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Regulation of sake by the imperial court and the popularization of sake


Kōji is believed to have been introduced to Japan from China early in the Nara Period (710–794). Kōji plays the important role of converting rice starch into sugar.


Following the introduction of kōji, brewing methods developed rapidly. Rice kōji techniques led to sake brewing gaining considerable momentum.


Government office for sake brewing established
At the time kōji was introduced, the nation was establishing laws, and so it came about that politics and sake became intertwined.


In the Engishiki, a book about laws and customs completed around the middle of the Heian Period (794 – 1185), a government office for sake brewing, called the Sake no Tsukasa, is mentioned. This office regulated the brewing of sake for the imperial court.


In particular, there was an officer given the title of sakabe whose job was to administer the brewing of sake. It is also noted in the Engishiki that sake was prepared with the same ingredients that are used today: rice, water, and kōji.


Not only that, but it is also mentioned that rice was pounded in a mortar to remove the outer layer, and then steamed in order to produce rice kōji. From this, it is clear that the fundamentals of sake brewing as we know it today were established by that time. It would seem that the involvement of the imperial court resulted in substantial progress being made in brewing techniques.


From that point, types of sake produced by different methods were developed. Among these was one highly regarded variety that was produced at Buddhist temples by priests. This sake is called sōbō-shu. It was produced independently of the imperial brewery.


Sōbō-shu became popular with the common people, and so sake ceased to be something that was only presented to the emperor or offered to the gods.


Restrictions on alcohol
In the past, Japan has had laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. These laws are known as kinshurei.


After the expansion of sake brewing culture during the Heian Period, in the Kamakura Period (1185–1333) sake became available to many of the common people. To the people of this period, rice was an important asset, but sake was considered an equally valuable commodity.


Around this time, sake shops began to appear in places like Kyoto. However, it was difficult to produce sake on a very large scale.


Intoxicating liquor became available to people of the samurai and merchant classes. Unsurprisingly, there were some who destroyed themselves through drink and others who made a public nuisance of themselves.


In response to this situation, in 1252, a law, called koshu no kin, was declared, restricting the sale and production of sake. Each shop was permitted only a single earthenware crock for the purpose of brewing or storing sake. Any additional crocks were destroyed.


In Kamakura alone, it is believed that more than 37,000 crocks were destroyed, and trade in sake was significantly affected.


In the present age as well, there are alcohol-related problems such as driving while intoxicated and disorderly behavior. Indeed, there have been drink-related problems in every age.


The imperial court subsequently authorized sake shops and, in order to boost revenue, levied taxes on alcohol, so in the end, the restrictions of kinshurei were watered down to some degree.

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