The Project Nikkei environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) site reports on a new sake with a very specific cause – preserving the Ōze marshland.

The Ōze National Park contains Japan’s largest mountainous wetland area, which is justly famous for its plant life. The de facto symbol of the park is the mizubashō (white skunk cabbage), which is feeling the effects of climate change and damage by wildlife. But a sake made in its image is coming to the rescue by donating proceeds from its sale to nature conservation.

The national park has breathtaking scenery created by marsh surrounded by mountains, and spreads across four prefectures including Gunma and Fukushima. One of the best-known plants is the mizubashō, which despite its unromantic English name of “white skunk cabbage”, looks more like a white lily.

Climate change and activity of Japanese deer in the area have had a big impact on the park in recent years, and one person who witnessed the change was Noriyoshi Nagai, president of Nagai Shuzō. He was so shocked by the decrease in mizubashō on a visit to Oze that he couldn’t sleep. The brewery is in Kawaba, Gunma Prefecture, not far from the national park.

They launched a new sake on 10 September 2020, named Mizubashō and with a picture of the flower on the label, drawn by celebrity and artist Tsurutaro Kataoka. They plan to use the proceeds for more initiatives to protect nature in Ōze National Park.

The brewery also teamed up with local photography company Sanjo Inshō, and Tokyo Power Technology Ltd. who have been involved with the park for around 70 years, for a project to preserve Ōze’s mizubashō. 5% of the sales from the Mizubashō sake will be donated via the project to support Ōze High School and local volunteers who grow or cultivate seedlings of mizubashō. Ōze High School has achieved excellent results in restoring wetland cataloguing Japanese deer in areas where the mizubashō seedlings are planted.

Nagai Shuzō has announced their intention to continue protecting and revitalising the ecology of Ōze through strengthening partnerships in their community. They also see the project as meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 15 [Life on Land] and 17 [Partnerships to Achieve the Goal].

Made in the image of the flower, the Mizubashō sake has floral aromas and gentle flavours. There are also sparkling and sweet versions, similar to wine. The sake market is worth JPY 450 billion, compared to the wine market which is estimated at JPY 20 trillion, so they are also targeting markets in the wine heartland such as France and Singapore. The sake is being promoted alongside other agricultural products such as konnyaku and wagyu from Gunma and sake vessels.

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