Sake-Making Work Songs
Sakauta, the Chant of the Sake-Makers

Sake-Making Work Songs Sakauta, the Chant of the Sake-Makers

  • Periods: Edo to Showa periods

Sake-making in Japan was originally done year-round, in all four seasons, but since the 1600s, when the Edo shogunate controlled Japan, lack of available rice meant that sake production was gradually curtailed, ending up being restricted to winter only. So when farm work shut down for the winter, the technicians involved in sake-making, known as toji, or chief brewers, and the other skilled workers (kurabito), would gather together from villages in snowy rural areas, mountain villages, or fishing villages, bringing with them the particular techniques of their home. In Fushimi, the Echizen style, from what is now Fukui Prefecture, was the most common, but, with the addition of styles from Tamba, Tajima (both in Hyogo), and Nanbu (Iwate), all these techniques ended up competing.

There are a number of processes involved in brewing sake, and “sakauta,” or chants sung by sake-makers, were sung to match each stage. Some of these chants are the Kashibauta, sung when washing the rice, the Motosuriuta and Senbonzutsukiuta sung when making the seed mash, and the Kaiireuta, sung when preparing the “moromi” main mash. These gave rhythms to each stage, and acted as a way to measure time by keeping track of how many of the short songs were sung, as well as serving to give the workers a sense of unity and cohesion. These sakauta would also differ slightly depending on where toji and kurabito sake brewers originally came from.

With the modernization of sake-making technology, there are fewer chances these days to hear sakauta. Gekkeikan formed the Gekkeikan Sakauta Preservation Society in 1975 in order to pass on these songs, into which the sake-makers had poured their souls. The Society collects Echizen and other styles of sakauta, and plays them at various events and parties, helping to pass on these traditional chants to a new generation.

SAKAUTA (Sake-making Song)

1.Kashiba-Uta: Rice washing song

2.Motosuri-Uta: Song for rice crushing process

3.Kai-Ire-Uta: Mash mixing Song

4.Iwai-Daru Nyu-Jou: Song for bringing-in ceremonial Sake barrel

5.Kagami-Biraki-Uta: Sake Barrel Opening Song

Recorded at
International Traditional Handcraft Expo at Kyoto Fushimi,1984

Sung by
Gekkeikan SAKAUTA Preservation Society

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