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Sommelier lapel pins — some fake — sold online in Japan despite ban

Kyodo

The Japan Sommelier Association has found that pins it issues to those who pass the sommelier and other wine expert qualifications have been sold on auction sites despite a ban, and that some of the pins are fake, association officials said Monday.

The association has alerted restaurants that fake lapel pins might be misused by unqualified individuals to try to secure employment, saying it has taken legal action in malicious cases.

Among such cases is that of a man who sold 38 fake pins for a total of ¥1.3 million ($11,800) on an auction site. The association sued him and won damages.

The man, currently working at a liquor shop in the Kanto region, said in an interview that he had presented himself as a qualified sommelier while wearing a fake pin. “I wore it as if it was just an accessory but my understanding was wrong,” he said.

The association offers the grape motif pins to those who pass its qualification tests while prohibiting sale of the pins or lending them to others. Some restaurants favor qualified sommeliers or wine advisers and experts when hiring staff.

“We found that more than 100 pins had been offered online over the past several years,” an official said.

As part of its probe, the association purchased several pins online and confirmed that some were fake. One authentic pin, sold at ¥150,000, had its engraved qualification number carved out.

“The qualification is not something you can buy and (the lapel pin) is not an item for a collection,” said Shinya Tasaki, the president of the association. Tasaki became the first Japanese winner of the World’s Best Sommelier Competition in 1995.

“It’s disrespectful to those who were certified after their hard work,” Tasaki said.

In order to become a certified sommelier, the association requires over three years of working experience in restaurants before taking a written exam and a tasting exam. The pass rate in 2018 was 26.5 percent and the current number of sommeliers in Japan is some 30,000, of whom 13,000 are women.