Takashi Atsuta knows precisely what his customers need to round out a delicious meal. Good food and wine are essential, but the 63-year-old sommelier believes that good service -- with sincerity -- also makes a great difference. Being a sommelier is not just a matter of knowing about wines and selecting and serving the best ones to customers, he says.

"Winning a sommelier contest may be important, but what is more vital for sommeliers is to please their customers," said Atsuta, who became one of the first Japanese sommeliers nearly 30 years ago and is currently head of the Japan Sommelier Association.

His story mirrors the period when Japan's economy expanded rapidly, catching up with the West. Until the 1960s, not many Japanese traveled abroad and Western culture and cuisine were too expensive for ordinary Japanese.