Kagami Biraki: The Traditional Sake Ceremony

The Japanese people enjoy a number of traditional ceremonies, including kagami biraki. Literally translated, this means the opening of the mirror. Of course, this is just a metaphor. Instead of a mirror, it’s actually a barrel of sake that is opened. Kagami biraki is a celebration that marks a major change in someone’s life, and so it can be held any time of the year. For instance, you could get your friends together at a Japanese steakhouse to celebrate a graduation with this traditional sake ceremony.

Events Associated with Kagami Biraki

Most often, kagami biraki is held to celebrate the New Year. Odd numbers are favored in Japan, and so the New Year celebration is typically held on January 11. Many traditional dojos, which are martial arts schools, will schedule a kagami biraki to usher in the New Year. This traditional ceremony may also be held at weddings and sports events. Companies might hold a kagami biraki to launch a new venture.

History of Kagami Biraki

It’s thought that the first person to hold this ceremony was the fourth Tokugawa Shogun. About 300 years ago, the Shogun gathered together his daimyo—who were influential feudal lords—to break open a cask of sake before a battle. They triumphed in battle, and so the ceremony continued as a good luck superstition.

Types of Kagami Biraki

Kagami biraki can refer to two different ceremonies. The celebration of the New Year traditionally involves the breaking of the kagami mochi. This translates to “mirror rice cake.” Kagami mochi is two rice cakes of different sizes. The smaller cake is placed on top of the larger one. It’s also traditional to top the smaller rice cake with a daidai—a Japanese bitter orange—that has an attached leaf. Kagami mochi is traditionally cooked in a soup on kagami biraki. The other ceremony that involves sake includes the opening of the sake barrel with wooden mallets. Then, masu cups are filled with a wooden ladle, called a hishaku.

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