Part 3: What does Sake mean to Japan and how is it changing
The UK consumes vast quantities of wine, beer and gin but sake is very much the sub-category of niche when it comes to alcoholic beverages in the UK. We are pretty sure we have the widest collection in Nottingham through our Akashi Tai range and welcome you all to come and try these fantastic beverages.
In Japan, however, sake is essential to Japanese cuisine. For centuries, sake has been at the fore of Japanese spiritual rituals (Shintoism), celebrations and family activities. Sake has also shaped the landscape and symbolised nature’s bounty and farmer’s graft. For the Japanese, rice isn’t the accompaniment to the meal it is integral to its success, whether that be on the plate (or bowl) or in the form of sake.
That being said, whilst speaking to brewers and locals alike, what is clear is that sake, as a quintessential emblem of Japan, has hit a rough patch on domestic soil. Globalisation has paved way for international tastes. For example, 20 years ago you would be lucky to find the likes of coffee, even in Tokyo, whereas now it is much more common place. This has been extended to alcoholic beverages and as such, the likes of beer, spirits and wine are on the rise. The agricultural lobby has also seen its power dwindle and international free-trade deals, currently under negotiation, could further compound the reduction in sake consumption. Slowly but surely, sake is losing ground in Japan.
When speaking with locals about sake, there appeared to be a generational gap. The consensus was that sake is a drink that older people drink, whereas the younger generation preferred beer and spirits. This mirrored what I saw in Tokyo, which was young working professionals stopping off after work (10pm) for a couple of pints with colleagues; few were drinking sake. With Japan’s ageing population the sake hit could be exacerbated in years to come which would be a real shame. That being said, it was a fascinating time, being able to experience the cultural significance of this wonderful beverage in all its uniqueness. I think the French geographer and author of Sake: A Japanese Exception, Nicolas Baumert, put it elegantly when he said: “If rice is the metaphor of Japanese identity, sake is its accomplishment.”