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This post continues with the second part of an interview by Agenda Note with Masataka Shirakashi, owner of the Kenbishi brewery in Nada.

The first part of the article looked at the brewery’s 500 year history using three of the “4Ps” of marketing: product, price and place. Next up is promotion.


Promotion: Instagram is the new ukiyo-e

If you ask Shirakashi how Kenbishi sake was drunk in the Edo period, he knows – they have documentary evidence as well as ukiyo-e woodblock prints. He sees Instagram as fulfilling the same purpose today, and therefore being another part of Kenbishi’s history.

And companies can use it for more than disseminating information, it also helps them gather it. Who is drinking Kenbishi, when, where, how? Where does the sake they brew end up after they release it into their sales channels? It helps them understand what needs to be communicated, and where.

And what do they communicate? The specifications, or emotion?

Shirakashi believes that even if they talk about the specifications, such as Kenbishi being made from Yamada Nishiki rice milled to XX%, it won’t mean anything to people who aren’t experts. It’s the kind of thing you often hear in digital marketing. How knowledgeable are the people you’re trying to reach, what are they interested in, what makes them happy? It’s important to see them where they are.

How they communicate varies. In the USA, it’s a clear-cut specification, in France less precise and more emotional descriptions. And they find that many people who lead with the specification when it comes to sake or food don’t have the same kind of interest in the taste.

No management, no promotion

The brewery employs about 150 people, but Shirakashi is the only manager. They have no marketing department. This also comes from the family philosophy: whatever they earn from their customers is returned to their customers.

The family sees revenue from customers as given with an implicit message of “now make more delicious sake”.  So they use the proceeds of sales to buy good quality rice and spend the time and effort necessary to make great sake. They spend nothing on advertising.

They do attend events, such as tastings, but not for promotion. They see it as a chance to meet their customers face to face, answer their questions about how Kenbishi tastes and communicate their company philosophy.

Sake and regional revitalisation

Contests are also a form of promotion. Being highly ranked in a competition attracts media attention and increases perceived value. But there’s a knack to scoring high in Japanese national competitions, namely making a sake that ticks every box for the competition standards.

But this leads to all sake being similar [a view shared by Yūsuke Satō, 8th head of the Aramasa brewery] and losing its regional characteristics. You can only experience the flavours of a region’s sake and food by going there. It motivates people to travel and is therefore an important factor in regional revitalisation.

Local sake and food is primarily aimed at the local population, who can get hold of it easily. Although these products are a form of regional value, local people are more interested in famous Tokyo-based stores that move into the area, making it hard for shops catering to local people to carry on.

The regions have their sights set on Tokyo, but is that a good thing? The regions are suffering, but it is their own fault for not appreciating what they have?

If you missed part 1 of this interview, you can find it here.