Ever Heard of Professional Mourners and Weepers: “Rudaali” Culture of Moirologists in Rajasthan

Professional Mourners - Rudaali from Rajasthan

Inequalities and Diversities Define Indian Society

Moirologists in Rajasthan, India Caste-like classifications exist in many cultures, although without the fine grades of taxonomy observed in India. India, the land of numerous customs and precepts defined along the lines of gender, religion, caste, class, ethnicity and language, sequentially brings about a relation of disparity through them. These distorted relationships collectively shape the identity of every person, through his or her associations with others and the social atmosphere. Individuality interplays with the gender of the individuals (masculine or feminine), declaring the dogma functioning in the societal milieu. A mainstream Hindu group who were against any change in traditions.

In a socially segregated society, the rank and the status enjoyed by women mirror the social order. Indian culture is a ‘caste society.’ Caste, a qualified status, is a rigid system of imbalanced associations specified by birth, endogamy and associations through ceremonial sacraments. Caste divides society along the lines of jati (a birth-status cluster), hierarchy (order and rank) and interdependence (division of labor linked to hierarchy). Indigenous groups are politicized religious communities that mark social and cultural variances between groups of people. These communities identify their caste status through division by birth, endogamy and interdependence through ritual services. Public policy in modern India showcases affirmative action systems intended to diminish inequality that stems from a centuries-old caste constitution and history of incongruent treatment by gender.

Feminism in India

The Indian society is divided up into groups that are hierarchically interrelated, with some rendered higher status than others. Classical texts talk about four castes—priests, warriors, merchants, and servants—but administration censuses and anthropological surveys have identified hundreds in South Asia. Membership in one of these groups is dependent upon birth.

'Rudaali' women are hired as professional mourners Dalits are a group of people conventionally regarded as untouchable within the Hindu caste pecking order. Contemporary India is witnessing an unparalleled rise and spread of the Dalit development.

According to a custom, in certain areas of Rajasthan, women are hired as professional mourners after the death of a male relative. These women are referred to as a ‘rudaali’ (roo-dah-lee), literally translated as a female weeper. What differ are the details that make the substance of human action and human conceptualization. The framework, within which concepts materialize and the contexts where they travel to, needs expression.

Class and Caste and Praxis: An analysis of the Rudaali Culture

An analysis of the Rudaali Culture Rudaalis in turn publicly express the grief of family members who are not permitted to display emotion due to social status. The ‘rudaalis’ make a scene crying out loud. The impact of their mourning also compels other people at the funeral to cry.

Always dressed in black, they have to sit and cry, crying out loud, beating the ground beating their chests screaming and crying. They are professional tear shedders. They get the details of the dead person, his or her near and dear ones.

Rudaali is one of those disreputable orthodox practices where bereavement was required expressions of unrestrained sentiments by rolling on ground along with songs in praise of the dead. Mostly, women who live in grave poverty and belong to the lower castes are forced to turn out to be Rudaalis.

The socio-cultural custom of hiring a rudaali throws light on the dialectical association between the upper caste and the lower caste in Rudaali. Hiring a rudaali is a status symbol and augments family pride. That the rudaali provides a funeral service in the face of upper caste women being incapable to declare their sorrow hits hard on the gender ideologies scheming obsequies among the caste. Caste defines the social status of women as pure or impure in the community.

Through the gendering of death rituals, women mourners or rudaalis verge as complicated modes of amusement for the upper classes. Rudaali throws light on the agonizing experiences of Shanichari, a widow whose life has been disturbed by hardships. Through heartrending vignettes, Lajmi deplores the appalling life of Shanichari who ultimately becomes a rudaali, giving vent to her sorrows. Meaningfully, while most feminists were disparaging of the state downgrading its commitment to the poor and vulnerable, there were conflicting views.

Kalpana Lajmi’s Movie Rudaali

Feminism endeavors to consider and solve the numerous gender-based problems. It interrogates the pre-conceived expectations about the roles that men and women should have in life. In literary text, feminism brings to scrutiny the representations of gender roles, which tend to enforce social norms, customs, conventions, laws and expectations on the grounds of gender bias.

Shanichari has always resisted the unfairness meted out to her. Toughened by the harsh realities, she can hardly shed a tear, let alone cry. Females are not required to be educated by the guideline which is adopted for men. Women have but one resource, home. The end and aim of her life is to nurture the domestic affections, to care for, to comfort, and exercise her little supervision over household economies. These insights of women’s liberation and autonomy are deeply ingrained in the Indian women’s circumstances within the socio-cultural and economic spaces and archetypes of the country.

These rituals thus uncover the cockeyed gender equations with the women of the lower caste and class consented to serve as rudaalis. On the other hand, aristocratic women, who are kept sheltered, cannot express their sorrow in public, inhibited by their social ranking. That women and not men are chosen to be mourners also exposes the gender inequalities operating within a casteist and class society. Lamentation is gendered and women become the role bearers.

