Raise a masu sake cup and embrace the sake-drinking traditions of Japan’s historical elite. The masu are hand-crafted from Japanese cypress, a great luxury in Japan. In the days of the Kyoto imperial court, only the Emperor and his appointed shoguns could afford it. Cypress has a delicate, woody fragrance, and is said to complement the flavour of traditionally brewed sakes that are aged in cedarwood casks.

The proper way to drink from a masu is to hold the cup diagonally – that is, with one corner of the square facing towards you. Use both hands to lift the cup, one on either side supporting opposite corners. Bring the masu to your face and gently inhale the aroma of the sake mingled with the cypress wood. Then take a small sip, letting the sake linger on your tongue before swallowing.

The proper way to drink from a masu is to hold the cup diagonally

 

If you are using masu cups at celebrations, the traditional way to use them is with another small glass placed inside. Slowly pour sake into the glass, letting it overflow into the masu. This represents the host’s overflowing hospitality, and is an act of appreciation by the host for their guests. To avoid spills, bend your head towards the table and sip the sake from the glass – do not pick up the cup yet! When the level of sake has gone down, you can either pour the rest of the sake from the glass into the masu, or the other way around. Then continue to drink as normal.

Masu were originally used to measure rice when it was used as currency in feudal Japan. Square masu are therefore made to strict measurements. Our square masu cups are equal to 1 ‘gou’, and hold 180ml.

Masu were originally used to measure rice when it was used as currency in feudal Japan. Masu are therefore made to strict measurements.

 

The pentagon-shaped masu have a special significance when given as gifts. The Japanese word for pentagon is gokaku. This sounds like another Japanese word, goukaku, which means ‘to pass (an exam)’. Pentagonal masu are therefore traditional good luck gifts to give someone taking an entrance exam or applying for a new qualification.

Japanese cypress, or hinoki, contains an aromatic essential oil. As well as being fragrant, it has natural anti-bacterial properties. To care for your cypress masu, wipe with a damp cloth and dry thoroughly. If they need washing, hand wash only under running water. Do not use soap or detergent. Towel-dry as much as possible, then leave to air dry completely and store in a dark, dry place.

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