Sake is a beverage synonymous with Japanese culture, and it’s been part of the Japanese lifestyle for over 2,500 years. Usually used to mark special occasions or celebrate rituals, traditions or just a quiet night with friends, sake is a Japanese staple that cannot be missed.
Alongside this cloudy alcoholic beverage, however, is a curious wooden box that is often pictured and used together. The masu is almost as iconic as sake itself, and in this post, we’ll be sharing all about the origins of masu and it’s use in Japan today.
What is a masu?
With a history of over 1,300 years, the masu originally wasn’t used as a cup. With straight edges and sharp corners that don’t fit well with the human mouth, the masu developed as a measuring device for foods including soy sauce and uncooked rice.
Known as 枡/masu, there are other words in Japanese that are pronounced in a similar way. 増す means “to increase” and 益す that means “to fill up”, and because these words can convey a wish for prosperity and plenty, the wooden masu cup has come to be seen as auspicious.
Most masu are made of hinoki or cedar wood, which have natural antibacterial properties to keep food and drink fresh.
Where can you find masu?
Today, masu are lid-less and traditionally used to drink sake in special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings. The wooden masu cup is said to complement traditionally brewed sake, since it's brewed in wooden casks. They also carry a woodsy, clean scent as an added touch, and can be used as a container for a short glass or by as a cup itself.
You can also often spot sake in masu at an izakaya or casual Japanese-style restaurant. If you order sake by the glass, the server may bring over an empty glass inside a masu and pour away from a large bottle until the sake overflows (with the masu acting as a bowl to catch the overflowing sake) This style of serving is called sosogi-koboshi, a noun cobbled together from the verbs “sosogu” (to pour) and “kobosu” (to spill over). Although filling it this way has no special meaning, it’s widely believed that filling a glass until it overflows is a gesture of generosity.
How to drink from a masu
If you’re drinking directly from the masu, we recommend holding the cup diagonally towards you with hands on two opposing corners. Hold the cup close to your face and take in the aroma of sake, which will be slightly tinged with the smell of fresh cedar. Tip back taking a small sip, and let it linger in your mouth for a moment before swallowing.
If you’re using a masu simply as a stand for the overflowed sake glass, dip your head low and sip directly from the glass like a crane, keeping the masu cup and its components resting on the table. As the contents begin to go down, you can pick up the glass and pour the rest of the sake either into the glass cup or the wooden masu, depending on what you prefer to drink from.
Masu as an inspiration
Housing Edobio's Moisturizing Soufflé Soap, the Masu Soap draws is inspiration from the masu. Similar to how masu holds sake, Edobio's masu holds the cup and all the skincare goodness of sake lees extracts. Suitable for both face and body, the masu cup also acts as a container for storage, keeping the soap intact for your next usage.
Containing no additives, this alkaline soap creates a concentrated soufflé type foam that mildly cleanses the skin. With BiProGE® (Edobio's original lactic acid), this soap is perfect especially for those with sensitive skin. Click here to check it out.