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After his initial salvo about how exporting sake is a terrible get-rich-quick idea (covered in “Why you won’t get rich exporting sake” part 1) Nagae starts to dig into some juicy Japan National Tax Office data on the sake industry.

He starts with a very interesting table breaking down the Japanese sake market, from an in-depth September 2013 report by the Development Bank of Japan.

The table is based on data from Japan’s National Tax Agency, who have a close relationship with the sake industry (including running the national appraisals) as they also raise taxes from it.  They publish a regular “Sake bookmark” with information on the state of the alcohol industry in Japan. [“Bookmark” is a bit optimistic, the latest one is 132 pages. More of a doorstop.]

Nagae focuses on the “brewery” column at the left, which shows 1,576 producers but just 13 who produce over 5,000 kilolitres, all familiar names: Gekkeikan, Takara, Kizakura, Hakutsuru, Ozeki, Sawanotsuru, Nishimiya (Nihonsakari), Tatsu-uma Honke (Hakushika), Kiku-Masamune, Konishi. Most brew year-round, and are firmly established businesses.

Between them, these 13 big breweries have 50% market share. The other 1,500 or so smaller breweries are infinitesimally small by comparison. Nagae further states that as of 2010 only five breweries had assets of over JPY 300 million and over 300 employees, and that Kyoto and Hyogo (the base for many of these big breweries) account for half of all production.

The Horiemon article mentions that overseas restaurants only stock inferior (美味しくない,  unpalatable, not delicious or good) sake from the big breweries, and Nagae isn’t surprised – think of all that paperwork necessary for export, with a stack for each country. Who has the resources to do that? The big five alluded to above. And that’s why all you find abroad is Gekkeikan, Kizakura, Hakutsuru, Ozeki and the like. Smaller breweries don’t have the capabilities to complete export procedures or pay for exporting. They can’t speak English, let alone cope with with overseas export regulations.

Nagae doesn’t quite agree with the idea that sake from big breweries is necessarily bad – they have the technical skills, and research and development teams full of university-educated brewers. If they wanted to make a spectacular sake and cost be damned, they could easily do it. It’s how they win their awards at the appraisals. But the stuff they sell in the shops is churned out in automated factories, at massive volumes with an eye on minimising cost. So it stands to reason that what you can buy commercially is altogether different than what they’re capable of.

Keep reading with “Why you won’t get rich exporting sake” part 3!