In Japan, a special occasion isn’t complete without sake, and 1 January is perhaps the one day in the year where drinking alcohol in the morning is perfectly acceptable. Imbibing otoso—a spiced medicinal sake—with family members is usually the first order of the day on 1 January as a literal toast to good health and peace in the household.
Otoso is most commonly made with ingredients such as chinpi (the dried skin of mikan, a Japanese mandarin), cinnamon, and sansho (Japanese pepper), as well as roots such as okera and kikyo. This mixture is usually available as a tea bag at local drugstores—simply steep it in half a bottle of sake the night before New Year’s Day and it’d be ready for consumption the next morning.
If you’re a guest in a Japanese household and offered a drink of otoso, be careful not to down it all at a go! There is a method for drinking otoso. It’s usually served in vermillion cups of three sizes. The cups are filled in three pours from a small kettle-shaped container. And while rituals differ from region to region, the most common one involves passing around the cups—starting from the smallest—with each member of the family taking small sips from each, from the youngest to the eldest. The idea behind this is that the older folk can share in the joy of youth as the cups are passed around.
Otoso is believe to help guard against minor infectious diseases like colds—now if there’s not reason enough to raise a glass and say “kanpai”, we don’t know what is.