John Gauntner is recognized as one of the world’s leading non-Japanese sake experts and educators.
A resident of Japan since 1988, he is well known in the sake industry as the window to making sake understandable and popular outside of Japan.
He has been writing and lecturing about sake since 1994, in various newspapers and magazines in Japan and overseas. He has published six books on sake across two languages, hundreds of articles on the topic, and also publishes a free monthly newsletter.
He is the co-founder and content editor of the world’s first and only sake-only magazine, Sake Today, which was founded in January of 2014.
Known as “The Sake Guy,” and “The Sake Evangelist,” John has been quoted and/or mentioned in sake related articles in countless publications including The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes, Business Week, and Rolling Stone. He has spoken at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities, Wharton School of Business, and countless other venues across the US and Japan.
John is the only non-Japanese certified Master of Sake Tasting in the world, as administered by the Nihon Jouzo Kyoukai, or Brewing Society of Japan, the organization that, among other things, provides the majority of yeast strains to the brewing industry. He has also achieved the very difficult Sake Expert Assessor certification from Japan’s National Research Institute of Brewing. No other non-Japanese in the world has both of these certifications.
In 2006, he was awarded the Sake Samurai designation the very first year it was awarded by the Junior Council of the Japan Sake and Shochu Producer’s Association, for helping to promote sake and sake culture around the world.
Several times each year, he runs the Sake Professional Course, a week-long intensive sake study course, held both in and outside of Japan, as well as the advanced level of that course. He formed and currently sits as the chairman of the Sake Education Council, a non-profit organization that overseas sake certification testing. More than 1800 people from 13 countries have been certified and are recognized through this organization.
Over 12 years experience in the sake industry, Chris was wooed into the world of sake by a charismatic brewery during tenure at a Japanese food and drink importer in London. Upon his move to Japan in 2014 he has since visited close to 100 breweries and completed a year in a Tokyo-based sales position for Tatenokawa Sake Brewery based in Yamagata Prefecture.
Chris is a certified sake educator for the WSET in London, currently teaching the Level 3 Certification in Sake at Caplan in Tokyo. Other sake related activities include running sake-infused international exchange events for KURAND Sake Market and regular MC at the Sake 2020 Sake Salon, “Meet the Brewer” events, organized and hosted with the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association. Chris regularly appears on Japanese TV, radio and various publications.
Born in Normandy (France), long-term resident in Tokyo, Sebastien Lemoine is an eclectic Japanese culture buff, certified Advanced Sake Professional, sake educator at Le Cordon Bleu.
Making a turnaround from an international banking career in 2013, he embarked on a new life project, taking individual and corporate clients through inspiring experiences of Japan across the country, playing his part in staging sake and its cultural heritage for the benefit of a wide audience.
You can book private tours or consult with him directly via Passerelle, as well as follow along on his journeys on his blog.
Marie is a budding sake specialist based in Tokyo. She writes, talks, and sips all in the name of promoting sake, and wears many hats as the owner of Twenty x Twenty, a marketing agency specialized in sake-related business.
After spending years working in Marketing, she realized she’s finally had enough. No more flooding the market with yet another brand of toothpaste, headache pills, or ice cream, she thought. That’s when she decided to take a leap of faith in pursuing her passion for sake.
“A few weeks later Marie packed her two bags and landed in the scenic lakeside of Queenstown, New Zealand. There, she joins her friend and mentor Dave Joll in his boutique brewery Zenkuro, getting hands-on and elbows-deep experience in sake brewing. “
A string of serendipitous professional encounters led her back to Tokyo, where she now combines her background in marketing with her love for sake. She pens short pieces for SAKETIMES International as their Content Director, and is making a foray into the world of podcasts as a new addition to the cast of Sake On Air.
When she’s not trying out new brews, you can find her on a beach, sketching a design for her dream mobile home, or training for her first marathon — mentally, mostly.
Born in Vermont, Christopher Pellegrini came to Japan in 2002 where he has studied shochu and awamori since early 2003. In addition to his experience on the international spirits judging scene, he is certified by the SSI as a Shochu Kikisakeshi in Japan and as a Shochu Advisor by the SSA in America, the only person in the world who holds both accreditations. He published “The Shochu Handbook” in 2014, and he is a contributor to the upcoming “Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails.” He is also the Chief Editor of the Kyushu Advantage’s annual shochu magazine.
He spends much of his time traveling around Japan and the world giving speeches, consulting, and conducting tastings, and in 2017 he was designated a Cool Japan Ambassador for shochu and awamori by the Japanese Government. In 2018 Pellegrini was awarded the Japan Brewing Society’s culture prize for his continuing efforts to spread awamori and shochu culture internationally. He lives in Tokyo but makes dozens of trips each year to Okinawa Prefecture and Kyushu, Japan’s shochu island.
