The Wildest Times in Japan Begin With a Cup of Sake, a Traditional Japanese Rice Wine

Relax, Unwind and Spend Some Time Building Your Kizuna

I remember going to a nearby Western Bar in Aiea with my friend from High School and sharing a few “Shots” of alcohol where you pour some mixture of strong and sweet into a little “shot glass” and down it together in one fell gulp.

Those were fun and crazy times and the little buzz from that alcohol made the line dancing, singing and general laughter more raucous, titillating and wild. There was a sense of release, letting our hair down and getting into the jumpy, jolly fun of the night. My age and my better sense wont let me do shots now, but for what it was, that was an experience and there was a bond tied with my friend, that I will cherish forever, made on those adventurous nights.

Unlike the shots we enjoyed, Japanese o-choko use in sharing a bottle of sake is a completely different experience. Slow, careful and reflective, the little cups are sipped over an extended moment of quiet or discussion. The sake sharing between two people builds a deep bond in Japan and confirms a sense of being on the same page and a good feeling of communication and bonding called "Kizuna".

You may have seen Prime Minister Abe pouring a bit of O-sake into President Obama’s cup at Sushi Jiro during the US President’s official visit to Japan. There were serious topics to discuss and the bond between the US and Japan needed to be strengthened, re-affirmed and bolstered for new regional challenges faced by both Nations.

http://www.veooz.com/news/HH7PrQm.html (you can see the photo here)

The same way people might relax at dinner and have a deep discussion over wine, or maybe with a cigar and brandy in a quiet study, o-sake is sipped lightly between bites of food or bits of snack. Whether between husband and wife after a long day of work, between long-time friends while they catch up and reminisce on the good old days, or business partners fleshing out new opportunities for corporate growth, the gesture of topping off an o-choko cup of sake, a slight bow of thanks and a reflective lowering of the cup back to the table or counter, is one way relations are deepened in Japan.

Maybe secrets are shared, confessions made, proposals accepted, debts forgiven and love given voice. The quiet moment over this small cup of dry rice wine provides a unique moment for both. One of my friends, Kojiro Yamanaka (from Japanese Culture & Style) describes it as,

“ Connection of the heart and mind “

In Japan, when drinking SAKE, a small cup called CHOKO is used. The purpose of using this small cup is to repeatedly pour each other a cup of SAKE. By repeating this it is said that a connection of heart and mind is deepened or KIZUNA (a mutual bond) is developed. With this very tiny cup CHOKO, the SAKE is gone in just a sip. In drinking together it is the custom to be mindful of the other person’s cup and continue to top-up the each other’s CHOKO.
While repeating this it is said that a bond or KIZUNA between each other is born. This way of drinking liquor is unique to show we they care about the other person.”


A Sake set of the Sake bottle and o-choko cups (make sure to get two) will make a perfect gift to take back home. I hope you will build deeper kizuna with your companion as you share the o-choko tradition and at the same time, that you will feel an appreciation of this interesting aspect of Japanese relationships.


Former Deep Japan Writer

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