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The Marketing Cloud Laboratory site delves into the continued popularity of sake among Japanese women. (And I roll my eyes again, briefly, because of the sheer amount of sake-related marketing aimed at women, but the article has figures and charts so let’s do this.)

A graph taken from a Mainichi Shinbun newspaper article (31 May 2017), based on data from Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare national surveys on health and nutrition, shows a familiar decline in alcohol consumption habits.

With points for 2005, 2010 and 2015, the data shows the percentage of men and women in their 20s and 40s who say they drink regularly. (Numbers below are estimates are there aren’t enough lines on the chart to read it properly.)

  • Men in their 40s: 2005 49%, 2010 40%, 2015 36%
  • Women in their 40s: 2005 14%, 2010 13%, 2015 14%
  • Men in their 20s: 2005 19%, 2010 15%, 2015 10%
  • Women in their 20s: 2005 8%, 2010 5%, 2015 5%

Compared to the steep drop in young male drinkers, the number of young women drinking regularly remains relatively unchanged. The Mainichi article suggests that as more young women increase their disposable income they spend it on small quantities of high quality food and drink, in contrast to male drinkers who consume large volumes of cheap alcohol.  

The article also touches on the bulk of the decrease in consumption affecting the futsu-shu (table sake) category, while the tokutei meisho-shu (literally, styles of alcohol with defined name/titles, like an appellation contrôlée or German beer purity legislation) are actually seeing an increase, suggesting that the industry is being pushed upmarket towards higher quality products. The tokutei meisho-shu, often referred to as “premium” sake, have a restricted set of ingredients (rice, rice inoculated with the essential fungus kōji, water, and optional brewing alcohol), must use rice milled to a specified minimum percentage of its original weight, and use a defined brewing style for some categories. The eight styles are daiginjō, junmai daiginjō, ginjō, junmai ginjō, tokubetsu honjōzō, tokubetsu junmai, honjōzō and junmai. (Although you have to be careful with that last one as it also just means “no added alcohol” so a futsu-shu can be junmai.)

The next graph, taken from the Sake Science site, shows the changing fortunes of two styles of sake: aruten (brewing alcohol added) and junmai (no brewing alcohol added). Although alcohol is added to increase yield in non-premium sake (futsu-shu), it has a different role in in premium styles where it is added just before pressing in order to extract certain aromas and flavours from the mash, which generally creates a slightly lighter end result. Although the graph is hard to make out, it shows a gradual fall in consumption of aruten sake contrasted with a steep rise for junmai

And the sake “boom” among young women? The author puts forward two recently-coined words, ochoko-joshi (おちょこ女子, a combination of the “ochoko” traditional drinking cup and the word for “women” or “ladies”), and yōjo (酔女, “drunken woman/women”), and the fact that a recent search for “ladies’ sake night” on Google year gets 2,720,000 hits. (There’s so much wrong with that, I don’t know where to start. What were the numbers before this alleged boom? Are all the hits referring to the same small number of events, signifying nothing? Is it all froth generated by the marketing industry with no basis in reality?) Oh, and Kurand are publishing articles about sake aimed at women. Hmm. (Accompanied by a link to an article on the Kurand site explaining the term ochoko-joshi and how women like easy-to-drink, sweet, fruity sake. I feel like I need a stereotype rating…)

The stereotyping continues: ladies like atypical sake that tastes like wine, with stylish packaging design and original brand names, such as those from the Aramasa brewery. Brewers are putting their heads together with female staff and releasing nigori in bottles with snowmen on them!! (I’m starting to wish I was making this up.) The labels are designed to be photographed and shared on social media, there are articles telling women what sake to buy as gifts, and reports from women who went to a ladies’ sake night… yes, but it’s all very circumstantial and only adds up to a “boom” if you want to see one.

It’s not clear if brewers are marketing to women because they think there’s a market there, or whether it’s a response to a genuine increase in demand among women. Some of the marketing material I’ve read has baldly stated that women are an untapped market because they don’t currently drink sake (or much else), or even that people who don’t drink regularly are a target market for the same reason. Unless talking about a sake boom among young women is going to call one into existence, I’m not convinced there is one. (Yet, anyway.)