Have you ever wondered what are those lantern-looking balls doing outside the sake breweries?
They are actually called “Sugidama” (Cedar ball). “Tama” as in sugidama means something round in Japanese. It is originated from Ōmiwa Shrine, which is also one of the oldest shrines known in Japan. The shrine serves a deity of the development of the country, but such deity is also known as the god of sake. That’s why many breweries owner and toji (master brewers) will visit the shrine before the season of sake brewing of the year.
After the shrine visit, they will go to Mount Miwa to gather branches from the holy cedar trees. They turn it into a ball, bring back to their breweries and decorate it at the entrance, in order to bring back the blessings of the god of sake every year.
Cedar trees is rumoured to preserving the sake from rotting, and also serves as a time indicator to brewers in ancient times. When the cedar ball is all new and green, it is time to start brewing. When it turns yellow, it is time the new sake is made. Next time when you visit a brewery and seeing a yellow cedar ball outside their entrance, you know it is time to try their newly-brewed sake!