Sake and social cohesion in Japan

Jane Cobbi, ” Taste of the sake, the cost of social cohesion “, in social skills at the table. Commensality and conviviality throughout the ages. Proceedings of the symposium, Rouen, publications of the university of Rouen n °178, 1992

The japanese company, if it has the characteristic of being completely exotic for us, is also a great field observation ethnography. In Japan sociability is linked, to varying degrees, to the food practices in three main areas : meals, gifts, in food, the consumption of sake. The consumption practices that are based on the sake are responsible for ensuring the social cohesion. Made from fermented rice, sake is not eaten with the rice, and as such it is not an integral part of the meal. The rice is not in principle associated with any alcoholic beverage, and if it happens that wine, beer, or sake are served in the context of a meal, in this case the alcoholic beverage is taken at the beginning, and the rice at the very end of the meal. Rice and sake are thus not the subject of a simultaneous consumption, but consumption in separate sequences, the successive (to the table) or independent (in separate places).

Sake also has status as a well distinct from the other traditional drink that is tea. To accompany the rice, or finish a meal, they drink green tea; the tea is the most popular drink, consumed daily and at any time. Served as a sign of welcome to any visitor, in offices and public places, the tea is also a factor in the rest, and this title usually associated with breaks in the work. The tea is also associated with funerary rites and cult of the buddhist in general; in charge of this symbolic meaning, it is excluded, for example, interviews of a marriage. The drink gay, festive par excellence, is the sake, which accompanies any joyous celebration.

The productive activities are traditionally followed by libations, in rural areas as in urban areas. If, after each step of the agricultural work, a meal is planned to thank all the participants for their contribution, it is necessary to wait for the terminal phase, the end of rice planting, or storage after the harvest, for that sake is served. The sake is very present in the funeral rites and weddings. But also more on a daily basis, a hitch between colleagues, or a voltage appeared at a meeting, dealt also with the sake. We will, on the same evening “take a pot” (in fact several), alcohol, around the same table, at the initiative of an elder or the head of office himself, to resume in a more supportive atmosphere, the discussions avoided in the workplace. These face-to-face supported in a euphoria emerging, these free exchanges of points of view, emerge a relative mutual understanding, and above all a renewed sense of belonging to a social reason.

The Japanese appreciate the alcoholic beverages is an undeniable fact all the more understandable that these offer opportunities for an exchange of verbal and emotional ; these places of communication that are the libations have an important social function, to the extent that speaking about oneself, expressing one’s personal opinion are not recommended in the formal framework of a social relationship or of the professional activity: they therefore have the advantage of allowing a direct contact, and exchanges of points of view as well, between equals, that between higher and lower ranks. We can thus see why drinking in Japan is a real fact of society, considered both as an inherent part of the life of each one, and necessary to the functioning of the national economy, and the global society. The consumption of sake seems to be primarily based on the notion of sharing and participation. This is so true that one of the rules of the label on the sake forbidden to fill their own cup (or glass), or at least the first cut of the evening, under penalty of losing the right auspices. The sake has a social role; its impact in the field of communication is considerable.

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