Atpress reports that Watanabe Shuzōten, based in the Furukawa area of Takayama in the north of Gifu Prefecture, entered 20 domestic and international competitions in FY2018 and beat rival breweries to score 61 awards, making them the most highly decorated kura of the fiscal year. (According to their own research.)
Their winning streak includes Japanese and international competitions, such as the 2018 International Wine Challenge, a Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (German Agricultural Society) contest, the BTI World Wine Championships, the U.S. National Sake Appraisal, sake in a wine glass awards and kanzake (hot sake) contests.
The number of awards is a jump over their previous record of 50 in FY2017. The most difficult for them was the one they consider the most important in the industry, the London-based International Wine Challenge. The Great Value Sake Award is given to only 2.3% of entrants.
Watanabe Shuzōten are hoping for three things from these many wins. First is an increase in the number of overseas visitors to the kura – they welcomed 5,000 tourists last year and are well aware that Japan is expecting even more in the next few years. They’re preparing by powering up on the people side, recruiting new graduates in order to secure high quality staff. In particular, a new recruit in April of 2017 is able to deal with foreign tourists [I assume this means she speaks foreign languages] and they also plan to set up in-store offers and tours aimed at overseas visitors.
Their second hope is to increase exports. Their many wins in international competitions over recent years has led to more new business leads, with their exports up 150% year on year in FY2017 and continuing to 155% in FY2018. The kura credits their veteran American employee Cody for a good deal of these increases, with an impressive number of contacts coming to deal with him specifically.
Last on their list is overseas media. Press interest in sake has increased alongside the rising popularity of Japanese food, especially after it was designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. France and Italy in particular are said to be experiencing a “washoku boom”, or explosion in the popularity of Japanese food, with more sake being paired with not only Japanese but also French and Italian dishes. The success of their Hōrai label has led to media enquiries from Europe and Asia, with overseas TV production companies asking to visit the brewery.
They only started entering competitions 10 years ago, but hope contests will give them a way to keep growing in a shrinking domestic market.
See the original article for the full list of awards!