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A starter’s guide to Japanese sake sets

Tom Inoue

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Sake is enjoyed not only through its taste but also through its unique drinking experience. Sake sets, in particular, contribute in creating and enhancing an authentic Japanese atmosphere.

But what makes a sake set and which one should I try?

We’ve prepared a guide to help you in making this choice.

1. Three types of Sake Sets by situation

In a Sake bar or Izakaya


In a sake bar or Japanese ‘Izakaya’, a sake set comprises a small or medium-sized cup, and a tokkuri or a lipped cup (katakuchi). This is also the most common type of sake set.

A sake set can be made from earthenware, ceramic, glass, metal, or wood.

Several izakayas also serve sake in square wooden cups (masu). The masu was originally used to measure the volume of sake before it was used as a cup.

In terms of volume, a tokkuri can generally hold 5.1 – 12.2 fl oz (150 – 360 ml). Masu cups hold 6.1 fl oz (180 ml).

At a ceremony


During ceremonial events, a flat, saucer-like sakazuki is used. The set comes with stacked sakazuki cups and a sake pot (see image). The material used is most often, but not limited to, red lacquer.

In a restaurant


Photo credit: http://www.sakenomise.com/

Restaurants often use stemmed glass in serving sake. Though only a newly adopted style, a stemmed glass is perfect for bringing out the aroma of sake.

2. The Sake Set for Home use

The best sake set to use at home is a combination of a tokkuri and a small or medium-sized cup since it’s the standard of sake sets. Various designs, colors, shapes, and sizes will give you an opportunity find the favorite combination.

3. Popular Sake Sets

sake set

You may hear from others that the shape and materials used for a sake set will affect the taste of sake. Although true, personal preference is still your best guide in choosing.

Having said this, here are popular designs of sake sets to choose from:

Very Japanese-like design

japanese design

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/

A Shinto shrine and cherry blossoms are depicted on these sake vessels.
Price: $11.99

A big tokkuri with different colored cups

big tokkuri

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/

The Japanese character on the tokkuri describes the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter) and aptly comes with four colored cups.
Price: $31.89

Cool and stylish tokkuri set

cool and stylish

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/

This ceramic sake set integrates contemporary and traditional art.
Price: $17.42


Photo credit: http://www.saketreat.com/

Coming in at a very steep price, this set is made by a traditional pottery master. As you can see from the picture, its design and color is elegant and beautiful.
Price: $280

4. Traditional potteries in Japan

Sake sets can also be produced using different Japanese pottery techniques. As a matter of fact, different regions in Japan have their own styles of creating pottery.


A: Kutani ware


Kutani, produced in Ishikawa, is characterized by its splendid design. You can see multiple colors and bold designs on its surface. It has about 400 years of history.

B: Bizen ware


Bizen, produced in Okayama, is characteristically hard and reddish-brown in color. Its outer markings are a result of kiln firing under different conditions. Because of this, no two items are identically marked.

The more you use it, the more enhanced its color and design becomes. It also makes the taste of sake mellow. Out of all the styles of pottery, Bizen ware is said to have the highest quality.

C: Hagi ware


Hagi ware, produced in Yamaguchi, generally has a translucent white color. As you use it, sake or tea interfuses into its surface’s tiny cracks, which results in its color changing beautifully over time. This makes Hagi very popular especially for traditional tea ceremonies in Japan.

D: Karatsu ware


Karatsu, produced in Saga, uses a combination of four different types of glaze that create beautiful and artistic designs. Among the different types of Karatsu, the popular varieties based on style are: painted, mottled, and Korean (shown in image).

Together with Bizen, Karatsu is said to be the best as a sake vessel.

E: Arita (or Imari) ware


Arita, also produced in Saga, is characterized by its translucent white surface and a delicate but striking design.

It is popular not only in Japan but worldwide. In the 17th century, Arita is exported extensively to Europe, which strongly influenced its succeeding designs. Arita was also exported from Imari port, which is why Arita is also called Imari.

F: Mino ware


Mino, produced in Gifu, comes mainly in three colors; yellow, black, and pale red with a white background. Mino accounts for 60% of all potteries in Japan.

Its asymmetric design was brought about by an evolutional momentum centuries ago.

G: Seto ware


Seto ware, produced in Aichi, is made either with ceramic or earthenware. Due to its popularity, the word “seto” has come to mean “pottery” in Japan. Seto ware has no singular appearance as it comes in various colors and designs.

H. Toko-name ware


Toko-name, also produced in Aichi, is well-known for its flashy red color. It is also produced in various colors and has the longest history among all Japanese potteries.

I: Shigaraki ware


Shiragaki, produced in Shiga, is made of clay. It’s iron content creates a rusty-looking surface. With a unique-type of kiln used to produce it, shiragaki ware is coated with ash and minerals during firing. This creates a greenish-yellow, or dark-reddish natural glaze on its surface.

J: Iga ware

Iga, produced in a region of the same name, uses local clay that contains small pebbles. This creates a rustic appearance and a deformed shape which represents the beauty of simplicity and quietude (‘wabi-sabi’) in Japan. It is similar to Shigaraki ware.

Photo credit: http://i-zukan.net/

With the many different varieties of sake sets available—not to mention the styles of Japanese pottery they come in-– things can get overwhelming.

We suggest starting with a tokkuri and small or medium-sized cup (your choice, of course!) set first. Try more types as you get more accustomed to them. Who knows, this may be the start of an entirely unique sake experience for you!

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