Sake Story - The "Overflow" Pour In A Masu
We have all been there - we have all seen it - hell - now we expect it. That great event that some describe as the "overflow." That wonderful overflow of sake that occurs usually when a glass is inside a wooden or lacquer box called a masu, or is on a saucer shaped dish with the sake glass nested in the middle. The waitperson literally pours sake over the capacity of the glass, which then "overflows" into the box or dish like a waterfall of goodness. And yes this usually occurs in a sushi restaurant (to this day I have never seen this act in an Italian restaurant with a masu and sake!). But why? Hmmm - there are many theories and many notions - several of which I believe, and some that I don't. (It's a safeguard act of prayer against the ever-present earthquakes in Japan.)
In a word the overflow is an act of kindness by the restaurant's proprietor to show their appreciation for your business. In another word, it's a way to get you liquored up so that you order more food. In yet another word it's a way to not only show appreciation for patronage but it is also a little act of celebration - opulence - a show to lift the spirits and to enjoy life for but a second. In the last word - it's all good!
Do they do this in Japan? You bet - some to a greater degree and some to a lesser! And it also depends on the type of restaurant. Basically it is a ritual or a little ceremony. Some owners enjoy ceremonies more than others. Some owners have a different clientele than others. And still some owners have wider hearts and thicker wallets.
Personally, I like the ceremony of an over-pour! It does make me feel welcome. It does make me feel appreciated, and yes it does lift my spirits. But to a certain degree it posses a potential etiquette problem; how in the hell do I drink my over-abundance? Very carefully! Or not! (Remember my philosophy about enjoying booze - it's a luxury - so do with it what you want and in the way that is most comfortable and fun for you!) The bottom line is to think about how you would like the sake to hit your palate - via glass, wood or lacquer. But first you must get the top'o-the-glass level sake down to a manageable drinkable level, and to do this you have two options.
The first option is the famous Crane Technique - (my word). This is the very quaint option where you discard any form of being a human and you dip your head down to sip the sake directly from the resting box/glass of sake on the table or counter like an animal at a watering hole. (This is good on dates as it shows to your partner that you are willing to devolve into an animal by dipping your head down into certain levels that leaves the mind boggling.)
The second option is the "Walenda" Technique - (again my word based upon the surname of the famous tight-rope walking family.) This the very very nerve-racking option where balance comes very much into play as you must lift the box with a bobbing glass or a plate with a tip-able glass from the table and carefully bring it to your tilted head with pursed lips. (This option is not so good on dates as it is A) potentially dangerous as in you spill and look like an utter dork or B) shows some form of regality as if you are too damn good to be an animal at a watering hole) The call is yours, but the endgame is to get that sake into your gullet and let the celebration take effect!
The next big question comes when you are finished with the first big sip! Where do I put the glass? Back in the pond inside the box or in the little ocean on the plate? Or do I put it on the table. The answer rests in your desire to drink out of the box or out of the glass. I have seen many take the contents of the glass and pour the sake into the box. This will change the nature of the flavor of the sake, but it is sure unique to drink out of a square corner! It is fun! How often do you get to A) drink out of wood B) drink out of a square corner? This is a fun option and is a throwback to the days when many drank out of masu. (In date terms this signals that you like to go with the flow - to act crazy - to seek fun, all of which translates to presumed bed presence.)
Another segment will take the glass and set it on the table and will pour the remaining contents of the box or shallow bowl into the glass. Thus, the box is done. Gone. Of no use, which is perfectly acceptable in the sake drinking world. (In date terms this is a neither here nor there read - A) he likes his sake so he wants to drink out of glass to keep from mixing with the wood tones B) he doesn't want to drool, dribble, slop sake out of his mouth trying to commandeer drinking out of a corner and a flat surface.)
Regardless, there is one action that you DO NOT want to execute - the "put back." If you place your glass on the table - it should remain on the table! (for obvious sanitary reasons) This is always a fun part of the evening and is a barometer or good indicator of who is tipsy and who is not. Usually the well greased will drink and place back into the masu - it's like a magnet. They cannot not do it! Full glass - little sippy then to the table - then another little sippy right back into the flood that still exists in the box! This unsanitary act is far more "noticed" in Japan. Is it way wrong? No. Is it potentially dangerous? Yes if you like drinking flesh- eating bacteria which are often found at seedy/slash cheap sushi shacks. Bottom-line: if you like licking the table then do the "put back" - the alcohol content usually acts as a good buffer against bacterial meanies - usually!
So what's the point? The point of the "overflow" pour is up to you! Take it as a bribe - fine! Take it as folly - why not! Take it as a wonderful ritual - sure! Take it as a chance to forget the stresses of life for but a minute - you bet! But whatever you do acknowledge the "over-flow" pour - make a point of saying something kind - like ummmmm thank you for imparting upon me an abundance of alcohol in a very weird but likeable format!