From the TrueSake newsletter, comes this interesting bit:
"the genesis of sake (nihonshu or wine of Japan) was not a crystal clear liquid that is best served chilled in fancy bar glasses. ... Like most all things sake can be traced back to ancient China, as this is where rice has its "ground zero."
Farming was a communal occupation, and rice was the most communal of bonds. It was a food source - so valued that at one time it was even traded as a currency. But more importantly rice brought people together. It brought folks together to chew and spit! Yes, the earliest recorded history of sake spoke about a form of brew that was created by chewing rice and spitting the gob into a wooden bucket - "kuchikami no sake" or "chewed in the mouth sake."
Those glorious farmers somehow realized that if they chewed the rice and spat it out into wooden tubs or buckets that the enzymes in their mouths would break the long-chain starch molecules into a glucose, and then this glucose would sit in the bucket for about a week and allow airborne yeasts to propagate and ferment the glucose into wonderful alcohol.
Bingo! A meal and a party in one! And that is indeed what happened. Villages used religious occasions to get groups together to chew and spit en mass to create a large batch of saliva sake - my words not theirs. ...
Then and thankfully some smart and perhaps germaphobic farmer said "I am sick of drinking Yoshi's spit," and suggested that he would prefer the ricey spit of a virgin. And so began the next phase of sake in its oldest form - Bijinshu or "beautiful girl sake" that basically was a virginal masterpiece.
Yes, the village virgins would all gather and chew rice as a team descended from the gods.