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The Yomiuri Online site reports that Kobe Port is a big supporter of sake – half of exports in 2017 passed through there.

Exports of sake in 2017 were up 19% on the previous year, rising to 23,481,000 litres – the eighth successive year on year increase. Increased interest in Japanese food is thought to have contributed to the growth in sake exports from 10,000,000 litres in 2006. Last year’s increase was also the largest so far.

And half of that export volume has passed through the port of Kobe, surrounded by famous sake-producing areas and companies who are keen to do business.

The article names the driving force behind these exports as the decline in domestic consumption of sake, which has fallen to one third of its peak in 1975. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, there were 118,000 Japanese restaurants outside Japan as of October 2017, a 30% increase over the number in July 2015 (89,000). 

The reason why so much sake passes through Kobe port is its location in the Kansai area, which puts it close to major sake production areas such as Hyogo, Nada and Fushimi. The Kobe customs office estimates that when exports are considered by quantity, the port handles 49.7% of the total – almost half. The biggest destination for exports is the USA, followed by Korea, China, Taiwan and south-east Asia.

Breweries are also responding to overseas demand. Large-scale producer Gekkeikan, based in Kyoto, started selling a for-export casked taru-zake with a particularly strong aroma aimed at the European market in summer 2017. Kiku Masamune in Kobe created a new line for the first time in 130 years, the junmai daiginjō Hyakumoku (百黙), and will start exporting it to Europe in autumn 2018 – it’s supposed to have umami which pairs well with Western dishes. The Akana brewery in Shimane established their first overseas office in September 2017, opening an office in Bangkok. Company president Mishima commented that competition between sakes is becoming fiercer.