Glossary - Food Culture



Medicinal alcohol drunk on New Year’s in the hopes of long life and to ward off evil

What is toso?  

Toso is a fragrant, medicinal alcohol made from sake or mirin infused with toso spices that is primarily drunk on New Year's to ward off evil and wish for a long life. Toso spices contain a blend of 5-10 different herbal medicines, and the ingredients differ depending on the manufacturer. Many include Japanese pepper which helps maintain stomach health.


Toso is attributed to famed Chinese physician Hua Tuo from the Wei kingdom (220-265) who developed it and offered it to Emperor Cao Cao. From there, it spread through China until it arrived in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185). It started as a tradition of the imperial court, but spread to the rest of the populace from there.

Occasions related to toso

It is said that traditionally, the toso spices were put into a red, triangular silk bag on New Year's, then everyone drank toso from the bottle in the order of youngest to eldest, with the remainder at the end being poured into the well. The proper way to drink toso involves drinking from tosoki (a set of three sake cups of different sizes specially made for toso), however if you do not have the appropriate tosoki you can also drink from the same cup three times. New Year’s sake is sometimes referred to as toso.