01: The Birth of Sake

Writer: Tamaki Kashiwagi

It is believed that the culture of drinking alcohol beverages started from the Jomon period (BC14000 ~ BC300) in Japan. Prior to it, the Japanese are largely nomads and made their living by hunting. They didn’t keep food without agriculture or didn’t have chance and conditions to make alcohol drinks because they kept on moving one place to the other for hunting.


In the Jomon period, agriculture had started in Japan, and people started making potteries so that the people can keep food in it. From one of the ruins of Jomom period, an old pottery with seeds of wild grapes in it was discovered. It implied that the ancient Japanese might have produced and consumed fermented wild grape juice. It means that the Japanese had started wine before Sake, even though Sake is the Japanese icon nowadays!! Interesting, isn’t it?

Between BC1000 and BC500, the rice cultivation was introduced to Japan from the mainland China and Korean Peninsula. Since then, the Japanese started making sake. To date, the Japanese use “koji”, a kind of bacteria, to make sake. But back then, people didn’t have such technology for using the “koji” bacteria. They made sake by chewing raw rice in their mouth and spit them in a container with rice and water to help fermentation. The saliva has a function of decomposing the rice starch and converting into sugar. The sugar content became the alcohol after fermentation.


There were many alcoholic drinks in Southeast Asia and Central and South America, etc. produced also through the fermentation with the help of saliva. The native communities in Amazon, Peru make an alcoholic drink called “Masato” today, which is made by chewed potato called “Yuca”. Masato is produced at home and consumed regularly, especially during ceremonies. My husband often travel to Amazon for his work and forced to drink Masato during meetings with communities. He said it is tasty but try not to think how it is made!


It is believed that Sake in the ancient time was not clear liquid like present Sake. It was more like mud!! Yikes!! Thank God for sending me to the present time because I can drink clean and pure Sake!