Sakamasu: a sake tradition

by Philip Montgomery
archivist and head of the McGovern Historical Center


I found this small wooden box among papers and photos from the estate of Dr. William Jackson “Jack” Schull. Dr. Schull was involved in the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) and later the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) from the late 1940s until his death on June 20, 2017.

To the best of my knowledge this is a masu or more specifically a sakamasu or measuring cup for sake. Several of these have appeared in the archive. This item is 3.25 inches square and just a bit over 2 inches tall. The wood appears to be cypress or cedar, although I am hard pressed to identify wood unless it is clearly labeled.

Traditionally, a small glass is set in the masu, sake is poured into the glass until it overflows and partially fills the masu. Then the lucky recipient drinks from the cup. When the cup is finished, the user drinks from the corner of the masu to finish the excess sake.

This masu is stamped with the date 1981, the place Japan, a strange tower-like or mountain-like icon and then “3rd ICEM.” I am not sure what ICEM means. I thought it might be the “International Conference on Emergency Medicine” but that ICEM never held a 1981 conference in Japan as far as I can ascertain. So, if you know what ICEM might stand for in relation to Japan let us know.

One final point of interest, this masu is signed. Written in ink opposite of ICEM are the names of two men. The first is Ernie Hook, although I am not certain about the spelling of the name. The handwriting may say “Emil” or “Emie.” The other signature is of Tony Searle, the spelling of which I am fairly confident. Along with the names is a combination of katakana and kanji. Maybe if I have time I can laboriously translate the Japanese.

And if you have a masu around the house, drink a toast of sake to Dr. Schull. He would have liked that.


Posted in Medical Archives
One comment on “Sakamasu: a sake tradition
  1. mcgovernhrc says:

    Thanks to Debbie Sibley, the executive director of the TMC Library. She found the meaning of ICEM. It stands for International Conference for Environmental Mutagens, and the 3rd conference for the ICEM was held in Tokyo in 1981. The date and city match up. More importantly, the conference makes sense, because Dr. Schull was a geneticist. She also found an E.B. Hook on his panel. Leave it to a leading librarian to find the answer in minutes. This just goes to show that if you need to find the answer ask a librarian.

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