Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida might be known for many things but his ferocious drinking prowess has earned him an “Honorary Sommelier” title from the Japan Sommelier Association for his significant contributions to the promotion of wine and sake.
This is the first time that the title has been awarded to a Prime Minister while in office, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun. The new title is expected to help Japan further promote Japanese sake and drinks consumption as the country launched a nationwide campaign to drive alcohol consumption.
Unlike his teetotaller predecessors Suga and Shinzo Abe, Kishida is known for his love for liquors and is a legend for his ability to hold his drinks, even earning a nickname as “wine hero”.
When he was serving under Shinzo Abe as Foreign Minister, he challenged his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to a drinking test. They competed to see who can still hold sober diplomatic conversations while downing rounds of vodka and sake. This was seen as his strength as a diplomat.
His drinking prowess was known to Taiwanese politicians in late 1990s and was credited for building a trust-based relationship between these two sides. When Kishida was visiting Taiwan with Abe in 1997, he shieldd the teetotal Abe from rounds of Ganbei or “bottoms up” in English and drank a copious amount of beer, Shaoxing wine, and the firery Chinese spirit Moutai.
This clear division of work was well known and documented. Shinobu Konno, a political commentator, when describing the duo’s relationship, said: “Mr. Kishida was a strong drinker but a boring talker. And Mr. Abe was a good talker but not a strong drinker, so they divided their responsibilities. Mr. Kishida was in charge of drinking and would compete with the stronger Taiwanese drinkers, while Mr. Abe was in charge of talking and getting everyone excited.”
It’s not surprising in his own book released in 2020, he held drinking in high regards. “If we’re drinking, we’re friends,” he wrote. “A relationship in which both sides can talk candidly is the first step to international peace.”
He’s also known to have splurged on premium French wines during his overseas trips. According to Chinese reports, before he was elected as Prime Minister of Japan in 2021, when on a trip to France, he alledgedly spend thousands of dollars on French chocolate and wine. A bottle of top wine he bought would cost a whopping 400,000 Japanese yen (about US$3,000).