So after the barrage of linguistic lunacy in my last post I figured we may as well continue on and look at some other common words and characters often found in the names on sake labels. Most of these are quite high in usage so you’re bound to come across them at some point.
*Not so much a word as a particle to indicate possession or ownership is NO 乃. To be honest I feel like this one is in higher usage than some of the other ones already looked at but there you go. NO will always be in the middle of a name as it means to belong to something. Names such as Koshi no Kanbai (the winter plum of Niigata), the previously mentioned Sawanotsuru (the crane of the swamp) and the sake from a couple of posts ago Yoshinogawa (the river of joy). Incidentally, this character for NO is an older way of writing. These days just about anywhere besides sake labels the character would be written as の. This character can is used in conversation to signify possession and is seen all over the place in Japanese life.
*白 HAKU or SHIRO, known to us as “white”, is positively everywhere! Again a bit of a universal meaning of purity. Due to the fact that it features in the name of several of the larger breweries you tend to see it about quite a bit. Hakutsuru (white crane), Hakushika (white deer), Shirayuki (white snow) all from Hyogo. Another, Rihaku from Shimane appears to translate to white prune but is actually the name of Chinese poet Li Bai (Li Bai is the chinese reading for the same characters that spell Rihaku) and is often seen with the English name “Wandering Poet” written on the label.
*The Japanese love of hot springs (onsen) is no secret so it’s hardly surprising that the kanji for “spring” 泉 IZUMI or SEN and it’s rejuvenating undertones features on many sake labels. Kameizumi (turtle spring?)from Kochi, Gunmaizumi (Gunma’s spring), Kinsen (golden spring) from Hiroshima.
*It is also quite common for breweries to use the old name of their region in the brands. Probably the most common is Niigata. The old name for Niigata was 越後 Echigo but the first half of this character also reads as 越 KOSHI. You’ll notice many Niigata sake bearing the name KOSHI followed by the previously mentioned NO to indicate being from Niigata. Obvious examples are Koshi No Kanbai, Koshi No Hatsu Ume (Niigata’s first plum), Koshi No Tsuru (Crane of Niigata). Other regions also use either their old name or the name of the regional brewers’ guild (Toji Ryuha) such as sake from Kochi bearing the name 土佐Tosa or sake from Iwate with the name 南部Nanbu.
Other honorable mentions of characters you are likely to come across include:
*亀KAME-Turtle signifying long life
*神SHIN or KAMI-God or holy
*竹TAKE or CHIKU– bamboo, signifying strength
*竜TATSU or RYU– dragon
*鹿SHIKA-deer. Fairly common in Kansai sake.
There really are tons of others but I think these ones will pop up often enough to keep you interested. Knowing what the name of your favourite sake means can add to the depth of enjoyment so as I said before, don’t be put off by not understanding the names you might find they’re not quite as hard as you think.