Sat, Jul 07, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Japan hopes to turn sake into new economic growth tonic

By Kaori Kaneko  /  Reuters,TOKYO

Other sake experts urge the establishment of a government-affiliated or private institution with overseas branches like Sopexa, partially backed by the French state and a global marketer of French food and wine. Sopexa has agencies in over 30 countries.

Such an organization could develop websites in foreign languages and allocate trained local staff members at branch offices so that people know where to get information about the drink.

However, not everyone agrees with the government’s idea.

John Gauntner, a Japan-based sake expert who has published five books on sake, argues Japan should focus on the domestic sake market first, since the export market is so small there won’t be much gain even if it doubles or triples.

“The problem of sake is image. No consumers here think it’s fashionable, they don’t think it’s trendy, they don’t think it’s sexy,” said Gauntner, who holds sake expert assessor and master of sake testing certifications. “The best would be marketing efforts and changing the image of sake among consumers, probably using traditional PR efforts.”

One recent issue for the industry — fears about whether sake suffered radiation contamination in the wake of last year’s disaster — appears to be easing, though.

With many brewers located in northern Japan, including areas hit hard by both the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis, sake — along with shochu and Japanese whisky — were subject to European import controls until April. Wine and beer are currently still subjected to controls.

As a result, a global sake competition, part of the London-based International Wine Challenge, was held in Tokyo in May.

“I think the world lives in such a fast place now and people don’t even really dwell on the issue,” said Sam Harrop, who co-chaired a panel at the contest.

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