Miss Saké

I’m not much of a drinker so when the list came round on a dinner boat on Tokyo Harbour I opted for umeshu, a plum liqueur, with soda, which turned out to be delightful and not to contain much alcohol (read how to make it here). Haiku Husband however, said ‘yes, please’ to warm saké and thereafter ordered it whenever he could.

We arrived back to our hotel in Tokyo after dark and after a long train journey from Hiroshima to find a saké-tasting market set up in a plaza area. So after getting settled in we went back and HH tried a few of the wares on offer. We also got to say hello to Miss Saké who looked gorgeous and happily posed for photos for us.

Miss Saké (2014) at the tasting market in Tokyo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Santoka (1882-1940) was, among other things, a Zen monk and a haiku poet who seems to have spent his life either drunk, figuring out how to get drunk or drying out! Needless to say his attempts earlier in life to help his father run a saké brewery ended in disaster. However, according to information on the World Kigo Database the rights to the business were purchased by another family and the brewery continues, including making a brand called Santoka. It is in Hofu, in Yamaguchi Prefecture (Santoka’s home town). Read more about his life, and many of his haiku, here.

the sound of swallowing saké
seems very lonely

– Santoka, tr. Stephen Addiss

This entry comes from Santoka’s diary (translated by Burton Watson): July 20, 1932

People view all things, all events in terms of what they value in life, with that as their standard. I look at everything through the eyes of saké. Gazing far off at a mountain, I think how I’d like a little drink; I see some nice vegetables and think how well they’d go with the saké. If I had such-and-such sum, I could polish off a flask; if I had this much, I could buy a bottle.

You may laugh, but that’s just the way I am – nothing I can do about it.

Read more of his diary and more of Santoka’s haiku here.

samukeredo sake mo ari  yu mo aru tokoro

it is cold, but
we have saké
and the hot spring

– Shiki (1867-1902)

Shiki is seen as the fourth of the Great Pillars of haiku in Japan (after Basho, Buson and Issa). Read more about his life here.

Haiku Husband pours his warm saké from a nifty box arrangement, known as a masu. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In his Haiku NewZ selection of Favourite Haiku, Richard von Sturmer included this haiku and comment:

we drink from tiny cups
as we wander
through the chrysanthemums

– Issa

Japanese cups, in particular saké cups, are tiny. Issa and his friends wander among the large flowers, taking small sips. Life passes, all is unknown, and yet we have haiku, this small verse form, to help us appreciate the mystery and the beauty of this fleeting world.

Not drinking from tiny cups, but pouring her saké into water glasses for the tourists from New Zealand is the proprietor of an okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) joint in Hiroshima. She said she was 87 – looked about 65 – and the secret was plenty of sleep and 2 glasses of saké at bedtime! Photo: Sandra Simpson

There is a great deal of information about the history of saké (from time immemorial) on the World Kigo Database site. And this Japan Times article on the history of saké reveals that it was originally fermented rice that was eaten the addition of pure water came later.

A wall of saké drums was neatly stacked in the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, just off the coast off Hiroshima. Apparently the brewers were saying ‘thanks’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

leaning this way
and that –
saké drums

– Sandra Simpson (Modern Haiku 46.3)

The traditional symbol of a saké brewery – sugidama, a ball of cedar needles. It’s said that when the green needles turn brown the saké is aged enough for drinking. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about sugidama here.

passing the jug
the warmth
of many hands

– Jim Kacian, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku (December 16, 2008)

Time for a cuppa

I don’t know who researches these things but apparently enough tea is drunk annually to reach to the Moon and back 12 times!

For a few years my preferred hot drink was hot water but, unless I’m at work out of the house, I’ve gone back to tea and when I’m at home can have several mugs a day in cold weather. As an aside, I’ve never drunk coffee except once, by accident, when I was too young and polite to say anything, yeuch (love the smell of it brewing though).

      friend’s funeral
      a stranger uses
      her teapot

– Nola Borrell, 2nd place, Katikati Haiku Contest, 2006

Nola prefers herbal teas (more properly tisanes) generally, a lemon and ginger being her favourite, but also drinks the well-known Earl Grey.


my teacup cooling
on the windowsill,
dark leaves of the magnolia

– Richard von Sturmer, Suchness: Zen poetry and prose (HeadworX, Wellington 2005)


steeping tea
the time it takes to lose a street
to snow

– Ben Moeller-Gaa, an editor’s choice in The Heron’s Nest, XV:2 (2013)

Ben is an American writer of haiku who prefers “an Irish Breakfast with just enough milk to turn the dark mug gold”. My favourite tipple is Lady Grey, weak and black, thanks. According to the link, I must have some Scandinavian blood because I too find Earl Grey bitter.

And, of course, we couldn’t have a posting about tea without something from “little cup of tea” himself, Issa.

na no hana ni yotsu no naru made asa cha kanaamid

rape flowers
till the ten o’clock bell …
morning tea

– translated by David Lanoue and from his Haiku of Kobayashi Issa website

Read more about tea in Japan here.