Sake cups in ancient Japan were unglazed earthenware known as kawarake. Until the Muromachi period (14th century), earthenware sake cups were the main type used. The sake cups still used for Shinto offerings are usually clay for this reason.
Lacquered sake cups started to be used in the 15th century, which is also when the exchange of sake cups became refined as part of samurai culture. The shiki-sankon style, the basic menus and etiquette that had become established in noble and samurai society in the middle ages, formed a ceremony (shiki) where a single side dish would be paired with sake to be drunk in three gulps, thus forming one round or kon (ikkon). This would be repeated twice more, for three kon (sankon) total. The three-times-three exchange of nuptial cups at modern Shinto weddings was developed from this. In this exchange, sake is poured into the cup three times, and then drunk in three gulps, after which the process is repeated for the remaining two cups. The three-times-three exchange of nuptial cups (san-san-kudo) uses triple-stacked sake cups lacquered in red and decorated with maki-e in auspicious patterns. These modern sake cups are slim and flat to imitate the karawake used for Shinto offerings.