Mourning as Allegory in Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali

Mourning as Allegory in Kalpana Lajmi's Movie Rudaali Kalpana Lajmi‘s movie Rudaali is an adaptation of Mahasweta Devi‘s short story, Rudaali. Published in English in 1997, Devi’s short story explains the plight of Sanichari, a woman whose suffering and personal loss informs her work as a professional mourner. Devi offers a emotional account of how this job allows Sanichari to gain a degree of independence and control over her life. Rudaali, the sorrowful tale of womenfolk fated to be funeral-goers, outlines the picture of a habit practiced by the aristocratic families of landlords and noble men, of hiring rudaalis (female mourners) to grieve over the death of their family members.

Rudaalis belonging to the lower castes and classes are convened on these circumstances, for the upper classes never openly convey their grief. Agency and autonomy are always endorsed within specific structures of constraints. The relevant point is that organizations thereby do get redefined. Dressed in black with frazzled hair, the rudaalis shed tears copiously, bemoaning over the dead by dancing sporadically and raucously admiring the deceased. Rudaali is a modern woman who fulfills her individual dreams instead of matrimonial contentment. Rudaali is a determined woman who is over-ridden by individuality and her own well-being. The movie is undeniably a subtle satire on the brutal practices that find expression within the diverse life cycle rituals, be it even the obsequies. These outmoded traditions are the offshoots of a dismembered society, where rituals are cultural power resources.

The custom of employing fake mourners, known as moirologists, begins from the Middle East and China. Professional mourning or paid mourning is a regularly historical occupation practiced in Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, and many other parts of the world. Professional mourners, also called moirologists are remunerated to grieve or provide an eulogy.

Notes: Rudaali (1992) was directed by Kalpana Lajmi and produced by the National Film Development Corporation of India & Doordarshan, the Indian public service broadcaster. Rudali is based on a story by the Bengali fiction writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi. Dimple Kapadia, Raakhee, Raj Babbar, Amjad Khan star in Rudaali.

Southeast Asia: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

SOUTHEAST ASIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

No longer seen merely as an exotic counterpart to the Occident, South-East Asia has developed an identity all its own over the past few years. You will find very little homogeneity in ASEAN, with every country priding itself on a distant identity concerning culture, religion, cuisine, and traditions.

This vast region is an overwhelming mix of landscapes, from verdant, rolling hills, and isolated islands with white-sand beaches to thick forests and intriguing caves. You can enjoy a range of diverse experiences, and no matter what type of traveler you are, you will find that one special place that will have you returning repeatedly. There are beaches to bum about on, temples, and architectural marvels to visit, hills aplenty to hike, tea estates to unwind at and a whole lot of truly incredible foods to experiment with.

Because we know that you could spend your entire life trying to uncover all of South-East Asia’s treats and not make much headway, we have brought together a collection of the best, unique experiences on offer in the ASEAN countries.

Get off the highway and wander down little, hidden by-lanes where you will discover everything from forgotten tribes, to a mosque built of pure gold, and a swimming pool on top of the world.

Best Travel Ideas for Southeast Asia

History and Architecture of the Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi, Capital of the Vijayanagara Empire

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

Achyutaraya (1530–42 A.D.) temple complex is an imposing and magnificent cluster of temples in Hampi. However, it is called Achyutaraya Temple, an inscription of 1534 A.D. refers to this as Tiruvengalanatha or Venkatesha temple, and King Achyutaraya built it in 1539 A.D.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The temple consists of a garbhagriha, antarala, pradakshinapatha, sabhamandapa, mahasabhamandapa, kalyanamandapa, Devi shrine etc. All these are enclosed in two prakaras one within the other.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The outer prakara has main gates at northern and western directions, whereas the inner prakara has the gateways at north, east, and west. All these gateways had gopuras, which are in ruined condition now.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The square garbhagriha, which originally had an image of Lord Venkatesha, is now empty. Its doorway is ornamented and has Vaishnava dvarapalas and Gajalakshmi at the lintel. Above the garbhagriha is a Dravida type sikhara. The square sabhamandapa has four pillars in the middle set on an elevated floor in the centre.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The mahasabhamandapa stands on thirty pillars set in five rows. The pillars exhibit typical Vijayanagara features. To the south-west is the Devi shrine and its garbhagriha is empty now. Its sabhamandapa has a sculpture, which has been identified as that of King Achyutaraya, the builder of this temple.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The sculptures of this temple exhibit good workmanship. The bass-reliefs of combination of bull and elephant arrest our attention. The pillars in general are neatly executed with elegantly carved sculptures of gods and goddesses.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

To the west is a large and rectangular kalyanamandapa or marriage pavilion. It has over one hundred pillars with sculptures of Garuda, Hanuman, and Vishnu etc.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

In front of this complex are low-pillared mandapas, which had bazaars, or markets where merchants used to stock in heaps pearls and other precious stones and sell them. Many foreign travelers have graphically described this pearl bazaar the type of which never existed anywhere in the world except Hampi. That was the glory of Vijayanagara.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

Sparkling Romance with Norway’s Historic Hotels & Restaurants

De Historiske is a unique membership organization consisting of several of Norway’s most delightful hotels and restaurants.

