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The Japan Food Industry Newspaper reports on a new release from Hakutsuru – which doesn’t yet have a name.

As you may know from finding strange years marked on sake bottles, Japan uses both the Western calendar (where this year is 2019) and one based on the reigns of Japanese emperors.

Each reign, or era, has its own name. The current emperor Akihito ascended to the throne in 1989, and his era was named Heisei (平成, “peace everywhere”).

Emperor Akihito is now 85 years old, and along with his wife Empress Michiko, is looking to step down from their demanding role. This is fairly unprecedented in Japanese history, where a new emperor usually takes the throne only when the previous one dies. However, Akihito wanted an orderly handover to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, which is scheduled for 30 April (abdication)/1 May (accession) 2019.

The problem facing publishers of calendars, makers of software and also Hakutsuru is – what will the new era be called? The name will not be released until 1 April 2019, so they’ll have to scramble to get their labels printed.

The commemorative sake will be a junmai nama genshu (unpasteurised and undiluted) named Tokusen Hakutsuru XX Hatsushibori (特選白鶴○○初しぼり, Special Selection Hakutsuru First Pressing of XX) where “XX” will be replaced by the new era name. The recommended retail price for the limited edition sake is JPY 2,000 (excluding tax) for 720 ml.

The sake will be made from 100% Hyogo-sourced Yamada Nishiki rice, pressed on 1 May 2019 to celebrate the new era and bottled the next day. It’s expected to have lots of rice-derived umami and also a freshness to celebrate the change. Orders for the special brew will be accepted until 15 April 2019, and the freshly-pressed sake will be delivered by cooled courier transport.


As well as making it his personal mission to bring the Imperial family closer to the Japanese people, and expressing remorse to other Asian nations for Japan’s conduct in World War II (probably unrequested and unapproved, but what can you do to your own head of state) Emperor Akihito is a marine biologist with a genus and species of goby named after him. No higher honour.