飾り樽 Kazaridaru – Sake barrels at Shinto shrines

Visit any Shinto shrine in Japan and you’ll notice barrels of rice wine on display. These wooden sake barrels known as sakedaru (酒樽) wrapped in straw blankets are stacked and bounded together by rope on a wooden frame.

The decoration of barrels known as kazaridaru signifies a spiritual connection and relationship between brewers and shrines for prosperity. Most brewers donate these sake barrels to shrines for Shinto ceremonies, rituals and festivals. Japanese believe that sake acts as a symbolic unification of Gods and people.

The origin of sake in Japan dates back to around 300 BC as the drink of the Gods. Polished rice is washed and cleaned before steamed. Yeast is later added onto the rice and allowed to ferment. The fermentation process is continued with series of incubation, heating and cooling before alcohol is produced. Traditional sake brewing is no longer in practice as production process has improved to increase yield and reduce brewing time. Today, there are over 1,500 sake manufactures in Japan.

In some of Japans oldest texts the word used for sake is miki (神酒),written with the characters for ‘god’ and ‘wine.’ People would go to a shrine festival and be given rice wine to drink, and they would feel happy and closer to the gods.”

These days, the word o-miki (お神酒) is reserved for rice wine used in Shinto rites and festivals. Sipping a cup is still a prayerful act of symbolic unification with the gods. Shinto shrines and sake manufacturers maintain a symbiotic relationship, in which the shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for the prosperity of the brewers, and — this is where the barrels come in — the brewers donate the sake that shrines need for ceremonies and festivals.

Smaller shrines usually get their o-miki from local sake companies, but two shrines, Meiji Jingu in Tokyo and Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture, look after the entire national product by accepting donations from every rice-wine brewer in the country. There are about 1,800 sake manufacturers in Japan.

Rice wine is not normally stored in barrels because it picks up too much of the taste and smell of the wood. But a short stay gives the sake a pleasant woody aroma, so upon request brewers fill barrels (from a steel tank) a few days in advance of festivals and other special occasions.

One of those sake barrels, which are called komodaru (薦樽). (Komo is the woven straw wrapped around the staves.) holds four to (斗) (an old measure), or 72 liters (a standard komodaru).

Generally, a brewer provides just one bottle, or an empty barrel for display. The kimochi (気持ち) (gesture) is important, because asking for or giving more sake than is actually needed would be mottainai (勿体無い) (wasteful).

This strikes me as an example of traditional Japanese values: Shinto gods don’t make unreasonable demands of people, and people show respect for the natural world inhabited by Shinto gods by avoiding waste.

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

飾り樽 Kazaridaru

足利学校 Ashikaga Gakko

Ashikaga Gakko, meaning Ashikaga School is well-known as the oldest academic institution. It is located in Ashikaga city, Tochigi prefecture, about 70 km north of Tokyo and about 70 km south of Nikko. So, Ashikaga would come handy if you plan your trip further to Nikko.

There are controversies about the origin of it, but it is said to have been established ca. 832 in the Heian period by Ono no Takamura and restored in 1432 by Uesugi Norizane, the lord of Ashikaga.

In the 1500s more than 3000 students came to study Confucianism, Chinese Medicine and Divination. The famous library contains more than 12000 volumes ( mostly in Chinese ) and some of Japan’s oldest historical documents,

Missionary Francisco Xavier reported in 1549 the Ashikaga School as the largest and most famous university of Japan.

After the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s the school was disestablished. After 1990 several wooden buildings including the former student living quarters, classrooms and the library were restored and today the school is under the direction of Ashikaga city board of education.

Now the Ashikaga Gakko has beautiful gardens and lovely, peaceful grounds to walk around.

Inside the school visitors can enjoy videos of the school’s history and challenge the School Kanji tests ( I did and found it pretty hard ) and join a program reading Analects of Confucius aloud.

In the Ashikaga Flower Park you will find 1000-square-meter gigantic wisteria trellises and a 80-meter-long wisteria tunnel.

Entrance Gate. The Kanjis mean 'School'

Entrance Gate. The Kanjis mean ‘School’

Statue of Confucius

Statue of Confucius

Garden area in the school area

Garden area in the school area

Confucius statues

Confucius statues

Students brooding over the challenging Kanji Teasts

Students brooding over the challenging Kanji Tests

The school seen from the street
The school seen from the street