Was nihonshu (what English refers to as "sake") always called nihonshu, or was it only called that once western alcoholic beverages were introduced to Japan?

  • While not identical, this question and its answers might be of interest to you... – Dave Aug 9 '11 at 4:31
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    @Dave: I guess finding related questions is difficult if one question uses romaji and the other doesn't! – Andrew Grimm Aug 9 '11 at 11:58
  • finding related questions is not always easy (the search function in SO is also not the best). It's always a good idea to use kana or kanji when searching for Japanese words (they are the default choice for questions). – Dave Aug 9 '11 at 13:35

The 日本国語大辞典's earliest cite for 日本酒 (nihonshu) is 1886, in Tsubouchi Shoyo's 内地雑居 未来之夢, which is to judge from the title a book about foreigners in Japan. I'd say the chances are good that 日本酒 (nihonshu) is a recent coinage, and before that, the drink was simply called 酒 (sake).

Incidentally, again according to the 日本国語大辞典, the word 葡萄酒 (budōshu) for "[grape] wine" has been around for at least 500 years.

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    This might be a separate question, but what was it called before it was called nihonshu? – Andrew Grimm Aug 8 '11 at 14:08
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    @Andrew Most likely, "sake". – user458 Aug 8 '11 at 14:36
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    Yeah, "sake" was the term before that, and it was apparently already in the language when people started writing it down. e.g. Manyoshu poem 338 is "験無物乎不念者一坏乃濁酒乎可飲有良師" (sirusi naki/ mono wo omohazu ha/ hitotuki no/ nigoreru sake wo/ nomu beku aru rashi), roughly "Don't sweat the small stuff; have a cup of nigorizake instead." – Matt Aug 8 '11 at 23:09
  • Does sake-ya refer to the old meaning of sake, or the new meaning? – Andrew Grimm Aug 8 '11 at 23:17
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    @AndrewGrimm Oldest recorded names that, with some certainty, appear to describe specifically this drink are 口嚼ノ酒 Kuchikami-no-Sake, "chewn drink", from the Oosumi-no-kuni Fudōki (ca. 713); and カビの酒 Kabi-no-Sake "yeast drink" from the Horima-no-kuni Fudōki (ca. 716), at least according to Wikipedia and random Japanese websites. Given Man’yōshū usage, it appears that plain Sake was the everyday word. – melissa_boiko Aug 2 '18 at 9:46

As mentioned above, all alcohol in Japan is 酒 (sake). When it is completely unambiguous, that word is sufficient to convey which form of alcohol you desire.

If you go into a London pub and say, "Give me a drink," you will likely get a pint of bitter. If you go into an inn in Dublin, you may just as likely get a shot of whisky. If you want to be unambiguous, you specify what you want.

For the record, in decades of visiting and living in Japan, I have never heard anybody order "sake" in a restaurant or pub. On the other hand, "sake" is often used to represent all alcohol, as in a store: "酒はどこですか。", or "Where is your alcohol?"

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