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History of Sake through Sea Pottery

One of the many joys of beach combing is tracing the origins of the broken shards. If you ever have the chance to go beach combing in Japan, you will undoubtedly find a lot of sea pottery. A ton of sea pottery. Most of this Japanese sea pottery will be comprised of broken Chawan and Yunomi (rice bowls and teacups), but there is another lesser known group of ceramics which is comprised of sake containers.

The Tokkuri

Said to be onomatopoetic, the tokkuri is named after the sound produced when sake is poured from the jug ("tok tok tok", the English equivalent of "glug glug glug"). These ceramic jugs were first popularized in the early 1600's. And they remained in use until the 1940's when they were largely replaced by glass bottles, plastic bottles and now paper cartons. They came in different sizes (1go = 6oz/180ml to 1Sho = 60oz/1.8L). The jugs come from a time when sake stores sold their sake by Hakariuri (measured sales). A typical store would have several barrels of different brands of sake lined up on shelves and the the store clerk would pour a customer's desired amount into a tokkuri . The general idea was that the customer was only paying for the sake itself and not the jug. And so these tokkuri were then loaned out to the customer to take home and return at a later date. As such they became known as "Kayoi Tokkuri" - commuter tokkuri. Typically written on the tokkuri was the brand of sake and the name and trademark of the sake shop distributing the sake as well as the volume of the vessel. The calligraphy used is beautiful but rough. It is written in the style of regular day to day cursive hand writing of the early modern era.

This tokkuri is from "Ishikawa Sake Shop"

This tokkuri was actually used for the alcoholic drink "shochu". The indentations on the sides for your hand are my favorite. It is from "Satsuma Takarayama".

The Crock barrel or Touki Sake Taru

As mentioned above, the traditional container of choice for the Sake breweries were barrels. Unlike western barrels that were made of oak, Japanese barrels were made from sugi - Japanese cedar which is a soft light and water resistant wood. These would have straw or bamboo bindings unlike the metal hoops of western barrels. Just as casks would flavor whisky, these sugi barrels would affect the taste of the sake. And perhaps to combat this flavor change, porcelain imitation barrels began to appear around the early 1900's. However these ceramic pots were quickly replaced and phased out by glass pots and glass bottles. These crock barrels though are very beautiful and functional. As seen in the photos, they had easy to use lids and wire handles as well as traditional bung holes and they also incorporated the bamboo lashing as cosmetic features.

The above picture shows the size "go sho" 1.8Liters x 5

I love the sakura (cherry blossom) motif on the lid and spout.

Sadly these are only sold at sake breweries as limited runs or roadside antique shops or the ebays of the world. It should be on any fan of Japan's beach combing list to find sea pottery and own a Tokkuri sake jug.

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