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Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

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Japanese Sake

Japanese sake that accentuates the appeal of “WASHOKU” and relaxes your mind

Rice is the staple food for Japanese people, and is also a spiritual cornerstone of the culture.
Japanese sake, brewed from rice, is an indispensable element for “WASHOKU”.
It is also the “national liquor” of Japan.

Japanese sake is made mainly with rice, rice malt and water and by fermenting the ingredients. As for ingredients, rice especially bred to have properties favorable for sake-brewing is used, which is different from ordinary rice for cooking. Water, which comprises 80% of the components of Japanese sake, is also an important element that determines the quality. Good-quality water that does not perish the flavor of sake is essential.

The sake-brewing process incorporates a wide variety of techniques. For example, there is a technique to polish the rice grain to adjust the taste and fragrance of the finished product. The purpose is to remove protein and fat from the outer side of the grain that may cause bad taste, but in the case of exquisite daiginjo, sake is made by rice milled to less than half of the original grain size.

Another example is the technique to ferment rice. In the case of sake brewing, fermentation means the process of yeast eating sugar and generating alcohol. However, rice does not include sugar, so starch in rice must be first transformed into sugar with the enzyme of koji molds, and then fermented by adding yeast. Such a complex process (duplex fermentation) is necessary for brewing sake. Koji used for this process is also a unique type used in Japan called bara-koji. It is unique in that it has a strong glycation effect (transforming into sugar), and has a large impact on the fragrance and taste of Japanese sake.

In Japan, where culture has developed mainly around rice cultivation, much importance is placed on rice, mochi and sake made of rice, regardless of region. It was believed that every grain of rice holds a deity in it, and that sake can be brewed because of the blessing of the deity. Similarly to foods, sake was used as a tool to come closer to deities from ancient days.

At the same time, sake also has an important role to connect ties among families, relatives and regions. For example, omiki is sake for deities. At festivals, people drink the omiki offered to deities after the rite. The region and the community enhance their unity by drinking the same sake with the deities and by sharing it among others.

Shochu, using rice, barley or sweet potatoes as ingredients, is also the national liquor together with Japanese sake. Japanese liquor has important roles of relaxing people’s minds, enhancing relationships and accentuating the taste of dishes and warming up the table.   



Japanese Sake



There are nearly 1,600 sake brewers throughout Japan. Although the number is decreasing every year, a “Japanese sake boom” occurs once every few years.

Omiki, an altarage and tribute to deities, holds a very important position so that it is placed at the center of the top tier of the altar.




On this page, the traditional dietary culture of Japan is expressed as WASHOKU, and dishes with such tradition are expressed as washoku.

Pictures and articles are cited from WASHOKU guidebook.