Thursday, 6 August 2009

Getting to the Bottom of the Barrel

Take a look at the signboards of three of the biggest convenience store (kombini) chains in Japan - 7 Eleven, Lawson, AM/PM. What do you see in common?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe convenience stores - as the name suggests - are there for the sake of convenience and also for times of emergencies, especially. Like, say, when you run out of midnight snack, or when your girlfriend runs out of tampons. When you frantically run around in the neighbourhood searching for the nearest convenience store to buy cup noodles or a pack of tampons, all you need to do is to look out for the beacon of hope that shines in front of every kombini. So if I were to open a kombini, I'd put up a big signboard which says, "Food/Tampons".

Instead, Japanese kombini's opt to display, "Sake/Tobacco (酒・たばこ)" on their signboards. It's not unimaginable that a foreign traveller might jump to the (not completely wrong) conclusion that Japanese chew tobacco and imbibe sake to sustain life.

Alcoholic problems are not addressed as an issue here in Japan. Salary men dropping by at the food stalls to grab a drink, drunkards lying unconscious on the train platform, university students being sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning... The truth is, most Japanese don't admit being alcoholic. In fact, alcohol consumption in Japan has quadrupled since 1960.

It appears that alcohol is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. This photo taken at Meiji Jingu, explains it all.

Sake Barrels 酒樽
These are sake barrels (酒樽). Though empty physically speaking, they're not so, in the spiritual sense. These're called decoration barrels (飾樽).

You see, in ancient Japan, rice wine was known as miki (神酒), which means, "god wine". According to Shinto, sake has the power to unify man with the gods. During religious ceremonies, worshipers are given wine. Most shrines get donations from sake brewers but two shrines regulate the donations, namely, Meiji Jingu in Tokyo and Ise Jingu in Mie prefecture.

Surprisingly, sake is normally not kept in wooden barrels for too long as the taste and smell of wood in the sake will then get too strong. Instead, they're kept in steel tanks.

2 persons flung their shoes:

K.O.J.A. said...

point 1: I don't think people go to 7-11 to buy tampons or food in the middle of the night. More like buying condoms there.

point 2: Alcohol and culture? O.o More like people drink to get laid.

Kryptos said...

point 1: go ahead and open a 24-hour condomania shop

point 2: when ppl wanna get laid, they just say they wanna get laid. who needs the alcohol?