now known as Kozakai-cho, and there is the Saka Shrine located there, and which has been in existence for over 1300 years. The shrine is also known as the Matsuo Shrine, which is the name used for shrines throughout the country that enshrine the deity of sake brewing, Kusu-no-kami.
Another significant quote from the Izumo no Kuni Fudoka is: “Arata was named after the condition of the soil of this area. The goddess of this area, who was named Michinushi (road mistress), gave birth to a child deity whose father was unknown. The goddess wished to learn the identity of her child's father and so she planned to have some oracle wine brewed. The goddess cultivated a rice field of about fifteen acres. The rice ripened within seven days. The goddess then prepared sake for oracle use, gathered a great number of gods, and had her son serve the wine. The child god turned immediately, faced the god Ame no Mahitotsu (Prince of the Heavenly Blacksmith) and served him some wine. Thus did the child recognize his father. Afterward, this rice field went unused. That is why the hamlet is called Arata (unused rice field.)”
This passage is intriguing as it indicates Sake being used in a magical ritual, as an oracle. Sake has long been closely involved in religious ceremonies so it isn't a stretch at all to see it also being used in a oracular fashion.
One of the famous poets in this book is Ōtomo no Tabito, (665‐731), a military man in the Nara Court aristocracy and an influential poet. Within the Man'yōshū, you will find a number of his tanka, praising Sake.
“O what an ugly sight the man who thinks he’s wise and never drinks sake!” (This is my favorite Sake quote.)
"To keep silent and act wise still not as good as drinking Sake, getting drunk, and weeping.”
"Don’t think about useless things—
You should be drinking, it seems to me,
A bowl of raw Sake."
"Excellently said, those words of the great wise man of antiquity who bestowed upon sake the appellation of sage."
"Those seven wise men of the past---what they too wanted, it seems, was Sake."
"I don’t know how to say it, what to do about it—the noblest of all, it seems, is Sake."
"Rather than be a so-so human being, I’d like to be a Sake jar and get steeped in Sake."
"A priceless treasure it may be, but how can it be better than a bowl of raw Sake?"
"A gem that gleams at night, it may be, but how can it compare to drinking Sake and opening your heart?"
Another poet in the Man'yōshū is Okura Yamanoe (660‐773?), a contemporary of Ōtomo Tabito, who composed a long poem, the “Dialogue on Poverty.” It presented images of suffering, including people who had to drink the Sake dregs, which only the poorest people had to drink.
As we are discussing Sake poetry, I should also mention another famous poet of the 8th century, Li Po from China, who became known as Rihaku in Japan. He was passionate about Sake and claimed it gave him great inspiration,“I drink a whole bottle, and pen a hundred poems.”
To be continued...