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Three top sources for English-speaking sake lovers

The popularity of sake is growing globally as the West develops a taste for the rice wine. The rise also led to an explosion of information on sake in English. Here, Mari Yasuda highlights three top sources to follow.

“I like sake, I want to know more about sake, but there is very little information in English…” This kind of complaint can be a thing of the past. English information on sake and the sake industry is made more available. Will it contribute to the increase of sake sales all over the world ?

Decrease in domestic sales but continuous increase in exports

According to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, issued in April this year, the shipping volume of sake in the domestic market hit a record high of  more than 1,700,000 ㎘  in 1973, but continued to decline since then. With 495,000 kℓ in 2018 and 467,000 kℓ in 2019, the shipping volume of sake in the domestic market fell below 500,000 kℓ.

Though the domestic sales are decreasing, exports are on the rise. The export volume of sake in 2003 was 8,270 ㎘, representing only 0.9% of the total shipping volume of sake. In 2008, it exceeded 10,000 ㎘ to reach 12,151㎘, and in 2017, it surpassed 20,000 ㎘ to reach 23,482 ㎘, and in 2018, 25,747 ㎘which amounts to 4.9% of total shipping volume. Last year, it was 24,928 ㎘, a slight decrease from the previous year, but the share reached  5.1% of the total shipping volume. The export volume of sake more than doubled within 10 years. Last year, sake was exported to 69 countries. The USA, China, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong accounted for 70% of total export volume and 80% of total export value.

Following this expansion of exports, the information sources on sake in English are improving. I would like to point out three sources.

SAKETIMES 

SAKETIMES in Japanese started in June, 2014 as a web medium focusing on sake. Now, SAKETIMES is the largest web source in Japan focusing only on sake with nearly 400,000 visits per month. In May 2016, they began to provide the news in English, named “SAKETIMES International”, targeting overseas markets. “SAKETIMES International” includes not only news but also detailed activities of producers and technical knowledge. 

Jun Koike , the editor in chief, explains they launched the English edition as the rice wine’s popularity grows overseas. He says: “At the time when SAKETIMES was released, information on sake on the Internet was rarely seen. This means that those who have an interest in sake could not find sufficient information in the accessible places such as the Web.  SAKETIMES was started in order to improve this situation. In distributing news to domestic consumers, we strongly felt that a new/unknown market for sake industry exists overseas, and also that sake has a great potential to be preferred in markets other than Japan. We became convinced of the need for sake information in English, and for that reason we started to issue  “SAKETIMES International.”

Sake Industry News

Sake Industry News, started by John Gauntner on October 1st 2019,  is a semi-monthly newsletter in English which covers news from within the sake industry in Japan. This covers a range of  information from production to sales. They have thousands of readers  from all over the world.

John Gauntner , an American,  is known as “The Sake Guy” or “The Sake Evangelist”. He has been writing and lecturing about sake since 1994, beginning with a column “Nihonshu” which ran for eight-years in the Japan Times (Japan’s most widely read English language newspaper), followed by a weekly column on sake in Japanese for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most widely distributed newspaper. He is the co-founder and content editor of the world’s first sake-only print magazine in English, Sake Today, which has been published since 2013 as a quarterly.

Why did he start Sake Industry News?  He explains: “If you were to ask someone who is knowledgeable about an adult beverage (like wine for example) of any significant region in the world, the names of the top ten brands or producers, they would rattle them off without hesitation. That familiarity and affinity with the industry helps them talk about it and sell it more enjoyably and effectively. This kind of a connection, this flow of information from the industry in Japan, does not yet exist. This is why we started Sake Industry News.”

Sakeist®︎  

This is a smartphone application (for iOS and Android) just released on June 23, 2020. Labels of sake are mostly in Japanese, so that it is very difficult for non-Japanese to understand what is shown on the labels. Sakeist®︎ developer, Khariis Co., Ltd thought this was an issue to be resolved to enable the expansion of sake sales and thus developed this application. 

By scanning the label, various bits of information such as the producer, its location, category, rice variety, alcohol content , or even polishing rate will be shown. You can also check the history of the producers and their brands. Also, the taste is shown based on the matrix of  body and aromas. This can be easily understood by professionals and consumers overseas who are accustomed to wines. Furthermore, users can write their own reviews and check other users’ comments. It is now only available in English, but a French version is planned to be  released  during this year. 

The idea of Anna Akizuki, CEO of Khariis  is that through the communication of  culture, history and stories about sake, a new society can be created where wine consumers around the world can enjoy sake daily, which will lead to the expansion of the sake industry.

As shown above, the English information about sake has  surely been enhanced.  What will be the future of sake overseas ? Jun Koike of SAKETIMES believes sake’s affinity with Japanese cuisine is a double-edge sword. 

He says, “The biggest reason for the increase of  the demand for sake overseas is that “Washoku”(Japanese cuisine) has become popular. However, this means that sake’s popularity is seen only in the context of “Washoku”. In order to make sake an international drink around the world, sake should penetrate into a global mainstream culture. It seems that the global boom in sake has been interrupted by Covid-19, however, this does not change the fact that sake has a potential to be preferred worldwide. A recent increase of local brewing of sake in the world will support the global expansion of sake. In order for sake to be accepted in the global mainstream culture, it is important to cultivate human resources in local markets in the world. This will, in return, benefit the sake industry in Japan. “

I agree with Koike’s view. If sake can be enjoyed beyond the world of “Washoku” and fit in various  local cuisine cultures around the globe, its sales can grow more. For this purpose,  I do hope that the widely available information of sake in English will contribute to the enjoyment of sake drinking by people all over the world  in the context of their own cultures.

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