De Historiske’s new range of short breaks is a huge success and Norway is more popular as a holiday destination than ever before. Their member-hotels offer unique adventures in Norway. Patrons staying at a number of their hotels, dining in their fabulous restaurants and taking wonderful boat trips can all be part of an amazing package. They offer different packages—each with unique theme—but all have one thing in common—patrons will have an experience of a lifetime.

Destination Weddings in Norway

You and Your Loved One Can Really Spoil Yourselves

Two of the most romantic locations for memorable breaks. Enjoy delicious meals in idyllic, peaceful surroundings. This short break starts at Hotell Refsnes Gods, only a stone’s throw from the Oslofjord. The hotel has an excellent reputation for delicious dining and well-stocked wine cellars, in addition to the inspirational art adorning its walls. The good life continues in the magnificent natural surroundings of Engo Gard Hotel & Restaurant, with its English conservatory-style heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi for relaxation and pampering.

Take a break from the daily toil and feel the benefits!

Sparkling Romance with Norway's Historic Hotels & Restaurants

With Nature at the Doorstep, Work Becomes the Furthest Thing

Whether you want time to socialize with your friends or enjoy a romantic weekend, you’ll find the perfect escape at the hotels’ castles, manors, inns and guesthouses. Do you want to enjoy activities while relaxing, or just enjoy the peace? Regardless of the hotel, you can be sure to end up in scenic surroundings, with top restaurants where traditional food meets modern cuisine.

Weddings, Celebrations, Honeymoons, and Festive Occasions in Norway

Weddings, Celebrations & Festive Occasions That Deserve Special Surroundings

If you are looking to hold a birthday party in unique surroundings, spend a romantic honeymoon or celebrate an important occasion with a special culinary experience, De Historiske are your natural choice. The genuine atmosphere is the reason why many people choose to celebrate special occasions at De Historiske. De Historiske’s surroundings are perfect for creating the relaxed atmosphere that is worthy of an important day—whether a birthday or a wedding day. Celebrations can vary from evening parties to grand events lasting from morning to night. They can also recommend family get-togethers, where the generations meet, in many of Norway’s historic picturesque surroundings.

Resplendent Sculpture of Avalokiteshvara from Kurkihar (Bihar, India) from 12th Century

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara from Kurkihar, Bihar

The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a sculpture originated from Kurkihar, during the reign of Ramapala of the Pala dynasty, 11th-12th century. Kurkihar is the historical site was visited by Buddhist pilgrims in the ancient times including the Chinese travelers Fa-Hien and Hieun Tsang. It lies at a distance of approximately 22 km from the Gaya district.

This bodhisattva sits on a double lotus in lalitasana; his right foot rests on a lotus emanating from the base, suggesting that a prabhamandala was in place on another base. His right hand is stretched out, bestowing blessings and boons. The left hand holds a lotus stem which blooms over his left shoulder.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara sits on a Double Lotus in Lalitasana Wearing a girdle with pearls around his waist, the other jewels comprise a necklace, bracelets, arm-bands and a beaded sacred thread that drapes over his right thigh. Notable are the twin kirtimukha, faces, on his armbands. His hair, arranged in a coiffure on top of his head, contains an effigy of Amitabha.

Kurkihar: Relic of an ancient Buddhist Monastery

Kurkihar is a village about three miles north east of Wazirgunj. It deserves mention on account of the remarkable abundance of ancient remains. Carved slabs of large size and architectural fragments of all kinds are found in plenty, often built into the walls of houses. Votive stupas are to be found in abundance on the edge of a large tank, great quantities of large bricks of ancient make are still being dug out of the great mound. Some well-preserved statues had been removed by the local zamindar to his house, the most important of which is a figure of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

There is another collection of ancient sculptures in the courtyard of the temple of Bhagwati, among which is a singularly beautiful figure of Buddha in meditation. At Punawan, three miles to the south-west are more Buddhist remains. Here stood the once famous temple of Trailoknath which does not now exist.

A large mound that this village sits on the top of is the remains of what was a Buddhist monastery in antique times. The village hit the headlines in 1930 when one hundred and forty-eight bronze articles were dug out of this mound. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all sizes, bells, stupas and ritual objects of the finest workmanship were recovered. Most of these are now on display in a special room in the Patna Museum.

