Pop Culture and Japan

Exploring The Current State Of The Sake Industry In 2021 And Beyond

Domestically and internationally, sake has experienced a rise and fall across a period of several decades. Trends have come and gone, attitudes have shifted and a pandemic has caused a huge impact on how sake is sold, consumed and shared all over the world.

The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS) recently hosted an event that showed the current state of the sake industry and how it could evolve over the coming years.

Iin this article, we’ll look at the key takeaways from the event.

Examining the sake industry far and wide 

With an intro from John Gautner, the event honed in on a general view of the sake industry with commentary from the vice president of JSS Yoshiro Okamoto. Several important stats came out of this discussion, which you can view in more detail below:

What’s interesting is that despite the sake market contracting, the profitability is gradually increasing, pointing towards steady recovery and a growing awareness outside of Japan.

Next, the senior manager of overseas operations at JSS, Hiromi Iuchi, spoke on how sake is being consumed in other countries. A key point that cropped up was that China has been identified as the fastest-growing international market, while the USA saw a large export increase in 2020.

Iuchi pointed out the challenges that sake faces in the international area, which includes the limited distribution channel of the beverage only being sold in Japanese restaurants and there being issues around how to store sake properly.

To overcome these challenges, the JSS plan to bring more awareness to sake through working with influencers, promoting eCommerce marketplaces and setting up more trade events overseas.

Sake production trends and domestic market insights 

Director of JSS, Hitoshi Utsunomiya, provided an excellent overview on the technical aspects of sake production. Some interesting stats include:

  • There are roughly 1563 registered sake breweries in Japan, though only 1200 are thought to be actively producing sake.
  • As of 2020, there are 126 varieties of specialised sake rice being produced across Japan.
  • The number of seasonal toji (head brewers) decreased from 74% in 1986 to 15.9% in 2016 and the modern approach is for the owner of a sake brewery to be the toji.

When focusing on trends, Utsunomiya pointed out that new rice milling techniques have been developed, high ester yeasts are being created to help with premium sake and an increasing number of brewers are using traditional starter methods like kimoto and bodaimoto.  

The final part of the event involved the general manager of the JSS Information Centre, Shuso Imada, commenting on the domestic sake market. Imada noted that the vast majority of sake consumed in Japan is futsushu (table sake), which has been supported by an older generation. 

He suggested more needs to be done to increase the appeal of futsushu among young people and that more focus needs to be placed on premium ginjo sake too. 

Key takeaways 

  • The sake industry has been deeply impacted by COVID-19 domestically and internationally.
  • More progress is being made to promote sake overseas through online events, workshops and collaborations with wine organisations.
  • Sake breweries are diversifying with categories such as kimoto, bodaimoto, koshu (aged) and awazake (sparkling).

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