The Mainichi Shinbun site has a six-part series interviewing sake company owners in their 40s in the Nada Gogō area (talk about specific).
If you haven’t heard of it already, this area in Hyōgo Prefecture known as Nada is home to five old villages (五郷, the first go stands for “five” and the second gō for “village”) famous for sake production. Their success is down to the local water, which is higher in minerals than the very soft water in much of Japan, and therefore particularly suited to brewing.
I had a look at number two in the series, which features Yasufuku Takeonosuke of Kobe Shushinkan talking about sake tourism in Nada. His Fukuju junmai ginjō jumped into the spotlight after being served at the Nobel prize award dinners. After discussing how their sake ended up on the table (the Swedish sommelier who provides the wine for the dinner is their importer, and wanted to increase awareness of sake in the wine world) the interview moves to sake’s domestic decline and their efforts to export.
Yasufuku mentions that he was born in 1973, at the peak of sake consumption, which has since declined to 1/3 of that high point. They needed a new route to market, which was export. He mentions that the wine market is around 60 times bigger than the sake market, and as they knew overseas sales would be vital sooner or later they decided 10 years ago to concentrate on export. Nada has a fine history of sake production and outstanding quality, meaning that local sake can position itself as the equivalent of Bordeaux or Bourgogne in the French wine world. He was keenly aware of the need to position Nada as the “holy land” of Japanese sake.
He’s also keen to collaborate with other industries. Recognising that selling sake as a commodity would only lead to harsher competition with other breweries, he set out to differentiate Fukuju through a combination of product and service. The company holds that their foundation should be local production for local consumption, in order to promote local development. But he also acknowledges that there is a limit to what he can do alone, so he needs to reach out and get others involved. A sake-kasu (sake lees) event held in Kobe’s Okamoto Shotengai shopping street in Nada is one example of an event held in cooperation with local shopkeepers.
Asked about Nada’s future, Yasufuku says that he hears “sakagura tourism” everywhere and developing his business into tie-ups with tourism is becoming more and more important. On that front, their location in Kobe provides good opportunities in the shape of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and after that the World Masters Games held in Kansai (western Japan) in 2021. Japan aims to attract 40 million overseas tourists in 2020, and he anticipates that many of those will make their way into his part of the country. Most importantly, he wants them to come to Kobe, try sake, and become fans, and plans to devote his knowledge and experience to making that happen.