Why Are There Sake Barrels At Japanese Shrines?Did you notice? I didn’t do a This is Japan post for a few weeks. What did you think about that? Did you miss it. Do you want me to keep doing This is Japan? Let me know in this reader survey I put together to try and get a better understanding of what my readers think of my blog. It shouldn’t take any more than a few minutes. Just follow the link to complete the survey. I would rully appreciate it.

As I was looking through my photos recently, I saw something that I thought needed some explanation, if you don’t know what they are: sake barrels at Japanese shrines.

Like these:

Why Are There Sake Barrels At Japanese Shrines?

Are those really sake barrels at Japanese shrines?

Well, yes, they are. …Ok. I guess we’re done here. See you next week, frens!

JK, JK. I’ll tell you about the sake barrels.

If you have ever been to a Japanese Shinto shrine, you will probably have seen a wall of barrels, stacked on top of each other. They are mostly white, and they are covered in words and pretty pictures with rope tied around them. They are sake barrels, but they are not full of sake – they are just for decoration. The sake barrels are called sakedaru. The decoration of sake barrels is called kazaridaru.

Why Are There Sake Barrels At Japanese Shrines?

See, in Japan, drinking sake at a Shinto shrine is a symbolic way to bring humans closer to the gods. At least in a spiritual setting. It doesn’t mean the same thing when people go out drinking after work. Getting hammered doesn’t bring you close to the gods. At least not that I’m aware. But by going to a Shinto shrine  and sipping a cup of sake during rituals and rites, people feel closer to the gods. In some old Japanese texts, sake is written with the characters for “god” and “wine.”

Wait. What’s Shinto?

Shintoism is a native and veeeery old Japanese religion that seeks to establish a connection with the ancient past. In Shintoism, there is a god in everything. There’s a god in this rock, that tree, that dog, and even your ancestors. Shinto shrines often have a torii gate, like the one at Heian Shrine. You should also wash your hands with water and bow when you enter the grounds to pray. I don’t wash my hands because I’m a filthy person. The most important god is Amaterasu, the sun god. Amaterasu is the ancestor of the line of Japanese emperors.

Interesting story – when I first moved in to this apartment, there was a small shrine next to it. Not a fancy one, just like a tiny one in front of an abandoned house. A couple years later, the city tore down the abandoned house, including the shrine. (I tried to snatch the fox statue laying on the ground, but concrete is too heavy). Before construction started on the next house, someone planted a small tree with Shinto things tied to it. I guess as a way to appease the gods for tearing down their house, and so the gods don’t haunt the next building. Makes sense.

Ok, back to why there are sake barrels at Japanese shrines.

The reason there are sake barrels at Japanese shrines is because Shinto festivals still use sake during purification rituals, like weddings, store openings, or after you demolish a shrine. Though the ones you see on display are just for display. For rituals, they take sake from a bottle, not the barrels. They only store sake in barrels temporarily, and not the ones you see outside. As for the sake that shrines use in rituals, they get it by donation from sake brewing companies. Then the brewing companies give the empty barrels as a gesture, and the shrine puts them on display.

But I always like seeing the displays of sake barrels at Japanese shrines. They are great photos and are a pretty cool representation of Japanese culture.

>> If you like photography, check out my photography page

>> And if you like sake, you might also be interested in all you can eat deep fry

And that’s why there are sake barrels at Japanese shrines

Did you like this post about Japanese culture? I got lotsa little tid bits like this, just rollin’ around in my noggin. Why not SUBSCRIBE to my mailing list today to learn more? You’ll also get my weekly newsletter and access to my free resource library with even more information. Awww yea.

Why Are There Sake Barrels At Japanese Shrines? Why Are There Sake Barrels At Japanese Shrines?

Why Are There Sake Barrels At Japanese Shrines?

*This is Japan is regular blog series where I write something about Japan. It could be something about Japanese culture, a story about living in Japan, or something random and funny/weird. If you like to read This is Japan, please subscribe below to join my email community. And leave a comment below below and let me know your thoughts on this post!

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Author

Jennifer has lived in Japan for a total of seven years. She has travelled, taught English, studied Japanese, completed a Master’s Degree, and travelled some more. She currently calls Nagoya her home, where she lives with her Japanese husband.

8 Comments

  1. Don’t stop! Love the posts which are helping me put together an amazing itinerary for my next trip to Japan and I’m learning so much more about this fascinating land and its people.

    • Sheree, that’s one of the nicest things to hear on my blog! Thank you so much! 🙂 I hope you can have a wonderful time here. What’s on your itinerary so far?

  2. I do love your This is Japan posts a lot. It is an insight into an old old culture through a fresh pair of eyes. And I like the idea of these different gods, sun god, moon good, fertility god…you know. They make life more colourful. The sake barrels…I wonder if sake brings you closer to god. Do you like sake? I tried it once at a Japanese stall in London in a food market and found it so strong that my senses swam with a few sips. xx

  3. Thanks to you I finally found out the reason of the presence of those barrels… I could never expect them to be related to sake! You revealed one of the mysteries which was haunting me ever since my last trip to Tokyo in 2015! haha 🙂

    Anyway, I would like to clarify something about Shinto: it is not as ancient as we believe. This religion actually dates back to the Meiji era, and it was created by taking into account those primitive deities mentioned in the written sources Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. They did it to have more historical recognition, in order to prove to be at a par with China, their secular enemy! 🙂

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