The Best Sake Sets From Japan

Sake sets from Japan
A sake set consisting of a tokkuri and an o-choko.

Just like with all things in Japan, there is a specific way of doing things, and drinking sake is no exception. Sure, you could take large gulps straight out the bottle when no one is watching, but then you run the risk of being labeled an uncultured savage by the good people of Japan. Fortunately, they invented sake sets. Here we will reveal the typical components of a set, what they are made out of, and review some of the best sake sets you can buy.

Topics Covered

  • Components of a sake set
    • Tokkuri
    • Katakuchi
    • Sakazuki
    • Ochoko
    • Guinomi
    • Masu
  • What are sake sets made out of?
  • The best sake sets
  • The best sake sets with warmers/coolers
  • The best sake set components

Components of a sake set

Every sake set (shuki in Japanese) is made up of one container vessel and two to four drinking cups. The vessel is known as a tokkuri, while the cups have different names depending on their shape. In this section, we will go over the various components that make up a complete set.

Tokkuri

A beautiful Japanese tokkuri surrounded by matching ochokos.
A beautiful Japanese tokkuri surrounded by matching ochokos.

A tokkuri is a container vessel that holds sake and is used for both heating and pouring. Most can hold up to 360ml and have spherical shapes with long thin necks, which helps the aroma travel upwards.

Katakuchi

A Katakuchi and two cups.
A Katakuchi and two cups from samuraimuseum.jp in Tokyo.

The katakuchi, just like the tokkuri, is a sake server. Interestingly, the word katakuchi translates to ‘mouth on one side’ and is named so because of the spout.

The vessel has a history with Japan stretching back for over 1,000 years and is still used today. However, it’s not suitable for hot sake because the wide opening of the vessel will let the sake cool down too quickly.

Sake cups

Sake cups
Three different types of sake cups – a sakazuki, ochoko and guinomi. Buy this set here.

There are three different types of sake cups, as you can see in the image above – 1) Sakazuki, 2) Guinomi, and 3) Ochoko.

Each type of cup affects the taste of sake differently.

1: Sakazuki

The sakazuki, which looks like a saucer, is the earliest type of sake cup used in Japan. They’re no longer commonly used except for during Shinto weddings and other religious ceremonies.

To drink from it, place one hand underneath the sakazuki and hold it on the rim with the other hand.

2: Guinomi

A guinomi is the same as an ochoko – only a little larger and with a curvier shape. These can be used for drinking but are also popular as collector items among sake enthusiasts. Using a guinomi is a less formal way of drinking sake and can also be used for drinking tea.

3: Ochoko

Ochokos, with their small cylindric shapes, resemble shot glasses. They are slightly narrower at the bottom and wider at the top so that the aroma of the sake can easily travel upwards.

These are also by far the most popular types of sake cups, and you are guaranteed to get 2 or 4 of them as part of a set – unlike the guinomi and sakazuki cups, which you have to collect separately.

Masu

Masu cups.
Two masu cups. Image from kanjijp.

The masu is definitely the most interesting item out of all the sake components.

It’s a square wooden cup made from Hinoki wood that was invented during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Initially, it was used for measuring soy sauce, rice, and other grains, but when Japan switched to the metric system, it became a sake drinking cup because the Hinoki wood enhances the aroma and has a pleasurable effect on the taste.

There are two ways you can use a masu. Either pour your drink directly into it or place an empty ochoko inside and when you fill the cup, let the sake overflow a bit into the masu. After you drank from the ochoko, finish the overflowed sake in the box.

The masu is not as popular in Japan as it used to be. It is, however, still used today by traditionalists at izakaya’s (traditional Japanese pubs) and during special cultural/religious ceremonies.


What are sake sets made out of?

Nowadays, sake sets are made from various materials – lacquer, wood, bamboo, metal, glass, plastic, earthenware, and various ceramics.

But if you want to stick to Japanese tradition, then always choose ceramic sake sets – with masu’s being the exception because they should always be made from Hinoki wood. Besides, ceramic sets are perfect for both hot and cold sake. And the Japanese, with their thousands of years of experience in pottery, produce some of the highest quality ceramic.


The best sake sets from Japan

Four seasons ceramic sake set

The four seasons ceramic set is made in Japan and consists of one tokkuri and four o-chokos.

The beautifully glazed tokkuri is imprinted with the kanji characters for the four seasons – summer, autumn, winter, and spring. Also, each of the four drinking cups is a different color to represent the seasons.

The red cup represents autumn leaves, white for the snow in winter, blue for the summer ocean, and green for the grass in spring.

Material: Glazed ceramic.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The set can be microwaved and is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


5-Piece turquoise black sake set

This stunning commercial-grade quality black glazed ceramic set has been handmade in Japan and consists of a tokkuri and four o-choko cups.

