Japanese sake is enjoyable for its diverse aromas and flavors, which vary from one place of production to another. It should be spread around the world as something highly characteristic of the culture of Japan.
In the ruling parties’ outline of tax system reform for fiscal 2020, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito have incorporated deregulatory measures to approve the establishment of a new type of sake brewery specializing in exports. The government will also revise the Liquor Tax Law so as to allow such brewers to produce sake in small quantities, as long as it is exclusively for export.
As the domestic market for Japanese sake is sluggish, the government has not authorized any would-be business operators to begin sake production, from the viewpoint of balancing supply and demand. On the other hand, as the popularity of Japanese sake has grown overseas, venture firms and other companies have been calling for new entries into the sector to be allowed.
If a business operator, through the eased regulations, produces a sake of distinctive savor and comes up with an ingenious method for selling it, such an endeavor may stimulate the expansion of sake exports.
Boosted by the tailwind of a Japanese cuisine boom, annual exports of sake topped the ¥20 billion mark for the first time in 2018. Export volume totaled about 26,000 kiloliters, up 60 percent from five years earlier.
Nevertheless, it is hard to say that sake is accepted widely in foreign countries. For instance, it has sometimes been considered merely a variety of white wine.
In Japan, with its flourishing rice production, regions abundant in nature have been blessed with good-quality water, with brewers there producing sake since olden times. Sake brewers of various regions have improved the quality of their sake, while preserving their traditional savor.
People who can communicate the history and charm of sake widely, like sommeliers or wine experts, would undoubtedly give a boost to the popularity of sake abroad.
The government has released suggested labels to be affixed on containers of sake meant for export. Such labels describe not only the taste and the place of production, but also the best temperature for drinking the particular type of sake and the dishes that would go well with it. The aim to help consumers overseas become aware of the various brands of sake is understandable.
In the economic partnership agreement between Japan and the European Union, there is a provision that the place of production of such products as wine and sake should be displayed properly. Such efforts, aimed at preventing the distribution of fake products and to protect the value of brands, are important.
Exported sake is also expected to bring new flows of foreign visitors into Japan. Tourism plans should be devised that foreigners who are fascinated by sake can enjoy, including sake brewery tours.
But there is a worrisome tendency among the Japanese themselves of moving away from sake. In particular, young Japanese have been drinking sake less and less.
At Niigata University, a center for studying Japanese sake has been set up, offering lectures with such titles as “Theory of sake tasting” and “Ryotei and kagai culture.” (The latter title refers to traditional luxury restaurants and the geisha quarters.) Such efforts to revive public recognition of the value of sake are drawing attention.
Many people are visiting their hometowns during the year-end and New Year holidays. Why not taste the sake that is native is such places, while catching up with family and friends?