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Sho Chiku Bai (松竹梅) 

“Three Friends of Winter”

Takara’s flagship sake, Sho Chiku Bai, takes its name from elements in nature that symbolize age-old Japanese traditions and beliefs. Shochikubai , the Japanese transliteration of the phrase from old Chinese, has been in existence since the time of Confucius and together symbolizes endurance, sacredness, prosperity, and refined beauty. In 1920, when Takara Sake created the brand, the word shochikubai conveyed the very qualities underlying Takara’s dedication to creating “The Sake for Joyous Occasions.”

The classic Chinese phrase, “Three Friends of Winter,” is a tribute to the characteristics of these three trees. The evergreen pine tree, matsu (松) in Japanese, able to endure blizzards and bitter cold, is a symbol of vitality.  Bamboo (take 竹) in Japanese, which grows with unyielding force, represents vigor, strength, and agility. The richly fragrant, the first blossoming plum tree, ume (梅) in Japanese, not only evokes springtime but also signifies graceful beauty. 

Throughout Japanese history, pine and plum trees, and bamboo, have been favorite subjects of auspicious stories, arts, and rituals. As the olive tree has deep associations in Greek mythology and culture, so the Japanese associations with these three trees have a profound connection to the Japanese way of life. The many folk stories portraying Japan’s natural beauty and Japanese life always make mention these symbolic trees.

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“Three Friends of Winter,” painting from the Song Dynasty, China

The evergreen pine has come to symbolize longevity

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Pine tree (松): sōng in Chinese; matsu in Japanese 

The Chinese have long perceived that even covered in frost, evergreen pines flourish, and so the pine tree has come to symbolize longevity.

Today, at New Year, the Japanese place a special symbolic decoration of the pine tree and bamboo, called Kadomatsu, at the front entrance of their homes, to invite longevity and celebration of the season. This is similar to the Christmas wreath, hung on front doors to welcome in the season.

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 Kadomatsu, usually in pairs, are placed in front of the entrance of a house
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Noh play at Kasuga Shrine, (CC3.0. j) 
Note the pine trees drawn on the wood paneling at the back of the stage.

Bamboo signifies unlimited prosperity

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Bamboo (竹) : zhú in Chinese; take in Japanese

There is a saying in Japanese culture: “A pine lives 1000 years; bamboo lives 10,000 generations.” With its unceasing growth, freshness, strength of the evergreen, and vast expanse of roots, the bamboo signifies unlimited prosperity. For this reason, it is often seen in rituals and celebrations. 

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Screen painting by Korin, Japan, 17th century

The plum symbolizes the collective anticipation of spring

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Plum (梅): meí in Chinese; ume in Japanese

Since its blooms precede those of other flowers, plum blossoms are said to announce the coming of spring and symbolize the collective anticipation of its coming. Today, when one thinks of the symbolic flower of Japan, the sakura (cherry) comes to mind. However, during the early Heian era, it was the Japanese plum. It was not until 166 years after the transfer of the capital from Nara to Kyoto that it was replaced by the sakura tree. For the people of that era, the plum more than any other flower was seen as the harbinger of spring and was loved as a sign of good fortune. 


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Red Plum painting by Korin, Japan, 17th century

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Sho Chiku Bai logo

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