Kondō qualified as a “Sake Expert” with the JSA in 2017. The newly-founded group is dedicated to turning sake from a Japan-only product to an international one under the slogan kokushu kara kokusaishu he (国酒から国際酒へ, “from domestic drink to international drink”).
She started training new “Sake Experts” in 2018 after becoming a designated instructor. She took advice from other instructors, and concentrated on creating a class where students would get a real feeling for sake through materials and footage from breweries.
The Japan Sake Association holds courses in Tokyo, Akita, Sendai, Fukuoka, Milan, Rome and Bangkok and around 300 people have qualified with them as a “Sake Expert”. The association is also partnering with the Brazilian Association of Sommeliers from August 2018 with courses taught by Alexandre Tatsuya Iida, Latin America’s only Sake Samurai.
Iida comments that the price of sake in Brazil is three times what it is in Japan. There are very few places that carry such a high-priced drink, but it’s gaining popularity among the wealthy and also the ladies. There are now five companies importing sake in São Paolo, and they can’t keep enough stock – a good sign. He also notes that Latin Brazilians love anything new, and tend to go to extremes of loving or hating things. Iida thinks Brazil needs more sake experts to ensure that its popularity continues to rise. Courses on sake in Brazil are teaching not only basic information, but also starting to cover sales and trade and how to present both sake and Japanese culture more effectively.
Kondō was particularly interested in pairing sake with Brazilian food, and Iida reminds her that Brazil is a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures. There’s an almost infinite variety of even simple foods like cheese or pasta. Sake is even paired with cigars. But sweet sake and aged koshu are particularly popular. His ultimate aim is to see sake drunk as an everyday accompaniment to Brazilian food.
Looking at the Japan Sake Association site, they have “Sake Expert” as a registered trademark, which I haven’t seen before.
The “Sake Expert” course is taught over three 2.5 hour sessions. The first covers basic information such as how sake is made and the tokutei meisho classification system, the second looks at food pairing, yeast and reading labels. The last one goes into pairing in more depth, and then there is an exam about two weeks later. So it’s 7.5 hours plus exam, no mention of tastings during the lectures.
The course is priced at JPY 43,200, about GBP 300 / USD 390. By comparison, the three-day plus half day exam courses from WSET are GBP 515 / USD 670, and SSI is around GBP 500 / USD 650. So in terms of classroom time you’re paying a lot more for the title of “Sake Expert” and it’s not clear if the level of detail is the same as WSET/SSI, especially if so much of the course is centred on food pairing. Getting the qualification allows you to join the Japan Sake Association and attend their events, plus the elegantly titled “after follow seminars” (“follow-up/supplementary training”).
The Japan Sake Association refer to themselves as the JSA, which is particularly confusing as the Japan Sommelier Association also refer to themselves as JSA, and have their own sake qualification (JSA Sake Diploma).
- Original article (Japanese, Zakzak, August 2018)
- Japan Sake Association (Japanese)
- Japan Sake Association (English, “About” page only)
- Page for Alexandre Tatsuya Iida on the Brazilian Association of Sommeliers site (Brazilian Portuguese)
- Japan Sommelier Association (Japanese)
- Information on the Japan Sommelier Association Sake Diploma (English)