Today, even some Japanese restaurants overseas serve cold sake in a cypress “masu” cup. The great aroma of cypress enhances the flavor of sake, to the point where once you try the combination, you might not be able to do without it ever again.
Masu was originally used as a measuring cup. In Japan, people use the terms ichi-go or i-ssho (equals to ten “go”) to measure rice and sake, and a level “masu” cup of rice is ichi-go (one go), making for one to two servings of rice when cooked.
The city of Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture boasts the largest production of cypress “masu” cups in Japan. Cypress is a rare type of wood which is said to take 300 years to grow 30 centimeters in radius. It has a fine grain of beautiful colors and is easy to process and highly durable. Not only is it used as architectural material in sacred shrines and temples, but it can also be found in the forms of cutting boards and counters at sushi restaurants for its antibacterial effect. Taking a bath in a cypress tub feels like walking in the forest, and it had the added health benefit of warding off ticks.
When making “masu” cups, the wood materials are first dried in order to prevent shrinking and the forming of gaps, then cut into the shapes of side and bottom pieces to be assembled. The edges of each piece are cut into such shapes that they can be alternately put together, making the final look of the product beautiful. The assembled “masu” cup then gets decorated with symbols and paint to reach its completed state.
By the way, the use of masu as cups to drink sake became popular during the 1950s to 1960s. The metric system, which had been gradually taking over from traditional measurement methods, became the standard in Japan, and “masu” cups stopped being used for this purpose. However, “masu” cups achieved a “revival” later on as free gifts to accompany Japanese sake and as commemorative gifts at celebrations, where they were appreciated for their beautiful grain and great aroma. Today, masu is getting attention overseas as a traditional Japanese cup, and those who are fans of Japanese cuisine and Japanese sake are already familiar with it. Other than its use in Japanese cuisine, masu is also used as an accessory box or as decoration on tables to stylishly present seasoning such as salt, pepper and other spices.