The second of Kurkihar’s two Hindu temples still has a large collection of Buddhist sculptures in it that have been found in the area over the years. One of the best of these is a fine statue of Akshobhya Buddha just outside the entrance of the temple. Note the fourteen calved pillars in the temple also, they date from about the 9th century.

Megalithic Monuments of Hirebenakal near Raichur in Karnataka

Megalithic Monuments of Hirebenakal, Prehistoric Site, Raichur in Karnataka

The term megalithic culture is used to denote the culture of a group of people who built their large tombs with the help of mega (huge) liths (stone) or huge stones. Literally there are thousands of such tombs all over South India including Karnataka. In general terms they were the successors to the new stone-age people. After the megalithic period we enter into the early historic period.

Chronologically, the megalithic period lasted from about 10th century B.C. to 3rd Century AD., with lot of various dates in between. There is a great variety in their tombs and culturally they are the introducers of iron into South India. Though their habitation sites are rare, their burials have been found in groups in hundreds. They had learnt the technique of quarrying and dressing stones for the purpose of the building their tombs of different varieties. These tombs contain bones and other related grave goods including iron objects. After the systematic excavations of Brahmagiri megaliths (near Chitradurga) many other sites have been excavated which give us a glimpse into the life of the megalithic people.

Benakal Prehistoric Site, Karnataka

Megaliths at Hirebenakal in Raichur, Aihole in Bijapur, and Kumati have been studied in, great detail. Kumati is unique because it has stone anthropomorphic figures of huge size, not generally found elsewhere. Megaliths are locally known as Moriyaramane, Moriyara Angadi or Moriyara Gudda. They may be divided into many varieties on the basis of their external appearance as dolmenoid cists with port-holes, rock-shelter chambers, polygonal cists, dolmens with closed port~hole, stone circles etc.

The underground chambers generally contained various types of pottery with food and water along with iron implements used by the person, beads, other ornaments and skeletal remains. This shows that they had a strong belief in life after death. With the help of these objects, life of the megalithic people has been reconstructed. They belonged to an agricultural community and manufactured iron tools such as knives, axes, hooks, chisels etc. Perhaps they had a class system the details of which are not known. They practiced agriculture and lived in huts. Thus the megalithic people laid a firm foundation for the beginning of historical culture.

Charles Baudelaire: In Praise of Cosmetics

Charles Baudelaire introduced the idea that no woman is so beautiful that her beauty would not be enhanced by cosmetics.

Charles Baudelaire, French poet and essayist For much of the history of humanity, the wearing of cosmetics by women has been viewed, in the West at least, as something associated with harlots and stage performers (with those two professions once being considered almost equally disreputable). As an early nineteenth-century song once asserted, it is nature itself that “embellishes beauty,” so what need would a virtuous woman have for makeup?

The French poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire (1821- 67) was raised in this culture of “naturalized beauty” and never really questioned it in his early years. But then, in the 1860s, the man who coined the word “modernity” began to question what Romantic artists and writers referred to as the “supremacy of nature.” In his book, The Painter of Modern Life (1863), he turned his attention to the nature of beauty in the chapter titled “In Praise of Cosmetics.” Charles Baudelaire wrote in his “In Praise of Cosmetics” (1863,) “I am perfectly happy for those whose owlish gravity prevents them from seeking beauty in its most minute manifestations to laugh at these reflections of mine … .”

Baudelaire had always felt especially drawn to the opposite sex, and was conscious of how society’s notion of beauty was changing in an increasingly industrialized world. His essay on beauty was a little too whimsical to be taken absolutely seriously, but it was nonetheless a triumphant defense of the notion that makeup can make the beautiful even more beautiful. “External finery,” Baudelaire wrote, is “one of the signs of the primitive nobility of the human soul.” Every fash ion is “charming,” and every woman is bound by “a kind of duty” to appear magical, to astonish, and to charm her fellows. Accordingly, nature could now be imaginatively surpassed by applying black eyeliner, which “gives the eye a more decisive appearance,” and rouge, which “sets fire to the cheekbone.” Baudelaire’s emphasis on the beauty of artifice over nature marked a significant departure from the Romanticism of the first half of the century, reflecting the rise of decadence and Aestheticism, to many of whose practitioners he was a hero.

The Greatest Writers Passed Over for the Nobel Prize in Literature

The Greatest Writers Passed Over for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Many of the best writers of the past 112 years have received the Nobel Prize in Literature, but there have been some astounding omissions right from the start. The list of great writers who were alive after 1901 but never received the prize is shocking.

The Tallest Free-standing Stone Sculpture of Gommateshwara in Shravanabelagola

Gommateshvara in Shravanabelagola

The statue of Gommateshvara at Shravanabelagola, the tallest free standing stone sculpture in the world has given a unique and international cultural status to Karnataka.

