Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Origins & History of Sake (Part 3)

10th Century

In 905, during the Heian period (AD 794-1192), Emperor Daigo, the 60th Emperor of Japan, ordered that a census be taken of all the regulations, etiquette, laws, protocols and customs. The end result was a massive compilation, consisting of fifty volumes, the Engishiki, which wasn’t completed until approximately 927. The book is essentially broken into volumes concerning the two councils and eight ministries, and it included some intriguing information about Sake.

There is mention of approximately 13 different types of sake, some ordered by quality grade, that were produced during that time. The Imperial Palace Master of Brewing is known as the mikizukasa. Of the various Sake types, Goshu, Reishu (amazake) and Sanshuso were the highest quality grades while Tonshu, Jyuso and Kosake were a lower grade, for lower ranked officials. Zakkyushu was issued to officials as part of their salary while Aesake was considered only appropriate for cooking.

Two of the most intriguing varieties mentioned were Shiroki (“white sake”) and Kuroki (“black sake”) which were used in Shinto religious ceremonies and were primarily limited only to the Emperor. “Ki” is an ancient term for Sake. Interestingly, these two types of Sakes are still brewed at the Grand Shrine of Ise. Shiroki is basically unrefined Sake made from newly harvested rice while Kuroki is similar, except the ashes of a plant called kusagi are added to it, giving it more of a grayish color. Some claim that Kuroki once had been made from black rice.

There is actually an even earlier mention of Shiroki and Kuroki, in a poem by Fumuya no Chinu (693-770), whose was a member of the Imperial family, in the Man'yōshū. He wrote: "I will offer kuroki and shiroki to you as long as the world endures."

During the Heian period, a popular drinking game for Japanese nobility was Kyokusui-no-en, an outdoor poem-composing party, which more literally is a “party held by a meandering stream.” To play, people sat by a stream and a number of Sake cups would flow by. The participants had to write a tanka, a short poem, on a piece of paper and then pick up a Sake cup before it passed by them. They would then place the poem in the cup and place it back into the stream. If you failed to finish your poem in time, you had to drink Sake as a penalty.

12th Century

The oldest Sake brewery, which has been in continuous operation, is Sudo Honke, located in the city of KasamaIbaraki Prefecture. There is evidence that the brewery was in operation at least as far back as 1141, and likely even earlier, making it at least 875 years old! They have seen 55 generations of brewers and currently make the Sato no Homare brand.

It was also during this time that Office of Sake Brewing lost its exclusive right to produce Sake, and a number of temples and shrines began producing Sake, much of which started being made available for sale in the cities. The temples and shrines had a number of advantages, allowing them to become significant Sake producers. For example, they often owned large areas of land that were used to grow rice and they also controlled a number of important water sources. Plus, they had plenty of potential employees, lots of hard-working monks. Monks were thus the first people outside of the Imperial Court who were permitted to brew Sake.

Not all monks though helped to promote Sake. Myōan Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist who started the first Zen temple initially traveled to China in 1168, for about six months and returned again in 1187 for a few years, studying Zen Buddhism and becoming certified as a Zen teacher. He rturned to Japan in 1191, establishing a Zen Buddhist temple, and also bringing green tea seeds from China. He even wrote a book on tea, the Kissa Yojoki, which discussed the health benefits of tea. However, Eisai also encouraged tea drinking instead of Sake. Throughout Japan, a stone pillar stands at the entrance of every Zen Buddhist temple with the inscription: "Garlic and Sake never to be admitted into the gate.” Fortunately, the Japanese people embraced both tea and Sake.

It should also be mentioned that during this period, is that the government established a stable currency system, which helped to promote more commercial endeavors, including sales of Sake. Thus, the Sake now being produced by the temples and shrines could be sold in the cities, helping to spread its consumption.

13th Century

During a famine, the Shogunate issued a declaration, dated September 30, 1252, which prohibited the sale of Sake and ordered all but one Sake pot per household to be smashed. Allegedly, they destroyed about 37,274 Sake pots in the modestly sized city of Kamakura, which helps to show the extent of Sake consumption in that area. The rationale behind the ban was that the rice used to make Sake would be better used by feeding the hungry during this time of famine. Fortunately, the ban didn't last too long.

To Be Continued...

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