Sake Labelling terms & Japanese of Sake Labels

Today, I would like to talk about Japanese sake label and Japanese terminology of Sake label here. Japanese Sake basically has two categories: Basic Sake (Normal Sake)  and Premium Sake. Basic Sake is 普通酒 (futsu-shu) in Japanese that contains distilled alcohol, amino acid, sugars and acid. Premium Sake uses rice, Koji, water and yeast, for Ginjo category, they have a small amount of distilled alcohol. Premium Sake is devided into 8 grades from two aspects of production point of view, one is polishing ratio and one is distilled alcohol. I listed up them as follow. 

特定名称 (Tokuteimeisho) The grades of premium Sake

Polishing ratio Junmai group Ginjo group
50% or less 純米大吟醸 (Junmaidaiginjo) 大吟醸 (Daiginjo)
60% or less

純米吟醸 (Junmaiginjo)

特別純米 (Tokubetsujunmai)

吟醸 (Ginjo)

特別本醸造 (Tokubetsuhonjozo)

70% or less

純米 (Junmai)

特別純米 (Tokubetsujunmai)

本醸造 (Honjozo)

特別本醸造 (Tokubetsuhonjozo)

100% or less

純米 (Junmai)

特別本醸造 (Tokubetsuhonjozo)

特別本醸造 (Tokubetsuhonjozo)

※As long as I know, no Sake in commercial.


Junmai group doesn't contain Jozo alcohol (distilled alcohol).

Ginjo group contains a small amount of Jozo alchol (distilled alchol) to enhance Ginjo aroma and make Sake lighter taste. 

There are two grades that has 特別 word, 特別純米 (Tokubetujunmai) and 特別本醸造 (Tokubetsuhonjozo). This means "special" in Japanese. They are defined by 60% or less polishing ratio or the use of special ingredients or production process.


Brewery year (Comparison between western and Japanese Era)

Western Year

Japanese Imperial Era

Brewery Year

From July 1 to June 30 (next year) 

2016 Heisei 28 2016 July 1-2017 June 30  BY 28
2017 Heisei 29 2017 July 1-2018 June 30  BY 29
2018 Heisei 30 2018 July 1-2019 June 30  BY 30
2019 Heisei 31 and Reiwa 1 2019 July 1-2020 June 30  BY 1
2020 Reiwa 2 2020 July 1-2021 June 30  BY 2


(Kikuhime Tsurunosaro Yamahaijunami.Both of 2018 and BY30 ("三十" is 30) are written on the label.)  

(Back label of Kikuhime Tsurunosato 2018 (BY30, "三十" is 30) vintage. 製造年月日 is "bottling and release date from a brewery ")


Japanese Kanji characters used on labels of Japanese Sake

日本酒 and 清酒 : Japanese Sake. "清酒" means fining Sake and this is official term. Japanese Sake is legistlated to be listed "日本酒" or "清酒" on the label.

:Sake, Alcohol.

 : Rice.(As for Sake specific rice name, please fine the other blog.)

純米 : Junami. Literal meaning is pure rice. If this word is written on the label, no distilled alcohol is added. 

特別純米: Tokubetsujunmai. 特別(Tokubetsu) means special in Japanese.

純米吟醸: Junmaiginjo. Literal meaning is pure rice scrutinized fermentation.

純米大吟醸: Junmaidaiginjo. Literal meaning is pure rice greatly scrutinized fermentation.

本醸造: Honjozo. Literal meaning is original fermentation.

特別本醸造: Tokubetsuhonjozo. 特別(Tokubetsu) means special in Japanese.

吟醸: Ginjo. This literal meaning is scrutinized fermentation.

大吟醸: Daiginjo. "大" means big or great in Japanese. This literal meaning is greatly scrutinized fermentation.

山廃: Yamahai. One of method of making a fermentation starter. This is abbreviation of ”山卸廃止酛”. This method is a simplified method version of 生酛  (Kimoto). If there is no "山廃" word on the label, the fermentation starter the sake is "basically" "速醸" (Sokujo). "速醸" is industrial standard method and literal meaning is quick fermentation.  

生酛: Kimoto. One of method of making a fermentation starter. Direct literal meaning is "living starter". If there is no "生酛" word on the label, the fermentation starter the sake is "basically" "速醸" (Sokujo). "速醸" is industrial standard method and literal meaning is quick fermentation.  

(Back label of Miyasaka produced by Miyasaka Brewing Company, Brand Name "Masumi". "七号酵母 (Nana-gou-kobo)" means No.7 yeast which is isolated from Miyasaka Brewery. This is Masumi yeast and also industrial standard yeast. "中取り (Nakadori)" in Japanese means second fraction during filtration. This second fraction is the best quality. )

精米歩合: Seimai buai. Polishing (milling) ratio. If polishing ratio is 60%, 60% of the rice is remaining.

日本度: Nihonshu-do. If direct translate, "Sake Meter Value" is quite suitable. If the value is higher, it means that residual sugar content is small, and drier. If the value is lower (in case of sweet Sake, the value is minus.), the sake is sweeter.  

酸度: Acidity. 

酵母: Yeast. (Please find another blog about yeast.)

: Koji. The rice covered with mould spores.

(Back label of Iwanai Muroka series. This is "無濾過" (not charcoal fining), "純米吟醸"(Junamiginjo) and, "生原酒"(not diluted and not pasteurized) style Sake. This Sake is very sensitive for temperature control. This Sake is not diluted, so, the alcohol content is slightly higher 17%.)

古酒: Koshu. Literal meaning is old Sake or aged Sake. Some brewers aged Sake longer and release with this term. 

生酒: Namazake. Not pasteurized Sake. "生" means raw. This sake is not stable and must be kept in refrigerator. 

生貯蔵: Namachozo. This Sake is pasteurized just once (normally pasteurization is done twice), after storage in bulk. This is legally defined. The literal meaning is "raw storage".

原酒: Genshu. Not diluted Sake. 

無濾過: Muroka. No charcoal fining Sake.

製造年月日: Manufacturing date (direct translation).  In Japanese regulation of Japanese Sake industry, manufacturing date is "bottling (packed and sealed in a container) and release date" by the brewers.


Those labeling terms in Japanese is very typical. Some of them are legislated, some of them are not legislated. If you know those Japanese words, you can taste Japanese Sake more deeply. 

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