When I first saw these cool rope-wrapped barrels I thought they were one of the neatest things I had seen so far in Japan. When I discovered they were sake barrels, I was even more elated! I later found out, however, that they were empty sake barrels meant for decorative purposes. Before I learned this, I had seen them stacked eight or nine tall and I was amazed that such heavy items, filled with liquid, could be safely stacked like that. My amazement was in vain – they were all empty.
It wasn’t long before I figured out they were also pretty much found at Shinto shrines, which are everywhere in Japan. Sake is not just a liquor to be swilled but has long had spiritual aspects to it as well, being used in many Shinto ceremonies. The shrines go through it fairly quickly as the believers sip it to commune with the gods or their ancestors and the empties pile up in a most photogenic manner. So these stacks of “daru” soon become a common sight to the new visitor.
I’ve read that donating barrels (filled, of course) of sake to a shrine is an act of merit and that the brewers will be prayed for by the priests. This exchange is such a big deal in fact, that a special committee, the shuzokeishinkai (brewer reverence committee) exists to facilitate donations from all over the country and make sure that each shrine gets what it needs.
Given that a regular barrel, like those above, holds about 19 gallons (72 liters), you can get a rough idea of how busy the shrine that displays them is by how many they have stacked outside.
The empty barrels can be obtained on eBay of course but if you’re feeling particularly godly, finding them full may put you to the test. I’ll let you know when I find some.
(Don’t forget the video at the bottom of every post!)