Shravanabelagola is the most sacred religious centre of the Jains. It has a hoary antiquity dating back to the third century B.C., when Bhadrabahu along with the Maurya king Chandragupta came and settled down here. From then on many Karnataka dynasties like the Gangas of Talakad, the Chalukyas, the Hoysalas, the rulers of Vijayanagara and others patronised this Jaina sacred place.

However, it was during the period of Ganga king Rachamalla IV (973–999 A.D.), the place became famous because his minister Chamundaraya consecrated this image of Gommateshvara on the summit of the hill commanding a picturesque view of the whole area. A large number of Jaina temples were built here at different periods by various dynasties which have made this center an open air museum of Jaina art.

Colossal Image of Bahubali in Shravanabelagola The real attraction of Shravanabelagola is the colossal image of Bahubali also known as Gommateshvara. Its height is 57 feet and is the tallest stone sculpture in the world. The image is nude and stands facing north; in an erect yogic posture. The serene expression of the face is remarkable. The hair is curly and the ears are long, the shoulders being broad and the arms hang down straight with the thumbs turned outwards. The lower portion adds majesty and grandeur. The entire image stands on a pedestal which is in the form of a lotus. The foot measures nine feet in length; the toes are 2 feet 9 inches; the middle finger is 5 feet 3 inches; the forefinger is 3 feet 6 inches; third finger is 4 feet 7 inches; the fourth finger is 2 feet 3 inches.

Shravanabelagola is a sacred religious centre in Jainism

The face of Gommateshvara is most artistic and is a commentary on the success of the skill of the sculptor who carved it. The eyes are half open and the eye balls appear as if real. This also symbolizes the pensive mood of the saint. The total effect is one of majesty, grace and dignity, and expresses his compassion towards the fellow beings and hence is considered as the best in this type. Gommateshvara has been watching the human beings and their sufferings for the past one thousand years and people are looking at him for guidance for an ethical and religious life. Thus he is inspiring people to follow the path of Dharma. Once in twelve years a special ritual called Mahamastakabhisheka takes place when lakhs of people assemble here to be blessed by the compassionate Gommateshvara.

The Indispensable Guide to Sake and Japanese Culture

Sake Ceremony in Japan

An Introduction to Sake and Japan

The Japanese archipelago stretches over 3,000 km from north to south. Therefore, there are various lifestyles and customs. In addition, Honshu (the main island) is divided into the Pacific Ocean side and Japan Sea side by it’s over 1,000-meter elevation backbone ridge. This further results in different lifestyles and customs.

Therefore, the various cultures such as food and drink, festival rites, and folk entertainment have developed according to the climate of the plains, basins, mountains, and seasides. Since there had been almost no historical influence of politics and religion, the cultures of each small local community have been well preserved.

Despite this history, the pursuit of higher-quality sake has progressively evolved.

For example, in ancient times, it was the custom for the people in each region to brew and drink sake with Shinto deities after offering it to those deities at festivals and events. The main sake was called doburoku (unrefined sake). However, such a tradition has declined these days.

More ancient sake, such as kuchinokami-no-sake (sake made from rice or other cereal which is chewed to promote fermentation) and shitogi-zake (sake made from powdered rice which is also chewed) were recorded but the details have not been confirmed.

Seishu (refined sake) is the symbol of present-day sake. In the urban areas, this dates back to the Edo period (17th to 19th century). However, for the farming, mountain, and fishing villages, it was after the Meiji era (19th to 20th century) with the development of brewing techniques and distribution channels.

Present-day sake is made with high-quality standards for a refined taste and is easily available.

However, this standardization does not necessarily mean the decline of the cultural aspects of sake. The relationships of festival rites and sake, appetizers and sake, and containers and sake pass on the unique Japanese tradition, although the differences of the regions are declining.

By striving for the excellent taste and recounting the history of sake, we hope to pass on this part of Japanese culture to future generations and the international community.

History of Sake

History of Sake

Sake is made from rice. In Japan, sake has been consumed since ancient times. Of course, it is not exactly the same sake as what we have these days. The technique has advanced over time to the present day. Considering that the common ingredient, rice, is both the staple of Japanese food and the main ingredient of sake, this history goes back about 2,000 years.

The brewing of sake is a complex process. First, the rice starch needs to be converted into sugar. Then sugar is converted by kobo (yeast) into alcohol. The present, established method of converting starch into sugar is by koji-kin (aspergillus mold), the same process used since the fourth century. Until that time, sake was brewed by a method such as kuchikami-sake (sake made from rice or other cereal, which is chewed to promote fermentation.)

The organization called Miki-no-Tsukasa (sake brewery office) was established by the Imperial Court and started brewing sake for the ceremonies during the Heian period (eighth to 12th century). During the Muromachi period (15th century), hundreds of small-scale sake shops were born in Kyoto and sake came to be brewed throughout the year. At the same time, the brewers of soboshu, sake brewed in temples in Nara and other places, came to lead the development of brewing techniques.

