SakeMasters Academy 3: Brief History of Sake (Development of Sake Making 1/5 - Nara to Heian Periods)

Hereinafter, we will discuss developments of sake manufacturing in a series of articles by dividing into five periods, i) Nara to Heian, ii) Kamakura to Azuchi Momoyama, iii) Edo, iv) Meiji to Showa, v) Heisei to the current period.

During Nara period (710-794, Nara Capital), "Sake No Tsukasa" (造酒司), lower government office of "Sakabe" (酒部), a special department for sake brewery in teh Imperial Palace, was established to brew sake to serve for the aristocrats and use sake for Shinto rituals to pray for an abundant harvest. "Kojiki" (古事記) (712), Japan's oldest history book written during Nara period, mentions about sake for its mythological story that the guy defeated "Yamata No Orochi" (八岐大蛇), eight heads gigantic snake, being drunk by sake. From ancient times, it does not seem good to drink too much sake to get drunken... It is not clear about types of sake that was mostly made during Nara period, because there were various types of sake made from rice, fruits, nuts etc. Even "Nihonshu" (日本酒), Japanese sake made from rice, is not the same one as of today but "Nigori" (濁り) sake, unfiltered cloudy one, unlike clear sake of present days. During this period, it is said that a sake manufacturing method using Koji (麹) (sake malt) came from China to Japan.

During Heian (平安) period (794-1185, Kyoto Capital), a more advanced sake manufacturing technique started to produce the current format of clear Japanese sake, so-called "Seishu" (清酒). "Engishiki" (延喜式) (927), laws and rules book, explains the detail of 13 types of Japanese sake manufacturing by using rice, Koji and water, which is a basis of the current manufacturing method of Japanese sake, Seishu. A custom of "Tsukimi" (月見) sake, enjoying by looking at Moon, came from China during this period. There are many historical books describing how people truly enjoyed and loved sake. Also during this period, monks started a sake manufacturing at their temples, so-called "Souboushu" (僧坊酒) (literally, monks' sake) while a private sector also started a sake manufacturing. There is a theory that "Bodaisen" (菩提泉) (literally, Bodhi spring) of Souboushu made by "Shoryakuji" (正暦寺) in Nara was the first Japanese sake. However, sake was still very scare due to limited production capacities as well as difficulty of quality control, and therefore only available to aristocrats, Shinto shrines, temples etc.  In the next academy, we will discuss how a mass sake manufacturing became possible at "Brief History of Sake (Development of Sake Making 2/5 - Kamakura to Azumi Momoyama Periods)". 

”Storytelling begins with the urgent need to give expressions to all things human, good and bad, that you long to hand down to people many years in the future"
- Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部) (c.973/978-c.1014/1031), Japanese novelist and poet of Heian period

Previous blog "Brief History of Sake (Ritual Aspect of Sake - Shinto Shrine and Sake)

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