NIPPONIA No. 44 March 15, 2008


Special Featuresp_star.gifHere’s to Japanese sake!

Creating a Brighter Future for Sake

Sake consumption in Japan is actually dropping year by year because of the rising popularity of other types of alcohol like shochu (a traditional distilled alcohol) and beer.Concerned about the future of sake, the people on these two pages are working to reverse this trend.

Written by Torikai Shin-ichi   Photos by Kono Toshihiko


New trends for a traditional alcohol

Hasegawa Koichi

Hasegawa Saketen


Hasegawa Koichi at his bar in Tokyo’s Omotesando Hills. The shop sells about 150 sake brands, all carefully selected by him. Prices start at 400 yen for a cup.


The sake shop Hasegawa Saketen is located in the Kameido district of eastern Tokyo, and is known for its very extensive selection. The company president, Hasegawa Koichi, took over from his father, and has visited sake breweries throughout the country, always on the lookout for that extra tasty brand of sake.

He began his search in his mid-20s, about 30 years ago. It all started when he was in an izakaya tavern, and someone suggested he try some ginjo-shu sake. “It was a real eye-opener. I never thought sake could taste so good!”

In those days, the ginjo-shu and daiginjo-shu types of sake were considered brews for hobby buyers, and brewers sent little to market. Hasegawa’s shop did not carry them, either. But that was then. Hasegawa kept touring the nation’s sake breweries in his spare time, and developed an ever stronger liking for those types of sake. Brewers welcomed their out-of-the-blue visitor with open arms, let him sample their products, and introduced him to their philosophy of brewing.

“Making sake takes time, skill and patience, and the result is something you would not find anywhere else in the world.”

Rice specially chosen for sake is polished and steamed, a koji mold is cultivated, and a yeast starter is added. The process involves many steps, and the final result differs in interesting ways from one brewer to the next. Hasegawa Saketen stocks about 800 kinds of sake, and Hasegawa is confident in the quality of all of them.

But sales are down throughout Japan. Hasegawa saw this as a challenge—how, he asked himself, could he boost consumption by helping more people, especially young adults, learn about the charms of sake? His answer was to open shops in Tokyo’s upscale Omotesando Hills complex and the new GranSta complex under Tokyo Station. This caught the attention of the younger crowd and created new must-go spots in the metropolis. His outlets have fancy bar counters made for sipping sake. “I wanted to provide a chic place for drinking sake.”

Bottles are lined up on the counters, all specially chosen by this sake connoisseur.