Since then, the technical development with consistent quality has progressed and from the middle of the Edo period (around 18th century), the brewing technique was established and is similar to the technique used today.

First, koji-kin (aspergillus mold) is carefully grown over the steamed rice to make komekoji (malted rice). Then, to komekoji, steamed rice and water are added to make the fermentation starter, shubo (yeast mash). After that, the fermentation is promoted by the method called danjikomi (three-step fermentation process) by adding steamed rice, komekoji, and water three times. After the fermentation, sake is filtered, pasteurized at low temperature, stored, and matured. This production method requires very complex, advanced skill.

At around this time, it became popular to concentrate brewing sake in the best season, winter. This technical development gave rise to the special professional group of sake brewing consisting of toji (chief sake brewer) and kurabito (a worker at a sake brewery.) Migrant workers mainly from farming villages during agricultural off-season became the professional group.

It was also discovered that the quality of water used in brewing had an effect on the brewing of sake. It was the development of the breeding of rice, brewery science, and manufacturing facilities after the Meiji era (19th to 20th century), which marked the beginning of modern Japan, that established the modern brewing process. However, the skill involved with the multiple parallel fermentation process, which converts rice starch into sugar by koji-kin (aspergillus mold) and converts sugar into alcohol by the power of kobo (yeast) simultaneously, has not changed even today.

The fermentation method, which performs simultaneous saccharification of rice and alcoholic fermentation of sugar. With this method, the putrefaction risk becomes lower and alcohol content becomes higher than saccharifying and fermenting alcohol separately.

Various Sake Produced in Climate Conditions of Japan

Japan, which is situated off the northeast portion of the Eurasian continent is a long arc-shaped island country, surrounded by the Kuroshio (warm current) flowing from south to north and the Oyashio (cold current) flowing from north to southwest. The climate varies greatly from north to south and from the Pacific Ocean side to the Japan Sea side. Japan also belongs to the temperate monsoon region and experiences four seasons. However, due to the central mountain range that divides the archipelago, the character of the climate, even at the same latitude, is quite different from the Pacific Ocean side to the Japan Sea side.

As a result, the farm and marine products are very different in each region. Although food from all over the country is available these days, it was in the past the custom for the Japanese to eat local food using local recipes. Therefore, traditional Japanese cuisine is as diverse in flavor, seasoning, and cooking methods as each region.

As a result, the basics of brewing sake in over the 1,000 breweries in Japan are to match the sake to the local diet. For example, there is many red fish caught from the Pacific Ocean, white fish from the Seto Inland Sea, and fatty fish from the Sea of Japan because of the extremely cold winters. Food preservation developed in the inland provinces. In addition, some breweries brewed sake for Edo (present-day Tokyo), which was the world’s largest consumer city during the Edo period (17th to 19th century). Brewing sake for each lifestyle and diet was developed and refined for each region.

Even now, the Japanese cultural sensitivity to the four seasons is reflected in how sake is consumed. Each season brings us a different type of sake and a different way to drink it. In autumn, we have hiyaoroshi, which is sake well matured over the summer; in the winter to early spring, shiboritate (fresh sake) with a fresh flavor; in the hot summer, namazake (unpasteurized sake), which is cooled in the refrigerator. Some prefer to drink sake cold or at room temperature called hiya (unwarmed sake). On the other hand, even these days, others prefer the traditional drinking custom of kanzake (warmed sake) from autumn to spring.

Sake and Japanese Cuisine

Recently, a technical approach to sake brewing has developed. There are the traditional kimoto and yamahai with a sour and thick taste; and daiginjo (very special brew) with the fruity taste using highly polished rice and brewing at a low temperature. Recently, sparkling sake is being produced.

The traditional method of growing of active kobo (yeast) through the action of lactic acid produced by natural lactic acid bacterium while preventing other bacteria activity.

Yamahai operates kimoto-type shubo (yeast mash) growing method which cut the operation procedure called yamaoroshi, grinding rice during the process of active kobo.

Most importantly, the quality control of sake after shipping is essential for enjoying the delicate taste and different flavors. The reason for the sake containers to have lightproof brown or UV-cut bottles is to reduce the sunlight, the most dangerous factor for preserving sake. For drinking delicious sake, it is important to store it in a cool, dark place.

Three Reasons Why Sake Goes Well with Japanese Cuisine

A distinct flavor produced from the brewing of sake is called umami, or savory good taste. These days, sake is consumed with a variety of delicious foods. However, traditionally, it was consumed with a simple appetizer called sakana. The variety of conditions spanning east to west in Japan has produced a diversity of flavors complimentary to the local sake.

