Look up as you enter Shukuu and you will spot a green ball hanging above our entrance. Known as a Sugidama 杉玉, this is no mere ball of foliage but a ball made of fresh green boughs of cedar tied together. This decoration is a symbol of age-old tradition that harks back to the days when Sakes were aged and stored in cedar casks. A Sugidama is hung outside Sake breweries in November or December each year, marking the period of intense brewing. It represents the stage of Sake production right after the pressing (separation of Sake from the mash) is completed. As winter progresses, the Sugidama gradually turns brown, signifying that the period of maturation has ended and the freshest batch is ready to be drunk!
Photo credit: http://www.gekkeikan.co.jp/english/history/earlyyears/sugidama.html
Originating from the Edo period, the Sugidama also holds religious significance in the Shinto religion. The tradition is speculated to have started at a shrine named Miwa Jinja in the Nara Prefecture, where a sake-related god takes residence through worship.
Today, not all Sugidama are made from cedar boughs from shrines. Many breweries craft their own boughs; a point of pride alongside their amazing Sake recipes! Furthermore, Sugidama today appear not only in front of breweries but also hanging in front of Sake retail stores as well as establishments serving sake. If you stumble across any of these on your trip to Japan, it's evident that the place is showing respect to the history of local brewing!