Sake (Nihonshu)


Japanese Sake is a brewed beverage in which rice, water, and rice koji (microorganism) are contained, and it is also used for cooking.
Various kinds of Sake are made all over Japan, and many “Jizake” (local Sake) are distributed.

Sake has been absolutely necessary for celebratory occasions. Traditionally, it was a holy beverage dedicated to the God. “San-san-kudo (exchanging nuptial cups at a wedding), “Otoso” (New Year’s spiced sake), newly-built house ceremony etc. trace back to this custom.

# I think as an agricultural tribe, Japanese people may have granted rice as what is a godsend and to be grateful.
Japanese Sake is categorized by the viewpoint of the fragrance and the flavor.

Kunshu (Literally “Fragrant Sake”)

It is called “Ginjoshu“, and has a fruity and floral fragrance and a clear and brisk flavor.
Ginshoshu which is polished down to 50% or less is called “Dai-ginjoshu” (or simply “Daiginjo“).

Soshu (Literally “Fresh Sake”)

Sake that is not heated for pasteurization such as “Namazake” and “Honjozoshu“, and sometimes “Junmaishu” is included, and has a fruity fragrance and a fresh and clear flavor.
It is suited to drink as “Reishu” (cold sake).

# We can say Soshu and Beaujolais Nouveau are alike in the type of flavor (fresh and fruty, and not astringent). The body is light.

Junshu (Literally “Pure Sake”)

Junmaishu” is included in this category and made only from white rice, rice koji, and water. It has wide range of flavor from mild to rich body which lasts long time.
Suited for hot sake.

Jukushu (Literally “Mature Sake”)

Jukushu” means aged sake, and has a deep flavor mixed with the sweet, sour and bitter taste and a wealth of fragrance.
It tends to be full-body.

Four seasons and Sake

Japan has the clear change of four seasons and is rich in the nature’s things. So Japanese people have developed a peculiar culture of enjoying sake and nature at the same time.
“Hanamizake” in spring, “Natugosi no sake” (sake for beating the summer heat) in summer, “Tsukimizake” (sake for the moonlight party) in autumn and “Yukimizake” (sake for enjoying the beauty of snow) are integral.

* “Shu” is another way of reading the Chinese character of “sake”.
* When two words are united in one word, the pronunciation of the initial letter ‘s’ changed to ‘z’ or ‘j’ in the latter word.
(e.g. sake -> zake)


When we say simply “sake”, it means alcoholic beverages in general, but “Nihonshu” or “Seishu” is usually what is commonly called “Japanese Sake”.
Major sake made in Japan is not only “Nihonshu” but also “Shochu”.
The biggest difference between Nihonshu and Shochu is whether it’s brew or distilled spirit.
And basically Nihonshu is made from rice, but Shochu is made from various basic ingredient such as oats, red Japanese potato, buckwheat, rice, brown sugar lump etc.


Rice is the basic ingredient as well as Nihonshu.
Kome-jochu has a history of more than 400 years and has a rich flavor.


Generally, it is more quaffable than Kome-jochu or Imo-jochu because of its light flavor.
Basic ingredient is oats.


The basic ingredient is red Japanese potato which is cultivated widely in the southern part of Kyushu.
Imo-jochu has a full-bodied flavor and a unique aroma, it is “love it or hate it” shochu.


Kokuto-jochu is made from brown sugar in around Amami Islands lying to the south of Kyushu.
It has a smooth flavor and soft and pleasant to the taste.


Basic ingredient is buckwheat. It has a lighter body and flavor than Mugi-jochu.


Local specialty of Okinawa. A distilled spirit made from rice, and the manufacturing process is different from that of common shochu.
It has a mellow and sweetness flavor.


Other shochu are made in every region of Japan, which use various ingredients such as sweet chestnut or Irish potato.

* When two words are united in one word, the pronunciation of the initial letter ‘s’ changed to ‘z’ or ‘j’ in the latter word.
(e.g. shochu -> jochu)

You can enjoy a report movie on Kikusui Shuzou and the producs which uses the water of Sarukura Spring (selected as one of the 100 Best Natural Waters in Japan).
The entry about Sarukura Spring and the product is here; “Rare Japanese Sake using the best water in Japan”


Kikusui Shuzou (Nagano pref.)

Gekkeikan (one of the big Japanese Sake Maker)

Japan Sake Brewers Association