Toast the New Year with nice sake cups

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Various ochoko sake cups decorated with gold, silver, and festive decorations, at the Takashimaya Osaka store. It’s fun to put an assortment of ochoko in a basket and choose a favorite one.

You might be planning to start the new year relaxing at home, probably with a nice sake. Why not have sake cups you like and make the New Year’s season much more exciting.

With so many types of sake cups, you might have a hard time deciding which to buy.

“I suggest you choose a smaller ochoko sake cup so that you can take your time savoring good sake,” said Mariko Okazaki, manager of the Japanese and Western tableware section at Takashimaya Osaka store in Chuo Ward, Osaka.

An ochoko is a typical, small sake cup. Those in red and white, or gold and silver, are perfect for the New Year, Okazaki said.

Ceramic ochoko cups are available in a variety of colors and designs. Those with auspicious characters or flower motifs such as camellia are good choices. Glassware ochoko cups trimmed with gold or decorated with the kiriko cut glass technique are more elegant.

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Hitori Banshaku Set made of nicely scented Japanese cedar, left; and Shuki Travel Choko, center, with a unique shape, both at the Takashimaya Osaka store

Tinware ochoko cups have a simple but ceremonial feel to them. Shuki Travel Choko for ¥16,500 is an ochoko that has an intriguingly slanted shape with one side protruding outwards. Sake tastes different depending on from which part of the cup’s opening you drink, she said.

Square, wooden cup

Masu, a square, wooden sake cup, is the go-to cup for Japanese celebrations.

The Hitori Banshaku Set is suited for people who enjoy dinner-time drinking by themselves. The set for ¥8,800 is made of solid Japanese cedar that is older than 100 years. The set comprises a pouring vessel and small and large sake cups. The nice scent of Japanese cedar is suited not only for sake, but also wine.

You can also choose sake cups after deciding on your tableware, Okazaki said.

“It’s fun to coordinate sake cups made of different materials and with various designs to create an even more festive atmosphere at the dining table,” she said.

Lacquerware for Western spirits

Traditional lacquerware is also essential for the New Year.

“Lacquerware sake cups decorated with maki-e and gold leaf can be a perfect choice for the New Year,” said Toshiyuki Okino, the seventh-generation president of the lacquerware company Isuke Shoten.

Maki-e is a traditional technique of drawing designs on the surface of lacquerware by sprinkling gold or silver powder over the object.

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Various lacquerware alcohol cups, by Isuke Shoten, are perfect for celebrations.

The company in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, has been in business for about 190 years.

Some lacquerware sake cups are made so that the wood grain is deliberately shown off, while red- or black-lacquered flat types are more often used for celebrations. Products made by carving and grinding out the wood are expensive, but those made by molding wood powder with resin are available for reasonable prices, Okino said.

The company also sells drinking vessels with modern elements, such as the Ikkon brand. The products are eye-catching with their silver decorations achieved via a technique called “sabi-nuri.” They also look great when brimming with whiskey and other Western liquor.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Products of the Ikkon brand, by Isuke Shoten, create a modern feel.

The brand has five types of products from ¥15,400 to ¥28,600.

“Lacquerware is gentle on your lips, so it is really suitable for drinking alcohol,” Okino said. “Hot sake contained in lacquerware also does not get easily cold.”

Once you have nice sake cups, be careful you pour just the right amount into them, then enjoy.