What’s the obsession with putting turtles on sake labels?

Greetings sake lovers,

Have you ever come across a sake label featuring a turtle? The fact is that believe it or not, turtles have always been a popular animal with sake brewers for some reason. But why? We decided to research a bit more and interview one or two of our turtle loving partner breweries for the answer.

How many brands are there with a ‘turtle’ in the name?

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After just a spot of research, we found a total of 25-30 brand names featuring the little amphibious green critter by name. We wanted to find out more about what the appeal of the turtle was. We would half expect most breweries to tell us that “their founding forefather was very fond of them” or something along those lines. But perhaps their answer would surprise us. We decided to put the question to two breweries to find out.

Ask the breweries

Ehime Prefecture, Chiyo no Kame Shuzo, Mr.Kimura

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First up was Chiyo no kame Shuzo (Kame = Turtle in Japanese).Established in 1716, Chiyonokame has carved out 300 years of history in Uchiko Town, Ehime Prefecture.The brewers each help with the rice sowing to deepen their understanding of the rice which in keeping with local farming practices is free of pesticides. Their product development is bold and challenging and their Ginga Tetsudo (galaxy railroad) brand which is aged below freezing continues to have just as many fans outside the prefecture as inside. Additionally, Chiyonokame is the first brewery to use a centrifuge. It is a brewery that cheerfully brews sake that can’t be made anywhere else: Charming sake that puts a smile on thousands of faces. We interviewed Mr. Kimura

Q1. Why is there a turtle in your brand name?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/kimura.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] Well first, the first word ‘Chiyo’ (millennia) has the same meaning to that in the line from the Japanese national anthem: “chiyo ni yachiyo” (to continue, to prosper for millennia and millenia).  In other words, an eternity. Just as the crane is associated with a life-span of 1000 years, the turtle is associated with a life-span of 10,000 years. If for nothing else, we chose this name for its auspicious connotations.   [/taidan]

Q2. Why are there so many turtle themed sake brands in Japan?
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/kimura.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] It’s not just turtles, cranes also pop up a lot in sake nameology because they both carry the meaning of “eternity”. Incidentally, quite a lot of these brands use the word Chiyo as well.   [/taidan]

So both the turtle and the Japanese word Chiyo carry the meaning of “lasting for an eternity”. Well, this brewery has already carved out 300 years of history so they must be aiming for at least another 1000.

Nagano Prefecture, Syouki Shuzo, Mr. Maruyama

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Another brewery that uses the turtle directly in their brewery name. In 1883, first generation Maruyama Monichiro established a brewing business in the alps facing Shinshu Shiojiri Yado, the remains of a manor house, and started brewing the brand Syouki Masamune. 133 years since the production brewery got its big roof, the brand has changed names but still retains the traditional flavour of Shiojiri. Last year, in the brewery’s 131st year, master brewer Morikawa Takashi who recorded a string of gold awards in his previous brewery turns a new page in history with his passion to brew sake in the place where he was born. Sake that moves people is born from the skills and passion of the brewer.

Q1. Why is there a turtle in your brand name?
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/maruyama.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] sadly, the meaning was never passed down from previous generations. [/taidan]

Q2. Why are there so many turtle themed sake brands in Japan?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/maruyama.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] The turtle is particularly popular because of its auspicious connotations and because it signifies eternity.   [/taidan]

Over time they simply forgot the reason. But when we first saw this brand name we felt a real affinity towards it; the turtle often looks as if it’s smiling. Perhaps one of the earlier generations kept one as a pet…?

Conclusion

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It seems there may be various theories out there for the turtle on the label. Above all, it seems that most breweries use it as a good omen. And if the long histories of those that do are anything to go by, it’s certainly a powerful totem that lives up to its name.

Just as the definition of eternity suggests, turtles are nothing short of living legends of both sea and land. The average pet turtle can live up to 20-30 years, while the elephant turtle outlive humans at 150 years.

The turtle also makes an appearance in various famous tales such as the tale of Urashima Taro as an envoy of the Ryukyu Castle; in ancient China, it was believed to be an envoy of Horaisan, the land believed to be the dwelling place of  perpetual youth inhabited by immortals — its always been a very propitious being.

It is even suggested that the shape of the shell on the turtle’s back is in itself a symbol of good fortune.

It’s not difficult to see why the turtle has found its way into the hearts of brewers everywhere.

And the moral of the story? Drink sake adorned with a turtle and you too may live for a thousand years….