History and Culture Timeline

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Table of contents

Jōmon period (14000-300 BC)

• Wild grapes – sign of the first alcoholic beverage - According to recent research, first evidence of wet rice cultivation in China, which is believed to have been exported to Japan around 1000 BC. There is no historical evidence of sake production in this period, or of any rice cultivation in Japan. History suggests only wine would have been made using the wild grapes, giving rise to opportunities to create alcoholic drinks. The population survived by gathering food through hunting and fishing, and probably migrated to cooler or warmer areas as the climate changed through the seasons. Jōmon means “cord pattern,” a reference to the decoration of pottery produced in this period.

Yayoi period (about 300 BC – 300 AD)

• Technological advancement and confirmed brewing of sake in Japan. The Yayoi Period is key in the history of Japan, it is the period when Sake is thought to have been discovered. Chinese history books point to small tribes producing sake, consuming it at funerals as early as the 3rd century. It is also thought that rice cultivation started towards the end this period, probably around the 5th century, leading to the first recognised alcoholic drink being made. History also suggests that during this time, chewing rice and spitting it into a pot was the earliest form of fermentation, the saliva creating the multiple parallel fermentation by removing non starch based enzymes and enabling starch to convert to sugar using natural yeasts.

Kofun / Asuka period (300 AD - 710 AD)

• Sake for Gods / Emperor - Doburoku is one of the most ancient of Japan's alcoholic beverages. Its history stretches back as far as rice production, and it is made using rice, water, and koji. The main difference between Doburoku and Sake is that the moromi is not filtered. Doburoku was used alongside rice in ancient times by farmers who would offer both to the gods, whilst praying for a successful harvest. This tradition is still practised today in many regions. Doburoku is essentially unfiltered or muddy Sake. - The city of Nara was the capital of Japan, and in 689, a brewing department was established within the walls of the Imperial Palace. This was known as “sake no kami”. - Sake was recorded in Japanese history books such as Kojiki and Nihonshoki.

Nara period (710-794)

• The Nara period is thought to be the time when sake was first brewed with using rice grains, due to stabilisation of rice cultivation. The use of Koji was, thankfully, the reason the previous method of chewing and spitting of rice (and nuts) saliva into a barrel for fermentation became redundant. This appears to be when traditional sake production was first invented, and it is from these first attempts using cultivated rice and koji, that todays sake has its roots. Sake started to be brewed using koji (kamutachi); this method spread throughout the country. During this period, sake was the recognised drink of the Imperial Court, before temples and shrines started production, and then finally commercial brewers became the main sources of production.

Heian period (794-1185)

• The Heian period, sake was used in many religious festivals and ceremonies in the courts across the land, and treated as an offer to Gods, especially at harvest time. Notably, it was also used in drinking games, although not the regular drink of the common man or woman. Following on from the Nada period, rice production and sake itself became increasingly important commercial products. Engishiki, a Japanese 50 volume book about laws and customs published in 927, talks about brewing Sake using rice, kōji and water, even warmed sake! Sake production was also evident at shrines and Buddhist temples, becoming famous for their sōbōshu (monk's Sake). The Heian period is remembered as the time when clear sake was first enjoyed

The Kamakura period (1185-1333)

• First steps to a commercialisation of Sake production while the demand among the common people also increased. However, the habit of drinking Sake for non-religious occasions became a social problem forcing the government to establish a prohibition in 1252.

The Muromachi period (1338-1573)

• Prohibition was repealed by the government. As the Sake production flourished again the government started to collect taxes from the Sake brewers, among them still temples that continued to produce Sake of good quality. Especially in the Nara area Sake making progressed as the Bodaisan Shōryakuji invented the Bodaimoto technique. Historically not clearly verified, however, is the upcoming of morohaku-tsukuri, which features the use of polished rice not only for kakemai but also for kōjimai. Though the first written record is to be found in the Tamon'in-nikki for the year 1560 it can't be fully excluded that morohaku-tsukuri might already be known by the end of Heian period. Also in the Tamon'in-nikki is a record dated to 1568 that mentions the sandan-shikomi technique, which became production standard during Edo period. The same goes for the hiire technique with its record in the Tamon'in-nikki in 1569.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period  (1573-1603)

• The provincial wars among daimyō (feudal lords) reached their peak. As a result of that also temples got destroyed leading to a decline of sōbōshu. This was a short period in Japanese history, noted for the political unification which brought all provinces under the control of the central government. The period is also known as the Sengoku Period.

The Edo period (1603-1868)

• Sake production nearly reached its completion in terms of production processes still applied today. The following standards got established: Practice of making Sake only during the winter season (kanzukuri), which provided the best conditions as well as the easiest time to obtain farmers as brewery workers. Establishment of the multi-layered hierarchy of the brew master (tōji) system, based on the knowledge and expertise of each brewery worker. Pasteurisation (hiire) became common practice. Sandan-shikomi (three steps brewing) prevailed as a new standard, which made the main mash‘s fermenting process much more safe. Addition of high-alcohol to the main mash (hashira shōchū) in order to prevent spoilage by unwanted bacteria, to help adjust and enhance aroma and flavour was introduced. Filtering Sake with wood ash, which resulted in a water clear, pure Sake (sumisake or seishu), was introduced. In Nada the power of water was used for polishing rice along with the use of the newly discovered Miyamizu water. In the middle of the Edo period, farmers in Niigata went to work in other regions during the agricultural off-season and acquired sake brewing skills under the guidance of sake brewers in the western part of Japan. In Tanba and Tajima, and then, they devised sake brewing techniques suitable for climate, natural features, water quality and rice quality of various lands.

