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The Tochigi Prefecture column of the Mainichi Shinbun reports that three women from local breweries have passed the exams for the new Japan Sommelier Association (JSA) sake qualification, the Sake Diploma. The qualification was set up earlier this year, covers both sake and shōchū, and aims to both provide a deeper understanding of sake and support the promotion of Japanese food culture.

The exam is currently only held in Japan, but an English version of the textbook is available and there are plans to hold the exam overseas as well.

The three new graduates from Tochigi are Machiko Matsui from the Matsui Brewery, famous for their Matsu no Kotobuki sake, Sanae Sagara of the Sagara Brewery, makers of Asahisakae, and Yuri Takahashi of the Kobayashi Brewery, who produce Houou Biden (Golden Phoenix).

The article remarks that although sake is traditionally evaluated in Japan on a demerit system, which looks for faults, wine evaluation is based on assessing positive aspects of aroma and flavour. Matsui points out that this scoring system makes it easier to focus on the good points of sake.

I became aware of the JSA Sake Diploma in March 2017, as the Japanese gentleman seated next to me at the WSET Level 3 Award in Sake course had a copy of the Japanese textbook. He mentioned that he already had the SSI qualification for sake, but was impressed by the more objective and systematic tasting method used in the WSET wine courses and so chose to take the WSET sake course – I wonder how the JSA system measured up since it does seem to have a wine-tasting based structure.