Sake is the general term referring to alcoholic drinks in Japan. Nihonshu is what Japanese sake is called in Japan. It is a fermented beverage made from rice, the staple food grain for the country, and abundant soft water. The process for making sake has been refined from ancient times, when the serving of nihonshu was limited to the ruling classes. Gradually from the Kamakura period, around the 13th century, nihonshu started to be enjoyed by regular citizens as well. By the Momoyama period or the end of the 16th century, it had continued to grow in popularity, albeit slowly. In the 15th and 16th centuries when rivalries between regional warlords had heightened, sake making techniques were disseminated across Japan, underlying the many unique varieties of jizake, or locally brewed sake.
Nihonshu is such an integral part of Japanese lifestyle and food culture that labeling requirements are specified exclusively by Japan, including what terms and volume units are to be used and what items are to be included on the labels. At the turn of the 21st century, nihonshu has become more familiar and is enjoyed worldwide, chiefly due to the soaring popularity of Japanese cuisine. Therefore, sake labels, both their descriptions and designs, are changing to better communicate with consumers from all over the world. Nihonshu is a distinctive, well-crafted beverage with many varieties to be enjoyed and explored.