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=”https://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=”https://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=”https://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=”https://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=”https://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=”https://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.

Come to KURAND and I will tell you a story!

Greetings sake lovers,

British KURAND staff member, Chris here!

This is officially my 100th article writing / translating for KURAND and yet it just occurred to me that I have never actually formally introduced myself. Well, they do say it is never too late to for an introduction, so here goes.

Basically, I am the editor, translator / writer behind the English language KURAND website. I am a Japanese speaking ‘BRIT’ that was put in charge of developing a none Japanese speaking fan base for KURAND from all the extra inbound business that Tokyo is expected to receive between now and the 2020 olympics, and beyond.

Story so Far

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Allow me to start by recapping my journey so far in a few short paragraphs.

My first introduction to premium sake came in 2006, in my first real job after graduating from university, working for the largest Japanese food and drink supplier in London. Up until that fated encounter, I had never tasted anything better than the poison that you find at most Chinese restaurants: more often than not Chinese spirits audaciously disguised as sake. For most people the first sip of sake in their home country will have left a similarly bitter aftertaste in their mouth — so in short, the idea of having to sell sake was not something that filled me with trepidation at first, but I was won over…by the expertly told narrative of the brewer who one day came to woo me at my company. And woo me he did.

I was already hooked by the time he had finished his little presentation, but it was his sake that sealed the deal. It was a Tokubetsu Junmai with a rounded palate of tropical fruits followed by a crisp finish, a taste I will never forget. As it melted in my mouth I knew at that moment that I had discovered something very special.

A few years later, as a result of investing my time personally into learning more about the beverage, I landed myself the experimental role of sake specialist. This job involved many perks, the biggest of which was being able to escort brewers around London to sell their wares to new prospective buyers. Conversations during commutes would be filled with priceless nuggets of sake information, information that was coming straight from the expert’s mouth. I remember one commute in particular where the train got stuck in a tunnel and the brewer I was with gifted me with a lecture on the traditional Kimoto process to pass the time. But inevitably, in 2014, I realised that I had reached the limit to how much I could learn working in the U.K. and departed to Japan to level up.

My time in Japan so far has been nothing short of an adventure — of a life time no less.
I have spent a year working for the prestigious Junmai Daiginjo-only brewery up in Yamagata Prefecture, as their Tokyo sales rep which included a few days of hands-on training inside the brewery itself. I have worked for a specialist sake shop in Tokyo. I have even thrown in a stint at a cool little Izakaya serving regional sake from all over Japan, a very precious memory that fills me with a tinge of nostalgia even as I write this now.

KURAND and I, A Mutual Ideology

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And then in 2015, the next chapter of my own personal story / journey began at KURAND.
I love what they are trying to do here. Their concept and ethos is right in line with my ideology about sake. In short, they want to tell the story, the narrative, of the people who make it; the same narrative that captured my heart all those years ago. You see, it’s a narrative with many strands. There is something in there for everyone, whether its history, culture, tradition or even wine-based similarities that interest you. It’s 1000 years of history, culture and tradition, it’s interesting personalities and their passion.

It’s precisely this kind of narrative that I focused on promoting when I was working in London. Generally speaking, sake is not exactly the most accessible artisan craft to dive straight into. For starters there is a wall of complicated jargon and tech-speak to climb that can’t be scaled until you have passed the obvious language barrier: most sakes are not translated into English, so going to a shop and trying to buy a bottle is like trying to navigate your way through an Egyptian tomb with zero knowledge of hieroglyphics. In this situation, with no other reference points to work off of, The narrative is your guide.. your only guide.

The first thing I did when I became sake specialist was to put this narrative on the bottles in the form of English labels. You might be surprised to learn that English labels on sake bottles still do not come as standard in most countries.

 

As one couple who attended one of my recent lessons quite eloquently put it: “KURAND is very well presented with non-Japanese speakers sufficiently catered for; you can more than enjoy a many different sakes. However, having a native guide to walk you through it all opens a whole new set of doors to sake that I never even knew existed. I never realised sake could be this interesting”. And that folks is the power of the narrative. For a great example of a sake narrative, please see this article: http://kurand.jp/en/5595/

Learn More

So how are we going about telling this narrative at KURAND?

Here at KURAND, we are currently delivering this narrative in two different formats.

SAKE EXCHANGE TOKYO

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Please join our MEETUP group!
Our Sake Exchange Tokyo events give a slightly more informal setting to learn about sake while mixing with people from all over the world. As well as the usual all-you-can-taste sake experience of over 100 types, each event is designed around a particular theme, one particular aspect of sake. Some of the topics we have already covered include rice variety, yeast, seasonal sake, water and even the labels on the bottles. For those people who can speak a bit of the local lingo, there is an opportunity to practice your language skills.Think: international exchange party with sake and you have it down to a tee.

LESSONS

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What is a Toji? Why is sake brewed in the winter months? Why is sake pasteurised? What is the difference between sweet and dry sake?

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As well as answering all these questions and more in detail and unravelling the mysteries behind sake, this is basically a one on one sake A-Z-to-sake that includes a series of flights of carefully chosen sakes to go with each individual topic. Although we refer to them as lessons, I would prefer to use the word experience — and again the narrative is the core of the syllabus.

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The lessons also include a practical aspect. Have you ever wanted to drink warm sake the professional way? learn how to warm sake? how to correctly pour sake from a 1.8L bottle? we have you covered.

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The lesson also looks at how the flavour of sake changes in different shape glassware.

So what are you waiting for! your journey to Japan isn’t complete without an introduction to sake on the itinerary.

Our customers so far include Michelin Star chefs from the US, fellow sake experts, writers, TV celebrities and even Youtubers!!

Customer Testimonials

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“I have taken part in many tours / experiences during my time travelling the globe, but this was the best yet!”

“Chris gave us a detailed and interesting walk thru on the history and process of sake tasting. 100 types of sake… All you can drink….what else could one ask for 🙂 “

“Chris (native Brit) is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. There is also a written presentation which helped a lot. (Before attending all I knew about sake was that it was made from rice.) “

“Chris was so friendly and helpful in answering all of our many questions. A local brewer even came in and we sampled some of his different types. They have a light tasting menu of snacks or you can bring outside food in as well. For anyone in Japan interested in learning about sake, expanding your knowledge, or just want a different bar scene, this is a must try. I only wish we stumbled upon this at the start of our trip so we could go again. “

“Chris is so friendly and knowledgable on sakes, taught us a lot great place to experience and explore more on sakes & Japan Culture! “

Also, see this excellent article that was written by Melinda Joe for the Japan Times: Here

Nothing would give me more pleasure that to share some of my passion for sake with you.

Come to KURAND and I will tell you the story.