A Quick Sip from the Corner: Origins & Meaning of Kaku-Uchi

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Kaku-uchi is still one of those words you will rarely hear outside Japan. The term has been around for a long time, but in Japan, this concept is evolving faster than a pokemon with a candy hangover. Recent interesting evolutions include Neo-kaku-uchi and Spanish Kaku-uchi. Still unfamiliar what kakuuchi is all about but want to know more? Allow KURAND to be your guide.

What is Kaku-uchi?

Kaku-uchi is a basically a corner or space in a liquor store where you can taste their sake, often after hours, and it is generally an all-standing affair, but some places do provide seating, often in the form of overturned sake crates.

The Etymology

Kaku-uchi is made up of the Japanese words for corner (kaku) and to tap (uchi).

It will probably surprise even native Japanese people to learn that this term is more likely to have originated from its literal interpretation as slang for the action of drinking from a wooden box called a masu as it is common to drink from one of the corners. Kaku-uchi may refer to the way the mouth touches the corner.

So How Did Kakuuchi Start?

So, why did liquor stores adopt the word kaku-uchi?
The tradition can be traced back to Japan’s industrial revolution and is thought to have started in Kyushu before spreading north. Back then a pay and weigh system using the masu was very popular. However, for some customers the aroma and sight of delicious sake simply couldn’t wait until they got home, and so, to keep them from salivating any longer, the stores began a system where the sake could be enjoyed on the premises. And of course because people were generally drinking from the corner of masu, the kaku-uchi term naturally caught on, or at least that’s the popular theory.

However, there are numerous counter theories.

Kakuuchi by Any Other Name

For example, in some parts of Japan, they do not call drinking sake in the store kaku-uchi.

In Kansai, for example, it is called tachinomi and in Tohoku, it is more often than not called mokkiri.

Kaku-uchi is a great way to discover sake. At some stores you drink the sake you purchased, while others put on a special tasting menu and may even include little nibbles or finger food in the form of regional sake pairing delicacies called chinmi, or in the winter, some places go the whole hog and cook up warm comfort food for you to indulge in like oden, butakakuni or sukiyaki.

While it is not exactly kaku-uchi, in a way, the all-you-can-taste concept that KURAND operates is loosely inspired by it. KURAND is not a retail store so it does not sell any sake on the premises, but we have begun selling online via our parent company. We hope to make this service available in English in the future. For now, why not pop into KURAND the next time you are in Tokyo, and experience our version of Kaku-uchi for yourself, and don’t worry, we provide seating.