Culture Food

Japanese Sake: The Ultimate Guide

If you are interested in Japanese culture, it’s very likely that you would have heard of Sake. Sake is in fact one of the main traditions within Japanese culture. While it originated in Japan, Sake is now enjoyed in bars and restaurants all over the world.

However, perhaps due to the lack of instant recognizability of Kanji brands from different areas of Japan, even the Japanese themselves have gaps in their knowledge of Sake. Because of this, there are limited opportunities for foreigners to learn about Sake.

This is where our article comes in - to fill you in on the essential knowledge of Sake, such as the different types, ways to drink and other facts, from our interview with our resident Sake expert, Kaori Isono.

History of Japanese Sake

Sake has long history: some records say that it has been produced since 5000 BC. The production of sake started between 500 to 1000 BC, when rice farming started to become more commonplace in Japan. Originally, Sake was a holy drink sacrificed to the Gods in prayer for a plentiful harvest. Sake was first called “Chewing Sake.” By chewing with saliva in one’s mouth, raw rice was fermented into Sake. The modern production method was established in the 700s, when rice malt arrived from China. As time passed, the method of producing Shochu, distilled liquor, appeared in the 1500s, having been a method exported from China.

The Brewing Process of Japanese Sake

Brewed beverages are produced by fermenting the ingredients with yeast. Grapes are the fundamental ingredients of wine, and since they contain sugar, they are fermented by simply adding yeast. Due to this, the production location and quality of grapes are important in determining the quality of the wine.  However, sake's main ingredient is rice, which does not contain sugar in its default form. Koji fungus must be glycosylated (a chemical reaction where a carbohydrate, i.e. the rice is attached to another hydroxyl or other molecule). Yeasts are also essential to the fermentation process. Since glycosylation and fermentation happen at the same time, a high level of skill is required to produce sake. Toji, producers of sake, have developed special techniques to create the perfect balance of reactions, resulting in optimum quality.

Types of Japanese Sake

170708 #sake tasting event From left to right and from top to bottom 1.天露 #本醸造 (tenro #honjyouzou ) 2.都姫 #純米 (miyakohime #junmai ) 3.武州 淡麗 純米 (bushu tanrei junmai) 4.天運 #吟醸 (tenun #ginjyo ) 5.無上盃 #純米吟醸 (mushohai #junmaiginjyo ) 6.#黒兜 #山田錦 純米吟醸 (#kurokabuto #yamadanisiki junmaiginjyo) 7. 黒兜 #夢一献 純米吟醸 (kurokabuto #yumeikkon junmaiginjyo) 8. #usuki #特別純米 #無濾過生原酒 (usuki #tokubetsujunmai #murokanamagenshu) 9. #池亀 #無濾過無加水 #純米大吟醸 (#ikekame #murokamukasui #junmaidaiginjo) Instagram wouldn't let me write much... In conclusion, USUKI was awesome!! . . . . #술스타그램 #사케 #nihonshu #日本酒

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Tokutei-Meishou-Shu, eight major categories of Sake, are divided into two main categories: Junmai(純米) and Honjozo(本醸造). Those two types are divided more specifically by the percentage of rice grain which has been polished or milled, which is called Seimaibuai(精米歩合); the size of the polished rice.

Junmai(純米) type; water, rice and Kome-Koji fungus are ingredients

Any ratio of Seimaibuai

The ratio of Seimaibui is less than 61%, which means that the rice grain is polished more than 39%

The ratio of Seimaibui is less than 51%, which means that the rice grain is polished more than 49%

Honjozo(本醸造) type; ingredients include alcohol, which satisfies the rule


The ratio of Seimaibui is less than 71%, which means that the rice grain is polished more than 29%
The ratio of Seimaibi is less than 61%, which means that the rice grain is polished more than 39%


The ratio of Seimaibui is less than 51%, which means that the rice grain is polished more than 49%

Futsuu-shu(普通酒) type; Sake not categorized as above, ordinary sake

Enjoying Sake in different temperatures

You can taste sake served in different temperatures. Basically, there are three categories: cold, room temperature and hot. This is a unique way of enjoying Sake, which makes it different from any other type of alcohol.






Kan; Hot



20~25C(68~77F)-Jyoon; Room temperature
Rei-shu; Cold

With good sake, you will be able to taste the sweetness and the full flavor of the rice. That’s why sake with a fragrant smell is the best to drink in the cold, however, Zyunmai-syu(純米酒) is great in Kan(hot). Kan(燗) always goes with hot dishes, especially hot-pot dishes, which will enhance the rice flavoring in the Sake.

Let’s try Japanese Sake!

We hope this article was illuminating and helped you learn more about Sake. Armed with this knowledge, this will allow you to make the most of experiencing Sake.

We provide further information on recommended places to try Sake, so now is the time to enjoy life with Sake!

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Koki Miyashita

Author & Editor