The National Tax Agency has created an expert panel tasked with coming up with a branding strategy to boost exports of sake.

Exports of the Japanese rice wine have hit a record high for nine straight years.

Increasingly, attention is being paid not only to ingredients and rice polishing but also which sake products go well with specific cuisine, the passions of sake producers and the histories of sake brewers, according to sources with knowledge of the market.

Officials believe that to further grow exports in such an environment, an effective branding strategy is needed to deliver added value to sake.

Former professional soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata, who is working to spread word of the appeal of sake overseas as part of his current activities, joined the inaugural meeting of the expert panel Monday as a guest.

The panel is headed by Takeo Koizumi, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University of Agriculture. Members include Shinya Tasaki, head of the Japan Sommelier Association, and the presidents of brewers including Kokuryu Sake Brewing Corp., based in Fukui Prefecture.

The group plans to compile an interim report on policy recommendations in December or thereafter.

At the meeting, Nakata, who has played on the men’s national soccer team, underlined the importance of sake being transported at low temperatures.

Sake exports would increase sharply “if products with the same quality as that for the Japanese market were offered in overseas markets,” he said. “Even if the best-quality sake is made, the (size of the) market will not change unless it is transported under proper conditions.”

According to trade statistics from the Finance Ministry, sake exports totaled some ¥22.2 billion in 2018. The United States was the biggest importer, followed by Hong Kong, China and South Korea.

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