Material: Glazed ceramic.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The set can be microwaved and is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


3-Piece tanuki raccoon sake set

This kawaii brown-colored 3-piece ceramic sake set, which resembles raccoons, consists of one tokkuri and two cups.

The high-quality set is made in Japan by the Miya Company and comes packaged in a beautiful black gift box.

Material: Ceramic.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The set can be microwaved and is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


The best sake sets with warmers/coolers

The following sets use candle stoves to heat and keep sake warm. Use one candle to keep temperatures consistent, two to warm sake, and three for hot. Also, check out these other methods for heating sake.


4-Piece Mino-ware tanuki raccoon sake set with warmer

This 4-piece sake set with warmer/cooler is made to look like a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog).

It’s handmade in the small town of Mino in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan. The town is famous for its unique and high-quality pottery products known as Mino-ware ceramics – which is what this cute sake set is made out of.

It includes a warmer, a tokkuri, and two o-chokos.

To use, put hot water inside of the warmer and then place the tokkuri containing the sake inside of it. To cool, put cold water and ice inside of the warmer.

Material: High-quality Mino-ware ceramics.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The set is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


7-Piece Japanese sake set with warmer

This 7-piece textured traditional Japanese sake set consists of a pot, a candle stove, a bowl, and four smaller cups.

It can keep your sake warm or cold. To keep warm, put your drink on the candle stove, and to keep cool, simply fill the bowl with ice and water.

It’s the ideal gift for sake enthusiasts or even for adding a beautiful touch of Japanese decor to your home.

Material: Ceramic.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The set is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


10-Piece ceramic sake set with warmer

This gorgeous white ceramic sake set with warmer/cooler consists of 10 pieces – a candle stove, a warming pot, a tokkuri, 6 cups, and a sushi plate.

Each component in the set has been hand-painted and arrives in a beautiful gift box.

To heat, place 1 to 3 candles (not included) into the candle stove. Pour some warm water into the warming bowl and place it on top of the candle stove. Pour sake into the tokkuri and put it inside the warming bowl. Light the candle/s and wait for the desired temperature.

To keep your drink cool, pour sake into the tokkuri and put it inside the bowl. Put some ice, along with ice-cold water into the bowl too.

Material: Ceramic.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The set can be microwaved and is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


The best sake set components

Kutani-ware o-choko

Kutani-ware o-choko

A beautiful single handmade Kutani-ware o-choko from the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan.

It depicts two Shinto deities – Raijin (God of thunder) and his brother Fūjin (God of wind) – both meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. It also has the Seigaiha wave pattern, which symbolizes wishes for a peaceful life.

Material: The ochoko is Kutani-ware – a type of porcelain that originated in the southern regions of the Ishikawa Prefecture during the 17th Century.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The o-choko can be microwaved and is dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


Three Kutani-ware sake cups in a beautiful wood case

Three Kutani-ware sake cups in a beautiful wood case

This sake glass set consists of three cups, each a different color and shape, and are handmade in the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan.

The shape of each cup allows you to experience the flavor and aroma of sake in a uniquely different way.

With the sakazuki (saucer-shaped flat cup), aromas are much more evident. It’s also easier to experience the lighter complexities in flavor because the sake spreads over your tongue when you drink from it.

The guinomi has a similar effect to the sakazuki, but the complexities in flavor won’t be as evident, while the ochoko causes the sake to flow down the center of the tongue, which tones down any bitter or sour tones in the flavor.

It’s also the perfect sake gift set because the cups come in a beautiful wooden box.

Material: The products are Kutani-ware – a type of porcelain that originated in the southern regions of the Ishikawa Prefecture during the 17th Century.

Ideal for: Hot and cold sake.

Care instructions: The cups are microwave and dishwasher safe, but washing by hand is recommended.


Set of 4 Japanese masu cups

No Japanese sake set is complete without a wooden masu cup. These cups were first used in the Edo period as a measuring tool and later as a drinking cup.

This beautiful set of four masu cups are made from hinoki wood and has the Kanji symbol for happiness engraved into them.

Each masu measures 3.25″ across and is 2.25″ high.

Material: Hinoki wood (Japanese cypress).

Ideal for: Cold sake.

Care instructions: Do not microwave or put into the dishwasher. To wash, hold them under running cold tap water.


Related content

Nihonshu, at least in Japan, is consumed in a very specific way. Learn how to correctly drink it the Japanese way.

Find out more about the different types of nihonshu.

Interested in finding out how nihonshu is made? Find out here.

Don’t forget about other interesting Japanese drinks such as awamori and shochu.