Wet rice cultivation in Asia dates back over 5000 years, and the fermentation of a rice-based spirit probably goes hand in hand.
In about 300 BC, it is recorded that wet rice fermentation and a fermented rice beverage were brought from China to Japan. And this is usually cited as the origin of the traditional rice-based brew of Japan, called sake.
The intensive labor required for this agricultural practice was shared by whole villages, so it seems natural that the festivities that followed acquired a place of tremendous social significance. Sake was originally a local byproduct of rice cultivation produced by individual families or villages for their own use, rather than as a commercial venture.
The Book of Wei, a 3rd Century Chinese text includes tales of Japanese people drinking sake and dancing.
Its cultural significance grew as sake was incorporated into Shinto religious rituals, as an offering to the Gods, to purify temples, to consecrate wedding vows, and other roles of significance. So for many centuries temples and shrines became the main centers of production.
Interestingly, until the 17th century, sake was cloudy in appearance. A legend indicates that a brewery worker accidentally discovered that using ashes to settle the cloudy particles resulted in the clear sake that became the standard.
Who makes sake and the methods used have changed over time, with modern techniques enabling mass production and globalism bringing the appreciation of sake to people around the world.
Sake breweries can now be found in the United States and many other countries, but, to purists, authentic sake comes today, as it has for over 2000 years, only from Japan.
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