After sake, is shochu the next drink trend to come out of Japan?

TOKYO, May 7 — Japan is planning to designate sake and shochu as “national alcoholic beverages” as it ramps up its campaign to have Japanese cuisine added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.

After a recent visit to a sake brewer in Akita Prefecture, in northern Japan, Motohisa Furukawa, the state minister for national policy, told reporters that designating the two brews as the national drink will raise their profiles in overseas markets and increase exports.

“Sake and shochu are part of the Japanese culture of taking pride in high-quality rice and water,” Furukawa said. “I am confident they could develop into an export industry that is capable of penetrating the global market.”

Sake is fermented from rice, while shochu is more commonly produced from other crops, including barley and sweet potatoes.

At present, most producers are small family-run businesses that are not able to mass-produce their drinks and have therefore found it difficult to be recognised outside Japan.

With the increasing global popularity of Japanese cuisine, however, the government and producers see an opportunity to tell the world about drinks that are as synonymous with Japan as sushi and miso soup.

The drive to promote sake and shochu comes as the government and Japanese companies step up their efforts to have “washoku” traditional cuisine accepted by UNESCO.

That campaign was damaged by reports of contamination to crops in northeast Japan in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, which crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor and caused leaks of radioactivity into the surrounding areas.

Japan is attempting to rebuild faith in Japanese food overseas, and in March a panel was created that brings together the government and food companies to promote the UNESCO campaign.

In April, the Metropolitan Museum of Art staged “Sakura no Utage,” meaning a feast of cherry blossoms, that served traditional dishes such as steamed fish, tossed sushi rice and a burdock dish to 90 guests.

Organisers have pointed out that Japanese ingredients — everything from soy sauce to wasabi, yuzu and “daishi” stock — are attracting a growing following among famous chefs around the world.

Marcus Wareing, chef patron of the Berkeley in London’s Knightsbridge, visited Tokyo earlier this year and said he does not believe the popularity of Japanese food around the world is a temporary craze.

“I do not think it is a fad,” he said. “I think the world is so much more international in terms of choice today and I believe that will only increase in the future.”

Wareing said he has always liked clean but robust flavours and that the secret of any good sauce is the stock, so he is a big fan of Japanese-style “dashi,” while the best part of his visit was the early-morning visit to Tsukiji fish wholesale market.

“The ingredients were incredible, with the most amazing being the monkfish liver, which reminded me of foie gras.”

According to the Japan External Trade Organisation, there were 14,129 Japanese restaurants in the United States in 2010, more than double the number of a decade earlier, while the number has risen to 1,000 restaurants in France and around 500 in Britain. — AFP-Relaxnews



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