  1. Sake contrasts well with salty foods. Because the Japanese summers are hot and humid, salted seafood evolved as a preservative over smoked foods. Therefore, many appetizers that are consumed with sake are high in salt content. Shiokara (salted and fermented fish innards) and naresushi are such examples. It was also common to have sake with salt and miso (fermented soybean paste) only. The umami character of sake goes well with the salty taste of these appetizers.
  2. Sake complements fermented foods. The variety of ingredients used in Japanese cuisine results in unique seasonings. Common seasonings such as shoyu (soy sauce), miso, komesu (rice vinegar), and mirin (sweet sake for cooking) are all fermented using koji (malted rice). In particular, shoyu and miso, like sake, are uniquely developed in each region and have become the main taste of the local cuisine. The predominant use of fermented foods and almost no use of oils and fats are the features of “Washoku: Traditional Japanese Dietary Cultures” listed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
  3. Sake is good in recipes for cooking. The variety of fish, which Japanese people prefer to eat, is rich in minerals and calcium, more than that of Western food. Sake goes well with these flavors. Additionally, it has a good masking effect to remove the odor of raw fish. Therefore, sake is often used, not only as a drink, but also as a cooking ingredient. For these reasons, sake goes well with Japanese cuisine.

The good taste and the variety of qualities of present-day sake have not only become popular over a wide range of Japanese cuisine. It has also become popular with international dishes including fatty meats.

Sake Strongly Connected with Traditional Ceremonies

Shinto is a polytheistic belief system based on nature and ancestor worship. As such, there are many Shinto deities throughout Japan. Based on farming culture, Japan cultivates rice in the northernmost possible location of the world. Rice produced under these severe weather conditions has become the most precious staple food for the Japanese. It has been ancient tradition to celebrate the good harvest and express gratitude by offering sake to the deities. The food and sake offerings to the deities are called shinsen. Although there are various offerings for each region, the essential ones are as follows: miki (sake made from fermented rice), mike (washed rice or boiled white rice), and mikagami (round rice cake made from pounded steamed rice).

These days, the Japanese people eat rice throughout the year as a staple food. However, in the older days, people used to eat katemeshi, rice mixed with crops such as millet as a staple food, eating pure rice only on honored days such as ceremonies. In addition, sake made from the abundance of valuable rice and through much effort has become the most important part of these offerings.

Drinking sake with the deities and offering gifts to them on festival days are traditions passed on to today. Even today, the summoning of the Shinto deities is a tradition that is preserved throughout Japan.

For example, the ceremony jichinsai, for the construction of the new buildings, is performed by sprinkling sake over the property and offering it to the owners. Furthermore, Japan celebrates four distinct seasons with a festival called Sekku, performed at the turning point of each season. Although it has been simplified in recent years, it used to be the custom to float seasonal flower petals on sake, admire the flowers, and drink sake. For example, peach sake in March, sweet-flag sake in May, and chrysanthemum sake in September. People drink it to ward off evil spirits and wish for a long life. Also, on New Year’s Day, there is a custom by which people wish the peace for the new year by drinking sake called toso, a mixture of about ten kinds of herbs mixed with seishu (refined sake).

While feeling the change of each season, we Japanese hope to cherish those events by celebrating with sake and strengthen the ties now and forever.

Sake in Japanese Wedding Ceremony

Sake Necessary for Social Bonding

Since ancient times, Japanese have used sake as a way to create special bonds with each other. Sakazukigoto is a ceremony meaning the exchanging of sake cups. San-san-kudo is the most popular type of ceremony. After pouring sake, each person takes three sips of sake from each of three kinds of cups: large, middle, and small. It is important to sip three times as the number three is considered lucky. Especially in wedding ceremonies, san-san-kudo is usually performed while making vows before Shinto deities.

Outside of weddings, a custom called katame-no-sakazuki (ceremony of exchanging sake cups as a pledge of friendship) is used when people with no blood relationship become sworn brothers or a parent and a child. The phrase, “exchanging sake cups,” has a similar meaning as “contract” in Western societies. The phrases “drink sake together” and “eat out of the same pot,” mean closer relationships without any special contracts.

During present-day Japanese banquets, we often hear the phrase like “let’s do without the formalities and make ourselves at home today.” This means that there is no distinction between social statuses for developing relationships. Usually organizers and guests of honor give the opening speech to propose the toast saying, “kampai” at the beginning of the banquet. Kampai means to dry or empty a glass. It is a Japanese word to express not only a toast, but also a feeling of cultural bonding.

After this reiko (formal ceremony) people start bureiko, an informal party. The phrase, “we wish you continued success and prosperity …,” is usually used to propose a toast of kampai.

The word kinen means, “praying to the deities” In short, the original traditional ceremony sakazukigoto (ceremony of exchanging sake cups) is symbolized in the act of the toast, kampai, as the simplified confirmation of the purpose of the gathering. Therefore, we make a toast, kampai, with sake to pray to the deities.

Originally, it was common that people drank sake not only for auspicious occasions but also for funerals and Buddhist services. People drank sake to bid farewell and to remember the deceased. For important emotions in Japanese life, sake was indispensable.