Meiji period (1868-1912)

• In 1873 Nihonshu (Japanese Sake) made its international debut at the Vienna International Exposition. In 1895 naturally occurring Sake yeast was isolated for the first time. 1901 the isshōbin, a 1.8 litre glass bottle, was created, which gave way to a higher consumer quality assurance compared to the former traditional wooden barrels. Heavy taxation of alcoholic beverages was imposed by the Japanese government. The Meiji Period saw the first fast brewing method, known as Sokujo-hou, developed. This modern method included adding lactic acid artificially rather than propagating wild lactic acid bacteria..

Taishō period (1912-1926)

• During the Taishō period technical brewing skills significantly increased, resulting in the quality of Sake steadily improving. Further developments like enamel and stainless steel tanks around 1923 eased production processes. New scientific methods of production were increasingly common and spread across Japan thanks to lectures given by the Brewing Society of Japan. The breweries in Akita were leading exponents of these new methods and further improved them for colder climates. These breweries performed very well at national sake competitions, and caused many other breweries nationally to look closely at what had been done.

Shōwa Period (1926-1989)

• In 1933 the tategata seimaiki (vertical rice polishing machine) was invented, which heavily supported the birth of refined Sake. In 1943 a Sake classification system was introduced including the tokkyū (special), ikkyū (first) and nikyū (second) level. The method of sanbaizōjō (Sake tripled in quantity with added aclohol, sugar and acidulants), introduced after the war due to rice shortage, was banned in 2006. In 1961 year-round Sake production became possible thanks to the development of new technology. Shipping volume of Sake reached a peak in 1973 along with a boom for jizake (local Sake). The 1980s, however, were characterised by the Ginjō boom and a greater popularity of namazake. Besides of that Sake production also became more and more prominent in USA, Brazil, Taiwan, Korea and China.

Sake History & Culture Long Read/Essay

Sake is the traditional rice wine of Japan. It comes in several varieties, and was first made at least 2,000 years ago. Since then, sake has played an important role in Japanese culture and history. From its origins as the "drink of the Gods" to its current status as one of the most popular drinks in the country, the history of sake is steeped in tradition, innovation, and custom.

Sake was first brewed in Japan after the practice of wet rice cultivation was introduced in that country around 1000 B.C. Though the origins of sake can be traced in China as far back as 4,000 B.C., it was the Japanese who began mass production of this simple but delicious rice concoction. The basic process of making sake involves "polishing" or milling the rice kernels, which were then cooked in good, clean water and made into a mash. The earliest "polishing" was done by a whole village: each person would chew rice and nuts and then spit the mixture into a communal tub – the sake produced was called "kuchikami no sake," which is Japanese for "chewing the mouth sake." The chewing process introduced the enzymes necessary for fermentation. Although it was part of a Shinto religious ceremony, this practice was discontinued when it was learned that Koji (a mould enzyme) and yeast could be added to the rice to start the fermentation process.

At first, sake was produced for private consumption by individual families or villages. While this practice continued, sake rice also became a large scale agricultural product. The largest production area was centred around Nada, near the present-day city of Kobe. Although more sake was being made, it was mostly consumed by the upper classes. Sake was used for many purposes in the Shinto religion, including as an offering to the Gods and to purify the temple. The bride and groom each consume sake in a Shinto wedding ceremony in a process known as Sansankudo. There were many other uses for sake in Shinto, most of which are still in practice today. It was in the 1300s that mass production of sake allowed it to become Japan's most important drink. In the years that followed the production process was improved, and sake breweries popped up throughout the nation. All the early variations of sake were cloudy until a seventeenth century brewery worker thought to use ashes to settle the cloudy particles in the sake. The story has become somewhat of a legend, because the employee was apparently disgruntled, and was trying to destroy the batch; instead, his actions refined the sake and earned him a place in history. Japan's Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century introduced automation and machinery into the brewing process, making this popular drink even more available.

In the twentieth century, a press replaced the traditional canvas bags for squeezing the liquid out of the rice mash, yeast, and koji mixture, although some sake is still brewed the old-fashioned way. Shortages of rice in World War Two also caused changes in the brewing process: glucose and pure alcohol were added to the rice mash in order to increase the production yield and brewing time. Although borne of necessity, this process has been continued to this day, but sake made with just water, koji, yeast, and rice is still available.

Though the brewing process and availability of sake has changed over the years, sake's important role in Japanese culture has not. From its earliest beginning’s sake has been a drink of reverence, family, and friendship, consumed to mark important occasions. Because it is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, tradition holds that a person must never pour their own sake; instead another person pours for you, and you do the same for them. For thousands of years sake has been a major part of Japanese life, and its popularity is now increasing on the international stage.

Praying in the early morning History and Culture Timeline.gif