Seattle native with roughly 15 years in Japan helping develop new city-to-rural and rural-to-international projects centered around food, agriculture, travel, community, and cultural value creation.
Following an early career in entertainment localization and publishing, co-developing the Playism Games digital distribution platform with Active Gaming Media out of Osaka, encounters with Japan’s food producers and artisans resulted in a major life mission and lifestyle shift.
Justin joined Umari Inc. in 2011, developing, planning, and hosting projects and programs bringing Japan’s inspirational producers together with skilled professionals and curious visitors from throughout Japan and across the globe.
Enlightened by the world of sake and fermentation, he developed a parallel career path as one of Japan’s leading non-Japanese sake professionals, working as a brewer with Kidoizumi Sake Brewery, developing sake and local gastronomy tourism programs and training platforms, and hosting private events, tours, and seminars with producers, businesses and government agencies across Japan.
Justin is certified by the Japan Sake Service Institute as a “nihonshugakukoshi” (Certified Sake Instructor), “sakasho” (Advanced Sake Taster), and “kikizakeshi” (Sake Sommelier, for lack of a better definition), and Sake Navigator. He was also elected as an official Cool Japan Ambassador by Japan’s Cabinet Office for his work in the promotion and preservation of traditional food and culture throughout Japan.
He is co-president of Potts.K Productions together with wife and chef, Miyuki Iwasawa, running a family-sized company dedicated to exploring family-centric community, education, and entertainment around local food and sake. Opening Koji Akademia education and entertainment platform in 2019.
Born in New Zealand, Rebekah made Japan her home in 2005. Her first encounter with sake inspired a life changing journey that evolved into a career as one of Japan’s leading non-Japanese sake professionals.
After years of exploring the country, visiting breweries, meeting artisans, learning about fermentation and the rich culture that surrounds sake, Rebekah realized that she was bearing witness to a huge “sake awakening” driven by innovative producers, and a new generation of brewers.
Aware that English content about sake and modern sake culture was limited, in 2019, Rebekah founded “Ichi for the Michi”—a platform that focused on promoting sake culture to a global audience through TV shows, articles, regional gastronomy tours, sake tasting events and collaborations with leading sake producers & chefs.
In 2013, she teamed up with Japanese pop-artist Takashi Murakami to present “sake culture” education seminars at his cafe, Bar Zingaro. This lead to a collaboration with Murakami and Akita’s NEXT5 brewers to create a limited edition sake, NEXT5 x Bar Zingaro, which was launched at Murakami’s seminal exhibition: The 500 Arhats, in Tokyo, October 2015.
Rebekah is a SEC certified Advanced Sake Professional, WSET Level 3 Educator, and has been an International Wine Challenge sake division judge since 2016. She regularly appears in Japanese TV shows, magazines and other media. She is also one of the three main subjects of the documentary movie “Kampai: Sake Sisters”, which was released internationally in 2019.
Rebekah joined Japan Craft Sake Company in 2016. As head of international PR & marketing her diverse job portfolio includes: organizing Japan’s largest sake culture event, CRAFT SAKE WEEK; sake consultancy for corporations, 5-star hotels and the world’s leading restaurants; sake education; and developing a traceable, -5ºC sake export system for the global market.
Adviser, General Manager of JSS Information Center
Born in Tokyo, 1960. After graduating from Hitotsubashi University Law Department he joined Nippon Steel Corporation, worked at Nagoya Works, and then at the Sales and Administration Headquarters.
In 1989 he became a board member of Imada Shurui Hanbai Co. Following a merger in 2002 he joined Ota Shoten, where he became Senior Managing Director and Operating Officer of Sales. He then founded Sansuisha in 2012, where he provided marketing consultation for several sake breweries, as well as organized sake-related activities, including seminars and lectures for brewers and distributers of sake. Took office as the first General Manager of the JSS Information Center in 2016.
Producer, Audio Engineer
Born in California, high school in Maine, university in Washington, 5 years in Japan.
Frank caught the radio bug early, recording his favorite songs on the family boombox in elementary school. He had his own show on WBOR for a year in high school and was in and out of the KUPS studio during his college years. Since coming to Japan, he has worked as an interpreter for the very first Edo Sushi experience at Airbnb and helped create the Tanegashima Global Initiative. He is currently a project manager, writer, and editor for Export Japan Inc., the producers of Japan-Guide.com.
A lover of all things on two wheels, in 2015 he rode his bike along the Tokaido road, and in 2018 he took a week-long ride from Kagoshima to Nagoya on a 50cc scooter. Along the way he discovered a love of Sake and Shochu, especially the craft that goes into each drink.