The My Navi News site “Work and Life” section has a series on people who run a second business alongside their main job, and one article by Mitsuhiro Toda covers an employee of a sake distributor.
The article focuses on Kenji Takimura, who works on the side as a kikisake-shi (利酒師, something like a sake somellier).
As well as his regular duties, Takimura started a new organisation aiming to improve the status of sake. He was inspired to do so by seeing how badly sake is handled once it gets onto the market, everywhere from high-class restaurants to the shelves of convenience stores. He saw full bottles lined up in full sunlight, and even witnessed some being sold after the contents had changed colour. He felt he had to do something.
Takimura started off by gaining a kikisake-shi qualification, and followed it up by qualifying as the best in Japan in a national championship. Suitably qualified, he began working with high-class restaurants and other venues serving sake to hold events dedicated to enjoying sake and dishes that complement it.
Making steady progress through these venues, Takimura gave talks on how to enjoy sake and how to store and handle it properly so as to increase the number of fans who really understood sake.
Toda attended two of the events, and found them to be both entertaining and educational: delicious food, fantastic sake, a mini-lecture and even a quiz, plus a draw to win prizes such as aprons sporting the logo of famous sake labels.
The event wasn’t just useful for those eating and drinking, but also for the staff at the venue who had a chance to let their customers taste the sake and for brewers who were guaranteed that their sake would be served in top condition. And Takimura’s efforts don’t stop at the Japanese border, he’s also working with Japanese restaurants in Hawaii to organise similar events.
When Toda asked him why he felt so driven, he replied that while he obviously wanted to raise the status of sake, he also wanted to publicise the lesser known but excellent sake made by breweries that hadn’t yet found fame. Their brewing technique is amazing but they’re complete beginners when it comes to modern business. He wants to help them make it in today’s world. Also, sake itself is changing – there are styles today that never existed before, sake that tastes like wine, sake with high acidity made to pair with meat, dry sparkling sake… He wants to bring all these new possibilities for sake not only to Japan but also to the world.
And he’s not resting on his laurels either. Now that his project to hold events at restaurants is underway, Takimura has moved on to the next level – creating a new qualification of Sake Appraiser (日本酒鑑定士, nihonshu kanteishi) that covers not only the aroma and flavour of sake, but also how it’s produced, optimal storage conditions and food pairing.
He hopes that making this knowledge available not only to members of the public but also to those in the industry, such as restaurant staff and distributors, will turn the tables and make proper enjoyment of sake the norm instead of the exception. Takimura has already completed a series of test lectures and prepared the Sake Appraiser certificate, and plans to be active on internet radio from February 2019 to get more attention for his projects.
Takimura also believes that people having fun equals greater earnings. He doesn’t make much from the events, but plans to earn over JPY 500,000 per month from his Sake Appraiser lectures. He also plans to make the qualification available to those in the hospitality industry worldwide.
He’s conscious of the increased number of foreign visitors who will come to Japan for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, and be exposed to sake while they’re there. His aim with the Sake Appraiser Qualification is to ensure that those who pass it are aware of the entire chain of production – from the farmers who grow the rice to the consumers who drink the final product – and make them happy.