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Sankei Biz reports that the Foreign Service Training Institute held a special sake education session on 22 November 2018 in Sagamihara, Kanagawa for civil servants about to be sent abroad on assignment with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This was its most recent session since it started preparing employees to promote the national drink in January 2011.

Local news picked up on the sessions, with over 20 celebrating the fact that regional sake was being served  by Japanese embassies abroad. Excitement was also boosted by the government “Kokushu Project” (國酒プロジェクト) due to start in 2019.

The sessions were originally student-led, but as more government departments started sending employees overseas sake education was added to their basic pre-departure training. 120 civil servants attended this session.

Different kura from all over the country take turns to speak at the sessions, in association with the National Tax Agency (which oversees all forms of alcohol production) and regional tourism associations looking to drive overseas visitors to their areas through sake tourism.

The guest speaker this time was of Hideyuki Takizawa of Takizawa Shuzō in Saitama Prefecture, makers of Kikuizumi. He’s also vice-chair of the Japan Awasake Association, and brought some of his sparkling sake for a tasting. Takizawa uses a Champagne-style secondary in-bottle fermentation, rather than artificial carbonation.

The Japan Awasake Association was founded in 2016 by a group of producers working to stringent requirements. Their aim is to promote sparkling sake globally as a high-value product equivalent to Champagne or sparkling wine.

The tasting started with the popping of corks, followed by exclamations of delight from the attendees. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs follows up on these training sessions by serving sake to guests at embassies, shipping a total of 130,000 bottles overseas since 2011. While the sake comes from all over the country, they have a particular focus on breweries damaged in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

This explains some of the pressure to use the term “Kokushu” (“national drink(s)”) at ProWein in Dusseldorf (May 2019). I wasn’t aware of the government project but will see what I can find out.