From the ancient times up until the Heian Period, sake was brewed mainly as an
offering to the gods and served in unglazed earthenware vessels. From the middle
ages onwards, large size vermilion-lacquered wooden vessels became popular and
massive banquets were held where people took turns drinking chilled sake from
the same vessel. In those days, the alcohol content of sake was only half of
what we drink today, so people did not get drunk unless a large quantity of sake
As we entered the modern era, the size of sake vessels diminished due to two important shifts in sake drinking habits, and with that, a variety of ceramic sake cups were introduced. These changes were the increase in the alcoholic content of sake, and the development of licensed quarters where people drank in smaller congregations.
The containers used to hold the sake were developed as well. A bottle with a wide upper body, a narrow base and small pour spout called "Heishi (sake bottle)" was used to offer sake to the gods. This identical bottle is still used for that same purpose at the present time.
In the middle ages, from the beginning of Muromachi Period onwards, "Tokkuri", "Hisage" and "Choshi" were introduced. "Tokkuri" is a sake bottle of about 4.5 liter which served both as conveyance and storage for sake. From the "Tokkuri", sake is divided into a lidless, lipped bottle with a handle called the "Hisage", and served in a smaller bottle called the "Choshi".
The "Choshi", of that era, was different to the current "Ichigo-Tokkuri (Tokkuri holding around 180ml)" that we commonly use. However, this "Choshi" is the same type used in the traditional nuptial oath.
In the middle of Edo Period, a new way to drink sake became popular amongst the
people. The new trend was to heat up the sake. Purpose-made sake heating pots to
be put directly on a fire and Tokkuri (180ml and 360ml) for heating sake in hot
water were introduced.
There have been records of nobles, during the Heian Period, heating up the sake from the Chrysanthemum Festival till the Doll's Festival of the following year, but this did not become common amongst the everyday people until the middle Edo Period. The trend seemed to have been influenced by a book called the "Yojokun" written by Ekiken Kaibara (1630-1714), a doctor of the Fukuoka Domain. In his book, he writes "Sake should not be consumed chilled or hot. Both are not good for the stomach. Lukewarm sake is best".
As his word spread around, a variety of heating utensils and sake cups started to appear, and it became as though the only sensible way to drink sake was by warming it up.
Ekiken Kaibara (1630-1714)
As people's drinking habits shifted towards drinking from small, individual
cups, rather than sharing a large vessel, a new custom started to emerge. Cups
were exchanged to show respect or to deepen friendship between individuals.
However, many felt that offering a cup, which a person drank from without
washing it may not be courteous, therefore, vessels for washing these cups were
Towards the end of Edo Period, this vessel was called "the bowl for making a cup clear" and from the Meiji Period, it was called "Haisen (washing a cup)".
The commonly used phrases, "no water required between a parent and the child" or "no water required between married couples" (The real meaning of this phrase in Japanese is "private time with the closest family") are phrases which emerged from people's perception that "Haisen is not required between a child and its parents or between a married couple".