What is Japanese Sake? And Where Can You Get Some?!

If you like Japanese culture AND the occasional drink, then you have got to try some sake! The kanji for sake is and if you take a closer look at it you will notice a few things about it. First of all, the radical (or part) on the right hand side is a pictograph (picture) of a jar. And the radical on the left hand side is the abbreviated pictograph for water.

So it’s easy to understand that a jar filled with liquid means sake. But what is Japanese sake exactly? And how is it different from other alcohol? Read on to find out!

example of sake kanji

Sake means…

Generally speaking, sake can be used to mean any alcoholic drink. So if you say to your buddy, “hey man want to grab some drinks tonight?” you could replace the word “drinks” with “sake.”

But of course there is more to it than just that. Sake can also mean a very specific type of drink. Which is rice wine.

Most wine is created from grapes, but back when Japan was an isolated country they didn’t really have access to grapes like other countries did such as Italy. Due to the lack of flat land in Japan, they were very limited agriculturally to what they were able to plant and grow.

Rice was one of the few things that they could grow across Japan in large quantities. That’s how it became such a staple for Japanese meals. Of course, why just eat rice when you can drink it, right?! That’s how sake came about. The Japanese people took what they had (rice) and made an alcoholic drink out of it! Brilliant!

Where to get some and how to drink it?

You can actually get sake at any local store that sells alcohol. I’ve picked some up in my small home town with a population of about 20,000 people or so just the other day. So if you’d like to get some yourself, I’d be willing to bet that you can get some within 20 minutes or so from where you’re at right now.

You can also try it out at any steak & sushi restaurant as long as you’re old enough! In America you have to be 21 years old to drink alcohol, but in Japan the drinking age is only 20. They get one year off!

If you do get some with your dinner, they typically bring it out in a really cool looking glass jar with a small glass cup to drink it out of. It is called a choko 猪口.

A choko and two cups

If you’re familiar with red wine or white wine, then you know some of them are better when chilled and others taste best when they’re at room temperature.  Sake on the other hand, tastes good when it’s chilled AND when it’s HOT! Have you ever had a hot alcoholic drink? If not, take a moment and imagine what that might feel like…

Personally, I prefer hot sake over the chilled stuff. To each his own I guess!

Normally you’d have warm sake, which is called atsukan 熱燗, during the winter when it’s cold outside. And then when it’s hot outside you’d drink cold sake, which is called reishu 冷酒.

Related: Check out these Japanese candy!

Did that make you thirsty for some sake ? If you haven’t had it yet, I highly recommend you give it a try! Let me know your thoughts with a  comment below!


  • Daniel

    I have been to Japan a few times but have never actually tried sake as I don’t drink much wine. But it is great to learn about the history about it! I know friends that go to Japan like to drink it while they are in an onsen. I think I will have to try it one day too and see how it is different from red and white wine.

  • Tony

    Hi Nick
    Thanks for the article. I haven’t turned 21 yet but I’ll definitely keep sake in mind when I do. Although I do have a question about sake: how much alcohol does it contain? I remember my dad saying sake contains more alcohol then other alcohol is that right?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it definitely has more alcohol in it than a lot of other drinks do. Usually wine (including sake) has much more alcohol in it than beer does. It can vary, but I think it’s usually around three times more.

  • Michael Hunter

    Big admirer of Japanese culture and I appreciate sake very much. I never had it while it was hot but I still live the subtle flavors it offers. Have you noticed a difference between sake in Japan and in the US?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah the stuff I’ve had here was pretty good, but it was also “made in America” so my mind was kind of like, “hey this isn’t REAL sake, lol.” But in all honestly, they’re both very well made.

  • Rosa

    Hi Nick,

    I personally love red wine and enjoy it while chilled or slightly chilled. But when it comes to Japanese drinks, I never thought that wine (sake) could be drunk hot! I suppose however each one would prefer to drink it.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Rosa, yeah I’m a huge fan of dry red wine myself. I normally like it to be at about room temperature. So I was in for quite a shock the first time I had sake at a sushi restaurant, it was hot! And that’s the way I like it now, haha!

  • Neil Brooks

    Hi Nick, really nice! I enjoy learning about kanji with this explanation on sake. It makes sense how this particular one way made. I also really like drinking sake, I usually get it from the oriental supermarket when I go.

    Best wishes!


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