The history of Sake can be traced back to the Jomon Era (around 14 000 BC–300 BC). There was no culture of Sake before that as people in the Old Stone Age (around 14 000 BC) survived by hunting and eating acorns. In the Jomon Era, earthenware started to be made, becoming known as the famous Jomon pottery. It was believed that the culture of Sake started along with the development of earthenware, which people would keep food and water in and use on a fire for cooking. The lives of people became easier with the development of those tools. However, upon investigation of some Jomon Era earthenware remains, seeds of the crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) – a native Japanese grape – were found. Wine is the principal liquor made from grapes, meaning that the first liquor drunk in Japan was not Sake, but wine.
The grape was naturally fermented in the earthenware and turned into wine. Japanese Sake, by contrast, uses rice as its raw ingredient. In short, it can be thought that there was no Japanese Sake before the arrival of rice cultivation, so we can infer that the first liquor to be drunk was that produced from the natural-grown crimson glory vine. From there, in around 1000 – 500 BC, rice cultivation arrived in Japan with the beginning of the rice-producing culture. As rice cultivation was imported from ancient China or the Korean Peninsula, Sake production began. The Yayoi Era (around 300 BC – 250 AD) was the period during which civilization rapidly progressed. Bronzeware, textiles, and ceramic wares were imported around this period. The way of life evolved from being one based on hunting into a more settled way of life based on cultivating rice and using tools. Civilization always exported outwards from the mainland and in this way, Sake progressed from the area nearest to China and the Korean Peninsula. In particular, Sake production began in Fukuoka prefecture and like in North Kyushu, Shimane prefecture in the San-in region and the Kinki region.
THE HISTORY OF SAKE
Japanese people at this time enjoyed drinking, according to the recitation of “Gishitohiden,” written by the Chinese in the third century and containing the line “Japanese are fond of the drink.” No mention was made in Gishitohiden, however, of the kind of liquor that was enjoyed. So it could be Japanese Sake or it could be fermented wine from grapes. An old book identified a recitation of Sake, which was manufactured from rice 500 years after Gishitohiden. This means that there was active rice cultivation during this period, although there is no historical evidence of whether Sake was indeed really produced and drunk.