Episode-45: The State of Sake Amidst COVID 19: Part 1

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This week, we’re bringing you a double episode exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the sake industry here in Japan, and how that impact is beginning to reverberate through the international market.

The entire nation of Japan, while never undergoing a formal lockdown, was officially placed on State of Emergency status as of April 7th, a state which continued until May 31st, with the country gradually easing restrictions in phases over the several weeks that followed, leading to a complete reopening on June 19th.

During this period, restaurants and izakaya were requested to limit their hours of operation from 5am to 8pm, while closing all alcohol service by 7pm. This, combined with the request for the entire population to refrain from unnecessary travel, as well as shift to teleworking in all instances possible, transformed how people shopped, dined, and of course, accessed and consumed sake and shochu. As you might have guessed, for many breweries, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants, sake and shochu stocks became largely idle for months on end.

While sales numbers have been gradually recovering since June, the number of people testing positive for COVID 19 have also been on the rise as of late, with Japan now experiencing what at this stage might be considered a “mild second wave.” As a result, dining establishments have again been asked to curtail their hours of operation for the month of August, closing by 10pm, with particularly dense dining and entertainment districts in parts of Osaka being asked to cut back their hours of operation even further.

These front-line sales tend to get a lot of attention, however it’s the beverage’s deep agriculture ties, along with the particular timing of the pandemic which might result in a truly devastating fallout down the road. We discuss this as well.

To be honest, there’s still a lot that we don’t know. The impact from the past 6 months isn’t truly going to manifest itself for some time to come, and how the pandemic will develop both in Japan and internationally is, at this point, still anybody’s guess.

However, we do feel a responsibility to sake lovers around the world to share what it is we do know, which is why over the past couple of months we’ve been conducting a series of short interviews, as well as discussing this reality amongst ourselves, in order to help paint at least somewhat of a picture as to where we stand as of the end of August 2020.

For Part 1, we’ve edited together a series of excerpts from five different interviews that we conducted with individuals here in Japan who are in a position to offer particular insight into the impact COVID-19 on certain pockets or channels of the sake and shochu industries. Our guest include:

・Yoshiro Okamoto – Vice President of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association
・Koichi Saura – President of Saura Co. Ltd. (makers of Urakasumi) and co-chairman of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association
・Takahiro Ibaragi – Head of the International Sales Division at Nihon Shurui Hanbai
・Sam Mitsuya – Owner of Mitsuya Liquors
・Shinnosuke Hiramatsu – Retail Sales Office at Imadeya

When you’re done with this episode, Part 2 is already live, so you can jump over and continue this exploration whenever you’re ready. For Part 2 we bring your regular hosts Christopher Pellegrini, John Gauntner, Sebastien Lemoine, and Justin Potts together to anecdotally discuss the experience of the past six months. We hope you’ll find it to be an interesting supplement to the first-hand perspective provided in this episode.

Between this and Part 2, we’ve left you with a lot to digest over the next couple of weeks. There’s still a long road ahead, but we’ll be in it for the long haul. We hope you’ll stick with us. If you’re looking for a great way to support, there’s always one:

Keep kampai-ing.

Part 2 is here.
We'll see you in two weeks.

0:00:21 Introduction
0:05:17 Yoshiro Okamoto – Vice President of JSS
0:12:47 Koichi Saura – President of Saura Co. Ltd. (Urakasumi), Co-chairman of JSS
0:29:00 Takahiro Ibaragi – Head of International Department at Nihon Shurui Hanbai
0:41:48 Sam Mitsuya – Owner of Mitsuya Liquors
0:57:15 Shinnosuke Hiramatsu – Retail Sales Office at Imadeya
1:16:27 Closing

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.