It’s a new year and we’re happily following the Japanese New Year’s tradition of drinking o-toso (屠蘇), an herb-infused sake enjoyed on New Year’s Day. This spiced sake is created by steeping different herbs and spices such as sansho pepper, dried ginger, and rhubarb, in sake for several hours. The result is a strong, medicinal tasting concoction that is said to ward off evil spirits and any bad luck from the previous year.
The origin of o-toso comes from China and it was originally made using a mixture of eight herbs. This tradition stemmed from the Tang Dynasty and was later adopted by Japanese aristocrats with the tradition traveling to Japan around the Meiji Era.
O-toso is traditionally served from a kyusu instead of a tokkuri, which is similar to a tea pot. It is poured into three cups that are stacked on top of one another and then shared among family members. In the early days, the head of the household would take the first drink on New Year’s Day but the custom has since changed and today, the youngest drinks first so that the joy of youth spreads to the older members of the family.