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Barrels of sake donated to the Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo.


Offerings to the shrines are sometimes in the form of barrels of sake from families, individuals or company officials.

Sake is a Japanese word meaning "alcoholic beverage", which in English has come to refer to a specific alcoholic beverage brewed mainly from rice.

Sake is widely referred to in English as "rice wine". However, this designation is not accurate. The production of alcoholic beverages by multiple fermentation of grain has more in common with beer than wine.

Sake is often consumed as part of Shinto purification rituals (compare with the use of red wine in the Christian Eucharist). During World War II, Kamikaze pilots drank sake prior to carrying out their missions. Today barrels of sake are broken open (Kagami biraki) during Shinto festivals and ceremonies or following sports victories: this sake (called iwai-zake, literally "celebration sake") is served freely to all to spread good fortune. Sake is also served during the light meal eaten during some tea ceremonies.

In the New Year Japanese people drink a special sake called toso (屠蘇). Toso is a sort of iwai-zake. Toso is made by soaking tososan (屠蘇散), a Chinese powder medicine, overnight in sake. Even children sip a portion. In some regions the first sipping of toso is taken in order of age from younger to older.

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