Ja­pan sake pours over­seas as lo­cal mar­ket dries up

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

OZAWA Shuzo brew­ery hums with ac­tiv­ity as boxed bot­tles of sake are loaded onto trucks. But with the do­mes­tic mar­ket shrink­ing, more and more of it is bound for bur­geon­ing over­seas mar­kets where the cen­turiesold drink is all the rage.

The small es­tab­lish­ment has re­cently drawn in­ter­est from po­ten­tial new cus­tomers in Thai­land, Viet­nam and South Korea, on top of a co­terie of ex­ist­ing ones in the United States, France and Sin­ga­pore.

Sake, a fer­mented drink made of rice, has hit hard times in its home­land amid chang­ing tastes, but man­u­fac­tur­ers are wel­com­ing grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity over­seas.

A steady flow of tourists vis­it­ing Ozawa Shuzo could be a sign of things to come.

“We can­not eas­ily go abroad to ex­plain what sake is all about, so by do­ing this [tours] at our brew­ery I hope vis­i­tors will get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of its value,” Ju­nichiro Ozawa, pres­i­dent of the 300-year-old Ozawa Shuzo, said at his brew­ery on Tokyo’s moun­tain­ous west­ern fringe.

Un­der­lin­ing sake’s in­creas­ing global renown, the in­flu­en­tial guide Robert Parker’s Wine Ad­vo­cate this month is­sued rat­ings for the bev­er­age.

Sake ex­ports have dou­bled in the past decade to some 18,180 kilo­litres, ac­cord­ing to Ja­panese gov­ern­ment fig­ures, with the United States the largest sin­gle for­eign mar­ket, ac­count­ing for about one-quar­ter of the to­tal.

Ma­jor ex­port des­ti­na­tions are the US, Tai­wan, Hong Kong, China and South Korea, ac­cord­ing to the agri­cul­ture min­istry, mak­ing up 70pc of the to­tal.

Ship­ments to fastest-grow­ing mar­ket China shot up more than three-fold between 2008 and last year, while they more than dou­bled to South Korea dur­ing that time.

Au­thor­i­ties have ac­tively pushed sake over­seas, part of a “cool Ja­pan” strat­egy aimed at high­light­ing the coun­try’s soft power, along with manga comic books and Ja­panese food.

“Ex­ports are in­creas­ing thanks largely to the soar­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Ja­panese cui­sine over­seas,” said an official fa­mil­iar with the sake in­dus­try at the Na­tional Tax Agency.

But de­spite its long pedi­gree and sta­tus as na­tional al­co­hol, its pop­u­lar­ity has been wan­ing at home as con­sumer tastes in­creas­ingly turn to West­ern bev­er­ages in­clud­ing whisky and wine.

Do­mes­ti­cally, sake consumption dropped to about 557,000 kilo­litres in 2014, com­pared with 746,000 kilo­litres a decade ear­lier, the gov­ern­ment said.

Sake som­me­liers will be key to boost­ing sales over­seas, said Haruyuki Hioki, pres­i­dent of the Sake Ser­vice In­sti­tute In­ter­na­tional.

The group has cer­ti­fied about 1000 in­ter­na­tional som­me­liers.

“Train­ing peo­ple who can ex­plain sake is key,” Hioki said.

“Wine consumption is grow­ing so much in Ja­pan thanks to som­me­liers and lots of me­dia cov­er­age. But many peo­ple over­seas still don’t know much about sake.”

Photo: AFP

An em­ployee of the Ozawa Shuzo brew­ery sticks la­bels on sake bot­tles.

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