Shimane, the Birthplace of Sake
One of the strongest images connected with Japan is that of rice wine, or sake. Shimane is considered to be the birthplace of sake, because it has a rich tradition connected to sake which goes all the way back to the myths found in The Kojiki). In the legend of the Yamata-no-Orochi, Susano-o has Kushinada-hime’s parents brew a particularly strong type of sake. He then uses it to get the Yamata-no-Orochi so drunk that it passes out, after which he slays the serpent. It is the first mention of sake in The Kojiki.
It is also said that during Kami-ari-zuki, when the gods have all gathered at Izumo Taisha, they enjoy drinking sake together. This can be traced back to another connection between mythology and sake in a story found in the Izumo-no-kuni Fudoki. One of the functions of this text was to give the origins of location names, and for the origin of an area named Saka, it gives the following story:
Long ago, a great number of gods gathered along the banks of a river in this area, and set up a kitchen to prepare food and drink. Then they made sake, and spent the next 180 days drinking, after which they went their separate ways. The term used to describe this is sakamizuki, and from that word, the area got its name of Saka.
That place is now Kozakai-cho in the Hirata area of Izumo City. Through the years, the place name changed several times, but the character for sake was often used. A small shrine in the area, Saka Shrine, preserves the original place name, which is another way the character for sake is pronounced. The shrine also goes by the name Matsuo Shrine, which is the name used for shrines throughout the country that enshrine the deity of sake brewing, Kusu-no-kami.
Shimane has a rich tradition of sake brewing, and many delicious types of sake are produced here.
It is said that the gods enjoy sake when they gather at Izumo Taisha.
Visiting Locations Connected with Sake
Apart from the various sake breweries in Shimane, there are locations you can visit that are closely connected to the mythology that surrounds sake. Saka Shrine, which stands where the gods brewed their own sake and drank for 180 days, is in Kozakai-cho in the eastern part of Hirata, Izumo City. It is easily accessible, but in a quiet area, and the grounds of the shrine are very peaceful.
Of course, Izumo Taisha is also connected to sake, as many local brewers offer up their finest brews to the gods. This sake is said to be enjoyed by the gods when they gather at Izumo Taisha during Kami-ari-zuki. Since sake plays such an important role at shrines, offerings of sake are often made at local shrines, from large barrels of sake offered by brewers to small bottles offered by individuals. If you keep an eye out for them, you can spot these offerings at any shrine throughout Shimane.
The locations featured in the Yamata-no-Orochi legend have a connection to sake as well, as it played such an important role in the slaying of the serpent.