I recently came across this century old description of Japanese sake and was thrilled to learn about it’s author, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a greek born writer who became one of the first western writers to document Japan. He had a Japanese wife and lived in Japan from 1890 until his death in 1904.
The article I found is from a 1907 Colorado newspaper, the Littleton Independent, and was published about 3 years after Hearn’s death. The article outlines his musings on Japanese sake.
It is fun as it describes drinking traditions at Japanese banquets, which many modern day visitors to Japan will well recognize. I also love the description of the intoxication effects of sake: “Luminous exhilaration… then you get very sleepy.” Hope you enjoy this fun time capsule from the early days of sake’s introduction to the west.
POTENT LIQUOR IS SAKE
Lafcadio Hern’s testimony as to Strength of Japanese Wine.
There is no liquor in the world upon which a man becomes so quickly intoxicated as Japanese sake (rice wine), and yet none of which the effects last so short a time. The intoxication is pleasant as the effect of opium or hasheesh. It is soft, pleasant, luminous exhilaration, everything becoming brighter, happier, lighter; then you get very sleepy.
At Japanese dinners it is the rule to become slightly exhilarated, but not to drink enough to talk thickly or walk crooked. The ability to drink at banquets required practice – long practice.
There are banquets of many kinds, and the man who is invited to one at which extensive drinking may be expected is careful to start in upon an empty or almost empty stomach. By not eating one can drink a good deal. The cups are very small and of many curious shapes. One may be expected to empty 50. A quart of sake is a good deal; two quarts require iron nerves to stand. But among the Japanese there are wonderful drinkers. At a military officer’s banquet a captain offered me a tumbler holding a good pint of sake. I almost fainted at the sight of it, for it was only the first. But a friend said to me: “Only drink a little and pass it back,” which I did. Stronger heads emptied cup after cup like water. – Letters of Lafcadio Hearn.
Littleton Independent Newspaper Feb 8, 1907