Sake in Gift Exchange Culture

Gift Exchange Culture and Sake

It is ancient tradition and customary for people to exchange sake as gifts. First, sake is indispensable as the offering to the deities.

People bring sake as the celebration gift on New Year’s holidays and at festivals saying the words such as “we offer this to Shinto deities” or “we offer this to Buddha.” After offering sake to the deities, people commenced with osagari, consuming sake with the deities. Therefore, sake is indispensable as the gift on festival days.

Also since ancient times, sake has been used as the expression of sympathy and condolences. It was especially important to give sake as an expression of sympathy in the case of fires and disasters. It was custom for neighbors to help clear debris of fires and disasters. It was also custom to bring sake to encourage good feelings and restore good luck. As such, the custom of bringing sake as the expression of sympathy after fire and accidents was established.

There are other Japanese unique gifts called o-chugen in summer and o-seibo at the end of the year. These are gifts from one person to another to express gratitude for their help. The gift-giving custom of o-chugen and o-seibo started during the Edo period (17th to 19th century) when subordinates gave gifts to superiors as a token of their gratitude. In return, the superiors would give back a gift, twice of value, called baigaeshi. Soon after, this custom became popular regardless of social rank. The main gift was sake.

Although modern society has a variety of items for gift giving, the custom of giving gifts as religious offerings, expressing sympathy, and o-chugen and o-seibo are deeply rooted in Japanese society. Sake still shows its presence as one of the main gift items.

Development of Sake and Its Distribution

Originally, sake was brewed in each region throughout Japan as local production for local consumption. From the late Muromachi period (16th century) to the early Edo period (17th century), the brewing industry was concentrated in the Kinki region such as Nara, Fushimi, and Itami.

This changed during the Edo period (17th to 19th century) because of a peaceful 300-year reign of the Tokugawa shogunate and a developing economy. Since the population of Edo (present-day Tokyo), the center of politics, was already over one million, there was a strong demand for sake there. In addition, the shogunate and related domains strictly controlled the licensing system for production and sales of sake.

Present-day Nada in Hyogo Prefecture, the largest sake-producing district, grew as the largest sake supplier for Edo. Originally, the Kansai region had the concentration of sake brewing techniques from the Nara period (eighth century). Also, the extremely cold winter climate was suitable for brewing sake. In addition, an abundant supply of hard water called miyamizu, suitable for brewing sake, was discovered there.

As it was located near Osaka, the center of the nation’s economy, a special sea route using a ship called tarukaisen was established for shipping the sake to Edo. Although it had several sea routes surrounding the Japanese archipelago, throughout the Edo period, the original purpose was for the transport of sake.

The sake wholesale district in Edo, Shinkawa, which was established as the shipping discharge base in Edo, became the largest base of sake distribution in eastern Japan. Sake brewing in Nada was developed to the taste of urban residents of Edo. Nada thus grew as the representative sake-producing district in Japan. Because of the abundance of sake shipped to Edo, it was easily available to the population.

Since the main distribution system moved from maritime to railroad in the Meiji era (19th to 20th century), several sake brewery districts were established mainly for selling outside of their own area: Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture, Saijo in Hiroshima Prefecture, and Jojima in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Nowadays, people can drink various locally brewed sake quite easily throughout Japan owing to the development of reliable logistics systems. Presently, the most productive districts of sake are Hyogo Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, Niigata Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, Akita Prefecture, and Aichi Prefecture.

Sake as the National Alcoholic Drink of Japan

Presently in Japan, people can drink various types of alcohol such as beer, wine, and whiskey along with various foods from all over the world. It was important for us to understand and respect the cultural backgrounds of each country as we consume a variety of traditional food and drink of each of those countries.

Although the Japanese diet has undergone many changes, the conventional Japanese cuisine and sake are being seen in a new light. At the same time, the cultural and historical significance of Japanese cuisine and sake have come to attract people’s attention as well.

The reasons why sake qualifies as “the national alcoholic drink of Japan” are the followings: it is made from rice and water, the blessings of Japanese climate; it has the unique technique of using koji-kin (aspergillus mold) grown by the blessed climate of Japan; it has the history that people have consumed it for a long time throughout Japan; it has the strong connection with Japanese native beliefs, traditional annual events, and lifestyle; and it is brewed all over Japan.

Therefore, cherishing “the national alcoholic drink of Japan” is none other than being proud of Japanese culture. Of course, it is also important to deepen the mutual understanding by respecting foreign cultures, histories, foods, and alcoholic drinks. Japanese sake has been recognized overseas as the word, “sake.” Furthermore, recently the words such as ginjo (special brew sake) and junmai (pure rice sake) have become popular as well. In recent years, the export volume of sake for overseas has increased favorably.

The Japanese have promoted sake overseas as the representative of Japan, in other words, “the national alcoholic drink of Japan.”