Ceramics and Sake
Some things in life have a natural charm, the ability to draw you in and absorb your attention to the exclusion of all else, if even for only a few moments. The combination of good sake and fine Japanese yakimono (pottery) is one such simple joy. Although there is much more to yakimono than only tokkuri (flasks) and guinomi (cups), the overlap of this special niche of the pottery world with the world of sake buzzes with a magic all its own.
Names of Common Sake Drinking Utensils (Shuki)
- Tokkuri. Ceramic flask used to serve (and warm) sake, with a narrow neck for retaining heat. Tokkuri come in all shapes and sizes. Usually holds about 360 ml. of sake. The most popular styles are Bizen, Iga, Shigaraki, Imari, and Mino. Click here for a quick primer on these styles.
- Ochoko. Small sake cups of countless variety, color and shapes. Cup typically broadens at neck to allow the fragrance of the sake to waft gently upward.
- Guinomi. Small cups - often fluted at the edge - a bit bigger than ochoko. Great fun to collect as works of art.
- Masu. A square cedar box holding 180ml (said quantity is called "ichi-go" in Japanese), originally designed as a rice measure. Most people no longer drink from masu, as the smell and flavor of the wood overpower the delicate flavors of today's premium sake.
What makes a good guinomi or tokkuri?
Naturally it is a matter of personal taste. Aesthetic appearance, weight, balance, how it feels in the hand, and a drinking lip that is not excessively rough are the general points of assessment.
A somewhat hidden feature that is always scrupulously checked by experienced collectors is the kodai, or foot, of a piece, the ring on the bottom on which the piece rests. Lurking modestly in the background, the quality and appearance of this facet of a piece is indicative of the skill of the artist.
Size isn't everything, either. The rim of a vessel - its thickness, texture and curve - will affect how a liquid distributes itself across the tongue and palate, thereby radically affecting the taste profile and fragrance. The artistic and aesthetic qualities as well contribute, if nothing else, by influencing the mood and atmosphere.
The abundance of fine traditional pottery in Japan adds another dimension to sake tasting. Beautiful tokkuri (flasks), o-chokko and guinomi (cups) help raise the nihonshu experience to a whole new level. They just go well together; it's that simple. The culture and traditions surrounding both developed together, and it shows in the work. "Form follows function" never rang truer.
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