Sansankudo 三三九度

Three red flat sake vessels, sakazuki, of descending size, sit inside each other. They are red lacquerware with gold around the rim. They are made in Japan and used for the sansankudo ritual in a Shinto wedding ceremony.

Three three nine times is the literal translation of sansankudo. An integral part of a Shinto wedding ceremony involving drinking sake. As you can imagine, Super Sake Boy and I were quite enamoured with the concept of building this ancient ritual into our own wedding ceremony. Trying very hard not to culturally appropriate, I have decided to write about sansankudo so as to better understand it and for research for the upcoming nuptials.

There seems to be some confusion over how long this particular ritual has been part of the traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. I read many suggestions that it began in the early Edo Period (1603-1868). Most of these accounts were written in regards to wedding ceremonies by non-Japanese people. I read one account that placed its inception during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). This was written on an English speaking Japanese website. I feel this may be a more credible site. It may just be that I am enamoured with the idea that such a ritual could have been taking place for so many hundreds of years. The age of the practice is reasonably irrelevant.

The physical act involves three cups, one small, one medium and one larger. The sake is poured from a special vessel that looks like a teapot. Each cup is poured in three increments. The groom sips three times from the small cup first, the bride follows. The bride then sips from the medium cup three times and the groom follows. Finally the groom sips from the larger cup three times, followed by the bride. Sometimes the parents of the couple also sip from the cups. This increases the three symbolism with three couples.

The custom itself is interpreted in many different ways. Three is a lucky number in Japan and nine is really lucky as it is three times three. One suggestion of the meaning is the cups represent Love, Wisdom and Happiness. Another that they symbolise Heaven, Earth and Humankind. I also read some explanations that talked about the action banishing undesirable traits. The meaning which Super Sake Boy and I both connected with describes the small cup represents the past. This offers gratitude to the couple’s ancestors for allowing their chance meeting. The medium cup represents the present, where the couple are binding their energy for a happy and long life together. The large cup represents the future. It is a wish for protection and tranquility as one family going forward. This is particularly meaningful for us, as we blend our family together legally. We have four children between us.

I am looking forward to incorporating this ritual into our ceremony. Our beautiful friend and sake senpai (mentor) Simone, the Sake Mistress, will perform the formality and now the most difficult decision we have around this aspect of our wedding is which sake to drink during the ceremony.

5 thoughts on “Sansankudo 三三九度

  1. What!! You two are getting married? Congratulations! (Sorry if I missed it in a previous post, I have been in my own special study-induced lockdown the last few months and not reading anything unrelated to study)

    I was lucky enough to see this once at a friend’s wedding 🙂 I didn’t know what was going on and I thought they were drinking tea. The ceremony was in a Buddhist temple and was absolutely beautiful.
    I look forward to knowing what you choose!

  2. Since I lived in Japan in my twenties and worked with a bunch of people around that age, I have known many people to get married to Japanese wives (not so many husbands……) . Several of them had traditional Japanese weddings. I was never invited to them (and saved from giving a rather large amount of money and receiving a gift that I probably didn’t want), but I have heard stories of their sake experience. One told me that, later, he was told that he didn’t have to drink it all. He did, and was a bit loopy for the ceremony.
    Congratulations on your wedding plans. I am sure the sake will be excellent and the ceremony, however you arrange it, will be beautiful.

    1. Thank you, Anthony. The gift giving etiquette in Japan freaks me out. I know the gifts for guests at weddings are usually very opulent.
      Thank you for your wishes…watch this space. No doubt I will blog about it. Today, I’m off to meet with the Sake Mistress to do some saké planning 😉

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