Sansho (三笑, Three Laughing) was brewed in Yamasaki in Hyōgo Prefecture, the self-styled home of clear sake, until about 40 years ago. It was revived by two local breweries and its release was celebrated at the shinto Niwata Shrine.
Billed as a “phantom sake” to attract tourists, it’s sold only at certain outlets inside the town and there are high hopes that it will become something the sake-producing area is known for.
Sanshō was brewed from the start of the Tenpō era (1830) by the Honkemon Zenya company. The name was originally Kokei Sanshō (Three Laughing at Tiger Ravine) after a Confucian concept that had made its way to Japan. Production stopped in 1977 and Honkemon Zenya gave up its brewing license.
The company still exists, however, and together with two nearby breweries – Oimatsu and Sanyōhai – forms part of Yamasaki’s historical town centre. A group of local citizens committed to reviving the town centre suggested reviving the sake two years ago.
The sake currently on sale under the Sanshō label is a junmai ginjō produced by Oimatsu (1.8 L JPY 2,700, 720 ml JPY 1,400) and and a nama junmai from Sanyōhai (1.8 L JPY 2,500, 720 ml JPY 1,300). Both are made from Nishiki Yume sake-specific rice produced in the local area and have a clean finish to suit modern tastes.
The ceremony at the Niwata shrine involved bottles of Sanshō being pulled from the Nukuru-no-izumi spring behind the shrine and brought to the main hall for a ritual. Ryōzō Zenya, 12th head of the family and a member of the committee to revive the town centre, said he had given up on reviving Sanshō but it had happened when the timing was right. He hopes that people will not only appreciate its flavour, but also the efforts of all who contributed to its revival.