Tokyo: Sake barrels at Meiji Jingu

Down the path from the main entrance are two racks of ‘offerings’ to the Emperor and Empress. On the right side are beautifully decorated barrels of sake, donated each year for generations.

The barrels are called ‘kazaridaru’, which means decoration barrels, as they are empty. I’ve read in one of the guide books that in some of this country’s oldest texts the word used for sake is miki, written with the characters for ‘god’ and ‘wine.’ People would go a shrine festival and be given rice wine to drink, and they would feel happy and closer to the gods.

These days, the word miki is reserved for rice wine used in Shinto rites and festivals. Sipping a cup is still a prayerful act of symbolic unification with the gods. Shinto shrines and sake manufacturers maintain a symbiotic relationship, in which the shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for the prosperity of the brewers, and — this is where the barrels come in — the brewers donate the grog that shrines need for ceremonies and festivals.

Smaller shrines usually get their miki from local sake companies, but the Meiji Jingu accepts donations from every rice-wine brewer in the country.

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