Why are there so many sakes with ‘Masamune’ in their name?

Greetings sake lovers,

You will do doubt have come across more than the odd sake brand containing the word ‘Masamune’ (正宗). Apart from being the name of a famous samurai sword and beyond just sounding cool, the name itself carries very little meaning, so we wondered what possible other reasons there could be for its popularity. There was only one way to find out. It was time to turn to our partner breweries for some insight.

How many brands are there with the word Masamune?

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The first question we had to answer was of course: just how many examples of Masamune sake are there?
The answer: as many as 180.

The results of our research confirmed what we already new to be true; that for some reason this name is popular among sake brewers. In Japan, outside the sake world, the word Masamune is synonymous with the famous Shogun Date Masamune — although his name uses different Chinese characters; in the west, it would probably have to be the samurai sword named after the master swordsmith who created it. Could it be that all those Masamune sakes out there were named in a similar vein?

Time to ask the brewers

Tochigi Prefecture, Sugita Shuzo

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Q1.Why are there so many sakes using the word ‘Masamune’

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/sugita.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″]Unfortunately, I am no wiser than you are on the subject.[/taidan]

Q. What is the meaning of your company’s brand name: Yuutou Masamune 雄東正宗 ?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/sugita.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] Oh, it’s just a simple play on words. We took the similar sounding word for excellence in Japanese yuutou 優等 but switched the Chinese characters. In our version we took the second character from the word for this part of Japan Kanto 関(東) and the second character from the word hero eiyuu 英(雄). There is a saying you see: the hero of Kanto: Kanto no Yuu 関東の雄 (there is a similar saying for the Kansai region of Japan too: Kansai no Yuu). We hoped that this brand would become the new ‘hero of Kanto’. The word Masamune is tagged on the end for auspicious effect.[/taidan]

So there you have it. This brewery opted for Masamune because it augurs well. We think the ‘hero of Kanto’ idea is pretty cool too!

Tokyo, Koyama Shuzo

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Q1. Why are there so many sakes using the word ‘Masamune’?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/koyama.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″]Sadly, I don’t know.[/taidan]

Q2. What is the significance of the word in your brand name Marushin Masamune?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/koyama.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″]It’s a part of our brewing ethos which is ‘honest brewing that delivers sake to the customer with sincerity’. The first generation of the brewery, Koyama Shinshichi believed that trading was based on a basic principle of honesty and so embedded that belief in the brand name, the first part of which reads ‘completely true or authentic’ (marushin). [/taidan]

Even a brewery that has been around since the early Meiji era is none the wiser. This is yet another example of a brand name that was derived from the company’s ethos.

Nagano Prefecture, Maruse Shuzo

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Q1. Why are there so many sakes using the word ‘Masamune’?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/maruse.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] Actually, I am hardly an expert on the subject either. The story I heard was that a brewery in Nada (the old name for an inlet in modern day Kobe) called Sakura Masamune were the ones who started it and as their sake rose to acclaim during the Edo period, the name was adopted as a pronoun for delicious sake everywhere.[/taidan]

Q2.What is the significance of the word in your brand name: Ikioi Masamune 勢正宗

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/maruse.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″]Our brand name is based on an episode in Chinese legend where a carp climbs a waterfall and becomes a dragon which we abbreviated into the Chinese character for momentum, Ikioi. (勢) The name also embodies our desire to achieve steady growth. The word Masamune was added to lend it a more sake-esque feel.[/taidan]

Among all the different theories of the origin behind this naming, the idea that the word simply became synonymous with sake itself has got to be the most likely and the most convinving.

The most unthinkable answer

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After investigating the story we gleamed from Maruse Shuzo in a little more detail, we can assert that the most likely origin of the word Masamune in sake naming appears to be nothing more than a simple ‘play on words’.

The origin dates all the way back to the Edo Period. The author does indeed seem to be none other than the fabled Sakura Masamune. The story goes that when the head of the family was thinking up a new name for his brand, he one day decided to visit a temple he was friends with in Kyoto. “Eureka!”, he suddenly exclaimed. It was a tabletop scripture that had caught his eye, inscribed on the front with the phrase “Rinzai Seishu” (臨済正宗), written using the same Chinese characters as for Masamune.

Have you figured it out yet?

Basically, he instantly saw the potential play on words between the word Seishu (other reading for Masamune) and the alternative word for sake in the sake industry — also pronounced the same way —: Seishu (清酒) — literally meaning clear sake. Realising the fun he could have and the prosperous ring it had to it, he instantly adopted it for his new brand name. Things didn’t quite go to plan though; even though he had intended for his brand to be read ‘Seishu’, the locals misread it as ‘Masamune’.

And so there you have it, a simple misunderstanding has shrouded the origin of this naming in mystery — so much so that even now, there are breweries using it oblivious of its true origin and meaning.

Conclusion

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For some reason it still doesn’t feel like we have found the whole truth. Whatever the truth, the popularity of Masamune doesn’t show any signs of waning.

Why not pop down to KURAND and see how many Masamune brands you can find.

We look forward to bringing you another little sake story very soon.