An age-old belief system designed as a tool to decide one’s destiny, the Chinese Zodiac is based off of a twelve-year cycle where each new year is represented by one of twelve different animals. The Chinese Zodiac was introduced to Japan around the third to fourth century and was mainly utilized as a method of indicating time, date and orientation in space. With 2022 being the year of the tiger, its a good time to identify some great sake choices that would be a wonderful addition to a Japanese-inspired new year’s celebration.
The year of the tora [tiger] has its own special meaning in Japanese culture. Oddly enough, tigers are the one zodiac animal that has little physical presence in Japan, but this does not mean that they are insignificant. Traditionally, tigers and dragons have been known as the most powerful zodiac animals, respectively representing earth [tiger] and the heavens [dragon]. Tiger statues are a common occurrence at any temple as they are believed to protect from evil spirits and bad energy. The tiger represents strength, vitality, and growth.
It is important to recognize that there are key differences between the Chinese zodiac and the Japanese Eto [Japan’s zodiac]. The biggest contrast is that the Japanese use the solar calendar to mark the new year while the Chinese, as well as a majority of the other Asian countries, use the lunar calendar. A smaller yet equally as important deviation is that the Chinese zodiac uses a pig whereas the Japanese Eto [zodiac] uses a boar.
Celebrating New Year’s in Japan is a festive and tradition-filled experience. Many Japanese choose to ring in the new year via Hatsumode, or the first shrine visit of the new year to acquire good luck/energy. Another excellent way to celebrate the new year in Japan is by listening to the Joya no kane, which is the traditional bell ringing ceremony held across the country on New Year’s Eve. Signifying the passing of the old year and the beginning of a new one, temple bells are rung 108 times to signify each of the worldly desires central to Buddhism.
To truly experience New Year’s like the Japanese, you must be drinking like them as well. We suggest the following brews.
Nothing says great luck in the new year like gold!
Warmed shochu in the cold winter months is a winner.