The Japanese Custom of Drinking Sake on a New Year's Day

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The Tradition of Drinking Sake on New Year in Japan

There are many traditions during New Year such as eating toshikoshi soba and osechi ryori, watching the sunrise on the first day of the New Year, ringing the bell at the temple, etc. Sake is also a big part of many rituals in Japan and it is a rare occasion and ceremony that does not include some sake in Japan, and that harbinger of renewal, New Year’s Day, is no exception.

Although sake figures prominently in New Year’s celebrations from morning to night, opening the year with a prayer for health in the form of drinking otoso is perhaps the most interesting.

Otoso is sake that has been specially prepared by steeping a mixture of herbs in it for several hours. Different recipes and makers use different herbs, but they are typically chosen for their medicinal properties. Among these are cassia bark, Chinese bellflower, sansho pepper, cinnamon, and dried mandarin peel.

Drinking otoso with family in ceremonial fashion first thing on New Year’s Day is said to ward off sickness for the entire year ahead, as well as invite peace within the household. It is also drunk to flush away the previous year's maladies and to aspire to lead a long life. It is even said that "if one person drinks this his family will not fall ill; if the whole family does no one in the village will fall ill".

We wish you a Happy New Year and invite you to raise a glass of sake to better days ahead!



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