Sake

    Keywords: Culture & History

Sake (osake お酒) is Japanese rice wine.

Often served in little 'glasses' which either:

  • demonstrate an interesting physical property of fluids (sake in particular, although any fluid will do)
  • demonstrate an interesting physical property of air (compressibility and the creation of harmonics)

I remember my sister-in-law (who had not seen this before) jokingly saying that 'she only believed in a God at the bottom of a bottle' during a dinner conversation. Ten minutes later the sake was served and she literally saw 'God' in the bottom of her glass :-)))

Velobici: Morton, thank you very much for the anecdote about your sister, sake and seeing God. I really dont understand the properties of these little 'glasses'. Could you elaborate, please?

PurpleHaze: sake is also the Japanese word for salmon. I assume there is some subtle difference in pronunciation that does not survive the transliteration. Strangely enough, whenever I order sake in a sushi bar I get salmon when I want salmon and rice wine when I want rice wine. So, perhaps it is simply a question of context.

Velobici: Now that's interesting. There are two words in Japanese, one for bridge 橋 and another for chopsticks 箸, that are both transliterated as hashi. I have read that the difference is in the pronounciation of the two "syllable" ([ext] mora is a better word for this) word. In one the first syllable is relatively low pitch and the second syllable high pitch. The reverse is true of the other word. Perhaps sake is the same way. Perhaps sake 酒 the drink, and sake 鮭 the fish, are similarly different in pronounciation only.
Niklaus: The Japanese language, because it uses a very limited set of syllables, abounds in homophones (words with the same pronounciation but different meanings). It is quite hard even for native speakers to figure out what is talked about, if they have no idea of the context. That's why the Japanese use the rather hard to learn kanji instead of just hiragana and katakana. If you've ever watched japanese television (like for example Go-Go-Igo at the end of the hikaru anime :-), you probably noticed all those kanji cluttering up the screen. These are not subtitles for the hearing impaired, but to provide a context for those just tuning in and to enable quick program changes.
Velobici: Thank you for your note. Could you elaborate a little more? Are they true homophones or are the pronounciations different in pitch (rising versus lowering, a matter of [ext] intonation)? I got this idea from Eleanor Harz Jorden's book [ext] Beginning Japanese (Part 1) which has been superceded by her later book [ext] Japanese: The Spoken Language (Part 1). At least part of my problem is not having ever heard enough Japanese spoken to know if this is the case or not.
kokiri: Japanese does possess tonal aspects to it which help with the differentiation of homophones. However there is a lot of regional variation in Japanese and this extends to the use of tonality, according to the study I read. The tonality of two different homophones in one region may be the complete opposite of the differences in another. That said, the evils of television mean that the language originating from Tokyo is pretty much universal.
Gareth: Japanese has lots of homophones distinguished by intonation. For example nihon 日本 "Japan" and nihon 二本"two bottles"; ima 今 "now" and ima 居間 "living room". (I've written the high-pitched syllable in bold).

kokiri: On a more useful note, sake 酒 is Japanese for alcohol in general, so the more usual term for what we in the West call sake is nihonshu 日本酒 or atsukan 熱燗 (when warm). Regardless of what you call it however, I have found its effects on my Go game to be almost entirely negative.

RafaelCaetano: PurpleHaze, if you want to drink, ask for nihonshu as Kokiri said. If you want fish, ask for shake.


Sake last edited by tapir on January 1, 2009 - 22:11
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