HOW TOAnnual Sake Day in Japan – Explore When, and Why
Since 1978, October 1 has been Sake Day in Japan. But what happens on this day, and why was it chosen as the date to celebrate Japan’s representative alcoholic beverage? Pour yourself a cup and let’s find out.
Sake is a delicious drink that can be enjoyed year-round, but the first day of October is an especially good day to pour yourself a cup of Japan’s representative alcoholic beverage. Back in 1978, the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association declared October 1 Sake Day. It may not be an official holiday, but sake breweries, restaurants and liquor stores hold a variety of events on and around Sake Day to celebrate and educate through tastings, lectures, sales promotions and giveaways.
You don’t even have to be in Japan to take part in the festivities. On Sake Day, the Sake and Shochu Makers Association live streams its Kampai with Sake online event, with food/sake pairing suggestions and even cooking demonstrations on how to prepare otsumami – snacks that go well with sake – for when you want something to munch on but aren’t hungry enough for a full meal.
October: New rice, new sake
But why was October 1 chosen as Sake Day? There are two reasons, and the first has to do with something very important in making sake: rice. Rice in Japan is planted in the spring, grows through the summer months, and is harvested in the fall. Specifically, October is the start of the rice harvesting season in Japan, and the earliest rice harvests, called shinmai (new rice), are the most prized. Once the shinmai starts coming in from the fields, sake brewers can get to work, and so October isn’t just the start of the harvesting season – it’s the start of the brewing year too. That makes October 1 a great time to look forward to the new brews to come, and also to appreciate what’s already available to drink right now.
The meaning behind the kanji character for sake: 酒
The other reason for Sake Day being on October 1? The kanji character used to write sake in Japanese. The logic behind some kanji can be pretty abstract, but the one for sake (酒) is pretty straightforward. The three small strokes on the left represent flowing liquid, and the part on the right is a rendering of an old-fashioned sake jug, giving us a picture that means “the liquid that goes in a sake jug,” i.e. sake itself.
The sake jug alone on the right half of the character (酉) is also a classical way to write rooster, as in the rooster of the Chinese zodiac. The rooster is the 10th animal in the Chinese zodiac cycle, and October being the 10th month of the year is another reason the Sake and Shochu Makers Association settled on October 1.
Sip sake and celebrate!
Sake has a long history and deep cultural significance. Don’t let that fool you, though, into thinking that it’s something that must be solemnly sipped while adhering to strict protocols. The whole point of Sake Day is to help lower any intimidation factor and spread the word to everyone that sake is a more versatile and accessible beverage than they might think.
If there’s a sake bar you’ve been wanting to visit, a brew on the menu at your favorite Japanese restaurant that you’ve never tried, or a bottle in your house that you got as a gift and haven’t opened yet because you’re waiting for a special day, October 1 is a date you’ll want to mark on your calendar.