“Amazake” Used to Be a Summer Beverage
Sweet mild sake, amazake is rich with nutrients and therefore referred to as a drinkable infusion. Amazake is commonly assumed to be a winter beverage. However, it was generally consumed in summer in ancient times, and in fact the word is used as a haiku seasonal word for summer.
There are a few theories on its origin, but two episodes are found in Nihon Shoki, the chronicle of Japan written during the Nara era. One implies that amazake originates from the “kosake” brewage that people of Yoshino offered to Emperor Oujin. Kosake was a type of sake made during the summer to dedicate to the court. Documents recorded during the Muromachi era also prove that the drink was consumed by noble families in summer. The other beverage that is thought to be the origin of amazake is “amanotamu-sake,” which was brewed by goddess Konohanasakuya-hime. The “Konohana” of the goddess’s name refers to plum blossoms, and amazake shops used signs with plum blossom crests later in the Edo era.
It was in the mid-Edo era when amazake started to be consumed in winter. Amazake is used as a word to describe winter scenery in the haiku of Matsuo Basho, “Kangiku ya, amazake tsukuru mado no saki (Chrysanthemums bloom in the chill, as sweet sake is brewed before my window)”, as well as in Hanashi-bon, a book of funny stories compiled in the same period. These trends were only found in the city of Edo, however. During Edo, Amazake was drunk throughout the year regardless of the season, but it was deeply established and appreciated as a summer beverage in the Kansai region as per the ancient court customs.