Friday, November 02, 2007

Oldtime saké rituals

I was cataloguing a book today by a member of the Circumnavigators Club and I found an interesting description of saké drinking at a mid-1920s Geisha-Dinner Party. I like to think of all the men getting a little rambunctious and smashing sake cups into their heads! Here is the description:

The only wine consumed during the dinner was saké, and a few words regarding this are necessary.

In color, saké looks much like weak tea, and is always served hot in small shallow cups which hold about three table-spoonfuls. In taste it resembles hot sherry, and it is probable that its content of alcohol is about the same. All through the dinner saké was constantly being brought in and served to the guests. The customs surrounding its consumption are somewhat curious, and in brief are as follows:--

The first cup of wine is drunk by the guest of the evening. The host selects a cup, names the guest and says, “Dozo saké ippai onomu nasai” (Graciously condescend to imbibe a cupful of wine), at the same time touching the cup to his forehead and bowing toward the guest. The latter bows to his host, accepts the cup, touches it to his own forehead and holds it forward on the palm of his hand for the maid to fill, at the same time replying, “Arigato gozaimasu, itadakimasho,” (Thank you, I sure will). He drains the cup, rinses it out in a tureen of water which stands beside him, touches it to his forehead and returns it to his host with the request that he have one himself. Formalities satisfied, everyone else begs the privilege of a cup with the guest, and after him whomsoever he may fancy. To the uninitiated a word of caution: ‘Ware the cup that cheers in Japan, for the custom above outlined is easily capable of being carried beyond the realms of a joke, and in his desire to be polite one may learn that hot saké in sufficient quantities, and taken in small doses, “biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.” Furthermore, saké does not behave well in mixed company.

JOHNSON, GEORGE A. The log of a circumnavigator being a series of informal narratives descriptive of a trip around the world. Boston: The Stratford Co. , 1927.

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