Why do the Japanese call sake ‘nihonshu’?

My memory is probably exaggerating, but the way I remember it I arrived in Japan only knowing the words “sake” and “sayonara”, only to find that the Japanese rarely use either in the way I had expected. Still, that’s not as bad as believing my French teacher when he told use that “baiser” means kiss…

“Sake” in fact has two meanings, being the normal way to refer to all alcoholic drinks as well as the famous Japanese rice wine in particular, and is more often used with the former meaning. There is also the only very slightly differently pronounced “sake” that means “salmon”…

To avoid possible misunderstandings, the clearer expression “nihonshu” (“Japanese alcohol” or perhaps “Japanese spirits”) is therefore more often used when talking about Japanese rice wine, though there is also the word “atsukan” for “nihonshu” served hot.

Why the highball boom in Japan?

This was something I really noticed coming back to Japan after two years in Korea – suddenly whisky highballs were everywhere, including in a bizarre mix with takoyaki in a chain of casual snack bars.

You can find lots of comment on this by Googling highball in Japan, but something no one seems to have mentioned is that the rise of highball was almost exactly the same time as the Japanese government plugging the tax loophole that allowed first happoshu (low malt beer-like drinks) and then a further category of even less beer-like drinks (sanrui, I think they are called) to be both cheap and a huge source of profits for the drinks companies.

Why is sake in decline in Japan?

“‘Consumers in Japan perceive it as old-fashioned. Also, there is a lovely convention with sake that you never pour for yourself, the person you are dining with should pour, but I think part of the problem is that in the corporate world this has been abused so that the new guy always has to drink until he pukes because the bosses keep pouring. It has that association for some.’ Apparently, a few years ago rumours also spread… that sake gave you bad breath and was acidic on the stomach, which can’t have helped.”

Sushi and Beyond page 165

The other thing about sake is that is has religious meaning, being tied into all kinds of Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies such as weddings and remembrance of the dead. During those times, too, it is something that can seem forced onto you more than something you choose to drink. The other thing about the pouring for each other is that is adds a level of formality to proceedings, so much so that you can show a lack of all formality by drinking out of the sake bottle. For all these reasons, a relaxed evening out will always start with beer (preferably your own glass rather than a shared bottle).

Why is “amazake” called “sake”?

“Sake” means not just rice wine but also alcohol generally. Amazake doesn’t have any (or much?) alcohol in it, and you’ll often see children drinking it at festivals and shrines, but its name means “sweet rice wine” or “sweet alcohol”.  

According to the Wikipedia amazake page, it is made from the same yeast (koji) and a similar process as sake, and according to Pink Samurai, the heating of it then boils off the rest of the alchohol.

Been bothering me for a while, that one…

Why have the Japanese never got good at making wine?

There are some pretty damn good beers, and apparently the whiskeys are world class. There is also no lack of demand for wine in Japan, so I’d been wondering about this one for a while when I finally found an answer in Friday’s International Herald Tribune:

Japanese wineries betting on a reviled grape

To summarize, the weather conditions means that the vinifera grapes that are common in most great wine growing nations end up rotting in Japan. Most vineyards therefore use a local variant called koshu which is more resistant to the summer and autumn rains. Unfortunately, this grape is quite bitter, leading to most wine growers to add lots of sugar.

Why are the Japanese still obsessed with Beaujolais Nouveau?

There is a tradition of seasonal drinks and marketing. The light taste also suits the palate of Japanese who are not used to red wine and the Japanese habit of/ recent trend for cooling red wine. Because of these elements and a continuing belief that good quality wine must be French, the producers turn their full marketing power on the Japanese market and reinforce the trend.

Why has Japanese wine never taken off like Japanese beer and whisky?

The kinds of people attracted to wine are the kinds of people who are most attracted to the prestige and image of import goods, so there was no market for it. The soil and dampness of the weather are also less than ideal.

Why do electronics shops like Bic Camera stock alcohol?

And pharmacies! This is a sure sign that the profit margins are as huge as in drugs and consumer electronics, so Kirin and Sapporo have obviously decided not to compete on the price of beer, something that the availability of cheaper happoshu conveniently hides. An uncompetitive practice that is very close to my heart…