The first time I saw one of these jars, while walking down a very popular tourist strip in Naha, I must have jumped about ten feet in the air before I moved away, as fast as I could. As it turns out, this reaction dulled fairly quickly because these jars of sake were everywhere. They lined almost every liquor store wall that we walked by.
This sake is a very special type that is only produced in Okinawa. As I have mentioned before, each place in Japan has some sort of special food or drink, this is the special one in Okinawa.
The snakes inside the sake jar are called Habu. They are venomous pit vipers native to the Ryukyu Islands in Japan. While they are not agressive, usually, their bite is very painful and has been known to lead to fatalities.
When this particular variety of sake is brewed, they add the snakes in order to release their venom into the drink. The venom is sufficiently dilute within the sake to avoid causing harm, but it does, apparently, provide an interesting “buzz.”
This sake is seriously expensive. Jars the size of the one at the top of the post were about 100,000 yen ($1,000). However, cheaper bottles (sans snake) were also for sale.
And, despite the fact that it was sold almost everywhere, not a single one of us got up the nerve to actually try it. I, personally, couldn’t move beyond the fact that there were snakes floating in the jars. And, honestly, I am okay with that. I don’t feel bad about passing up that opportunity.
There were other snakes for sale as well. At this market stall they were selling dried snakes. I really have no idea what they would be used for, aside from playing a really awesome April Fool’s joke, but that just goes to show that I have much to learn about this country.