Amakami Family. Part 3. Sake and Sukunami-kami

sasake ha tokoyo349-Revised

In the last passage of Part 2 as well as in the earlier post about Hinamatsuri, Isanagi and Isanami have miki sacred sake on their wedding day. At the time of Ukemoti (see Amakami Part 1), there was a sacred drink, a kind of rice soup, but not sake. Here is the story of sake’s discovery by Sukunami-kami, not long before the hutakami’s wedding. Sukunami must have remembered Ukemoti and the sacred rice soup when he gave the name sasake to the new beverage.

In Woshite literature, liquor or rice wine, sake, is called sasa. In fact, the word sasa was used in the Middle Ages, especially by women. And, as a special representation of the elegant olden days, it has been transmitted to us even now.

The poem above begins with line 349 of Hotuma Tutae and it continues the passage given in Part 2:

                       sasake ha tokoyo

inokuti no        sukunami-kami no

take-kahu ni     susume ka momi o

iru o mite         miki tukuri some

susume keri     momohinaki yori

sasanami to     na o tamahu yori

na mo sasake   sono kami ima ni


The story takes place in Tokoyo-kuni, Yamato. The kami Sukunami ruled over the Inokuti area. Sukunami means small, gentle waves. One day when Sukunami-kami was still young (a momohinaki). he saw a susume sparrow with a grain of rice in a take-kahu bamboo stump. The sparrow was making a new drink, a rice wine.  

The praise or honor name Sasanami-kami was bestowed (tamahu) on Sukunami-kami. Sasanami means waves that lead to brightness and prosperity. Recall that sa means clear and bright, and sasa is used in praise and honor names. Later, even the mountain of Inokuti received the praise name Sasake-yama. Sasake means a mind/spirit that brings brightness and abundant grace. The wine became known by the praise name sasake, or simply sake. It also became the sacred sake miki which Uhitini and Suhitini sipped on their wedding day, a custom which still continues today.

It is a pity that Sasanami-kami’s name has been lost to history.

In the above poem we see the word susume used in two ways, as a noun and as an verb. First, in the phrase susume ka momi o, it refers to the sparrow with the grain of rice. Later, it appears in susume keri, a verb phrase which means “to recommend.” Here, keri occurs as an auxiliary verb to the verb susume. keri often appears in haiku and tanka. If you dine in Japanese restaurants you may have heard of osusume, the recommendation of the chef. Did you ever connect it with the sparrow? This poem does!

There will be a related post,, on a visit to Sasaki Jinja, a shrine associated with sake and Sukunami-kami, although few today know this story.

Updated 2016.11.08