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The Fukushima Minyū site looks at attitudes towards sake among university students in Niigata Prefecture.

The article starts off in a place you may already have seen photos or video of – the sake/coin vending paradise that is Ponshukan Niigata Station. You pay your money, take your tokens and place your ochoko under the spout of one of 90 labelled vending machines to get a taste of a wide range of Niigata sake.

Ponshukan opened in 2015 to introduce Niigata to travellers as a sake centre. Owner Takuya Noda, who sees sake as a major tourist draw for Niigata, remembers being stuck when people asked him to recommend somewhere in Niigata city. Pointing out that more people come to the city for business than sightseeing, his theory is that using well-known sake brands to advertise the region to business customers will encourage some to become sake fans and come back to visit again. And although Noda is fighting the good PR fight, the fact remains that many breweries are struggling to find people to take over as their employees age.

Niigata Prefecture isn’t resting on the laurels of its famous sake brands either. People in the industry are stepping up the amount of information being sent out, and Niigata University opened its Sakeology Centre in April 2018. (See Niigata University founds Sakeology Centre and Sake school success: Big turnout at first Niigata University class) The course has lecturers from a wide range of backgrounds talking about sake-related topics such as brewing, distribution and history and culture, and was heavily over-subscribed. Shūichi Mizuma, head of the Niigata Brewers Association, said he hopes students from the course will spread the word all across the country after they graduate. He also described sake as Niigata Prefecture’s “killer content”.

Niigata Prefecture is also taking steps to try to involve younger people with sake, with the University of Aizu starting a student volunteer society for sake in January 2018. Students at Niigata University have been working since last summer to grow sake-specific rice, and successfully created their own Fukushima University Junmai Ginjō. Naotarō Kuronuma, a fourth-year student involved in production and sales, reported that buyers were interested in the sake specifically because students had produced it.

A department of diet and agriculture, which will also teach the sake studies course, is due to be opened at Niigata University next year.