When Kensuke Shichida took over as the sixth-generation head of Tenzan Shuzo brewery in the 1990s, the sake industry was struggling with a major image problem. Sales had dropped sharply from their peak in the 1970s, with Japanese consumers increasingly turning to beer, wine and whisky. The once-beloved brew was widely viewed as an “old man’s drink,” and the old-fashioned imagery that was frequently used to market the beverage did little to appeal to younger drinkers.
These days, sake is enjoying a new wave of popularity, thanks to improvements in quality, an ever-expanding variety of styles and the spread of sake education programs. The trend has been bolstered by sake booms in overseas markets such as the United States, China and Great Britain, as well as efforts to promote the drink by celebrities such as former football star Hidetoshi Nakata, whose Japan Craft Sake Company runs Tokyo’s annual Craft Sake Week. Stylish specialty shops and bars abound in Japan’s capital and major cities, and the brew appears on menus at top restaurants all over the country.
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