KOBE – With demand for sake leveling off in Japan, brewers in the Nada area of Kobe are pinning their hopes on growing numbers of Asian tourists.
Foreign visitors have been increasing in number at sake museums run by brewers in Naga Gogo, the generic name of five areas between Kobe and Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, where there are many breweries. The trend is attributed to the availability of low-cost flights and the cheap yen.
Chinese, Malaysians and the citizens of other Asian nations account for a large portion of the visitors.
On one day in mid-December, four buses in quick succession brought around 40 Malaysians and 20 Taiwanese to the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum, operated by Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Co. After hastily walking through the museum, they tasted a cup of sake, rushed to a store inside and began loading their shopping baskets with bottles of sake such as 720-mililiter bottles of Hakutsuru Nishiki, which carries a pretax price of ¥3,000.
Long lines often form at the cashiers, said Akira Sato, who runs the museum. “There are visitors buying as many as six bottles at a time,” Sato said.
A man in his 30s from Malaysia said restaurants are increasingly serving sake in his home country because of the drink’s “growing popularity.”
In fiscal 2014, visitors to the museum totaled 135,000, including 40,000 from abroad. Numbers are growing fast: In the April to November period of 2015, more than 45,000 foreigners visited.
Sales at the shop have been increasingly proportionally, prompting the museum to hire four Chinese-speaking sales clerks and introduce cash registers for automated duty-free procedures.
Visitor numbers are also on the rise at local museums of other brewers, such as Kobe Shu-Shin-Kan Breweries Ltd. and Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Co.
“We would like to take advantage of the tailwind and let foreigners discover sake’s good taste” in order to stimulate demand for sake abroad, a Hakutsuru official said.
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