Enjoy Japanese sake during each of the four seasons

Japan has four distinct seasons, thus enjoying a long-established custom of taking in the seasonal ambiance with seasonal sake each season. “Hanamizake” (“sake for flower-viewing”) is sake representative of the spring. Banquets were held at the imperial court to view seasonal flowers from the Nara period (710-794 AD). At the time, banquets were organized to view Chinese plums, which changed to cherry blossoms after the Heian period (794-1185 AD).  

During the Momoyama period (1573-1615) in March 1598, feudal lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi hosted a cherry blossom viewing banquet at the Sanpoin Garden of Daigoji Temple in Kyoto, documented in history to have been a luxurious flower-viewing banquet. Flower-viewing became a year-round custom enjoyed by the general public during the Edo period (1603-1867). At the time, sightseeing spots to view cherry blossoms in Edo included Mukojima, Ueno, Ojiasukayama, Gotenyama, and Koganei. Families and neighbors were invited, and sake and bento (lunch boxes) were taken to view the cherry blossoms. During the Heian period (794-1185 AD), the imperial court held a flower-viewing banquet on March 3, when guests released cups of sake into the river, created a poem before their cups passed by, then drank their cups of sake.         

Boating was often enjoyed near a cool river during summer banquets. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), a lavish festival held at the Sumidagawa (Sumida River) of Ryogoku (district in modern-day Tokyo) marked the beginning of the boating season. After a banquet held at a restaurant in Yanagibashi or Mukojima, guests took out their boats and enjoyed fireworks. Some houseboats also served sake and accompaniments.      

“Tsukimizake” (“sake for moon-viewing”) is enjoyed during the fall season. Traditionally, the moon-viewing custom was enjoyed only during the fall harvest festival. On August 15 of the lunar calendar (on a full moon or the fifteenth night) and on September 13 (on the thirteenth night), guests enjoyed cups of sake outdoors as they took in the moon. On this day during the Edo Period (1603-1867), boats ventured out into the Sumidagawa (Sumida River), while neighboring restaurants bustled with guests.        

September 9 of the lunar calendar marks one of the five festivals, the chrysanthemum-viewing banquet. A custom introduced from China to Japan in ancient times, the chrysanthemum-viewing banquet became a year-round event celebrated by the imperial court during the Heian period (794-1185 AD). The imperial court enjoyed “chrysanthemum sake,” sake infused with chrysanthemums. The Imperial court held the chrysanthemum-viewing party one more time in October during the Edo Period (1603-1867).  

And finally, “Yukimizake” (“sake for snowscape-viewing”) is enjoyed during the winter season. Yukimizake was said to be enjoyed during the Heian period (794-1185 AD), the ultimate way to enjoy sake elegantly since Emperor Shirakawa was entertained in a courtyard covered with snow. 

In this way, sake was enjoyed outdoors viewing nature on many occasions since ancient times. The custom of enjoying sake outdoors still remains today as hanamizake (sake for flower-viewing) and tsukimizake (sake for moon-viewing).   

*The five festivals (Jan 7th, March 3rd, May 5th, July 7th and Sep 9th)


日本は四季がはっきりとしているため、古くから四季折々の風情を楽しむ、さまざまな遊び酒の風習があった。 春の遊び酒の代表は「花見酒」である。宮中での観花の宴は、すでに奈良時代から行なわれていたが、当時は花といえば梅で、観桜の宴となったのは平安時代以降のこととされる。桃山時代の慶長三年(1598)三月、京都の醍醐寺三宝院で豊臣秀吉が催した醍醐の花見は、絢欄豪華な花見の宴として歴史に残る。花見が庶民の年中行事になったのは江戸時代に入って からである。江戸では、向島、上野、王子飛鳥山、御殿山、小金井が桜の名所で、家族はもとより隣近所も誘い合わせ、酒弁当を持参で花見に出かけた。