Have you wondered why sake bottles come in sizes such as 720ml and 1800ml?
This is because of the unique shō system Japan used to measure and trade liquid products. 1 gō (usually the standard size of a sake masu) is 180ml and is the usual serving size, and 4 gō is 720ml (4 sake servings). The large bottles (1800ml) are 10 gō or 1 shō.
Masu (枡 or 升) means (“square” or “measure”) respectively. It was originally a square wooden box used to measure rice and sake during the feudal period in Japan. It comes in various sizes, and the most common is Ichigōmasu (1 gō or 180ml). You might have seen restaurants serving a cup in the sake masu. This practice is known as Mokkiri. Sake is poured in a glass sitting in a masu until it overflows – this overflowing of sake represents kindness and generosity by the host!
I’ve tried sake in wine glasses and sake cups before, but not from a masu. What better time to try it now when we’re all stuck at home!
Traditionally masu cups are made from Hinoki (Japanese Cypress wood) which imparts a very pleasant woodsy, slightly minty scent. It made me feel like I was in the middle of the forest. My choice of sake today is a Sagaminada Yamadanishiki Junmai Ginjo, which has a fruity but subtle aromatic scent of melon and a clean medium-acidity finish. Drinking from the masu imparts the woodsy minty scent right before I taste the sake, but does not alter the sake taste greatly in the beginning.
Being a slow drinker, I still had some sake left after two hours sitting in the masu. The aroma of the Hinoki was even stronger then! (Wet Hinoki emits a stronger scent). I can’t emphasise how purifying and pleasant the smell of Hinoki is, if you haven’t you have to give it a try.
The sake taste was also infused with a very pleasant woody-spicy note that I enjoyed. Sake purists might frown upon this but I think you should try drinking from a masu (after leaving it to sit for a while) at least once. Give it a try the next time you taste sake – it’d be fun if you did a side by side comparison, using a sake masu and using a wine glass with the same sake to taste the difference!