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Today’s story is in Japanese, but not strictly speaking from Japan – it’s from the Sao Paulo Shinbun, a Japanese newspaper in Brazil. Their New Year special edition has a report on a Brazilian with a special place in his heart for sake.

The article focuses on Latin America’s only Sake Samurai, Tatsuya Iida Alexander from Brazil. 

The second-generation Japanese works as a sake educator, runs an online shop and events under the name Adega de Sake, and has also started organising brewery tours to Japan.

Iida admits that he wasn’t always able to drink sake, even though he started working with it in 2004. Although Brazil has a large number of second-generation Japanese, the focus is more on Christmas and sake doesn’t have the same status as a special drink to go with traditional New Year osechi ryōri. So Iida tried using Christmas as a special occasion instead, giving gifts of high-value ginjō or daiginjō and serving them at parties.

With the motto “one glass is worth a thousand words”, Iida concentrates on serving a sake that will be to his customer’s tastes and acting as a consultant on an individual basis so he can be sure they go with something they’ll enjoy. He’s very particular about it, so much so that it occasionally leads to arguments. Even Japanese breweries have remarked on how strict he can be and that they’re grateful he’s representing them.

One anecdote has Iida refusing to sell a 500 rial (about JPY 17,100) bottle of daiginjō to a customer as he thought it was too fruity and sweet, being told he was a terrible salesman, but then having the customer taste another daiginjō half the price that turned out to be exactly what they wanted (and they bought three bottles). Iida says that one of the great things about Brazil is that you can talk straight to people, unlike Japan. 

As well as hosting sake tastings and other events, Iida made his first sakagura tour of Japan in October 2017. With nine mainly non-Japanese Brazilian companions including doctors, shareholders, chefs and wine sommeliers, he toured 13 breweries from Iwate in the north to Hiroshima in the south in 16 days. It didn’t go completely smoothly, with some members of the group wanting to spend more time sightseeing than others, but his pre-trip lectures explaining aspects of the brewing process, cold storage, etc. were a great success. The group also practised eating Japanese food and pouring sake for each other, leading the staff at a famous Kyoto restaurant to remark on how pleasant it was to host a large group of foreigners who knew what to do.

Iida now has several tours lined up through Circuito de Sake, including a business tour to Saga in Jan-Feb 2018, a full tour in Sep-Oct 2018, and Hokkaido in Feb 2019.