Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is Saké Dying in Japan?

The Saké market in the U.S., as well as other foreign markets, continues to increase. During the late 1990s, the export volume of Saké quadrupled and the U.S. and Taiwan were the two major markets. It is also said that The U.S. market for Saké has nearly doubled in volume and quadrupled in value. According to the Japanese Ministry of Finance, the value of exported Saké to the U.S. exceeded about $23 million, up 10% from 2005.

Though Saké exports are continually increasing, Saké production and consumption in Japan has actually been declining. The 1960s were the most years for Saké and there had been approximately 4000 Saké breweries in existence during that period. Nowadays though, the number of Saké breweries is less than 1500. And Saké breweries continue to close every year. A few years ago, the Saké industry was even officially recognized as fukyo gyoshu ("a depressed industry").

Saké sales almost halved between 1996 and 2004. Its share of Japan's alcohol market is decreasing by almost 10% each year. Certainly a dire situation for this traditional product.

The younger generation are the ones moving away from Saké. Saké is seen more of as a drink for old people. Beer is the drink of choice for the young, while other spirits and wine are also increasing. The Saké industry has begun to strike back, trying to market Saké as hip and modern, rather than just a stuffy old alcohol.

Will this work? Only time will tell but it seems that even if Saké can make a resurgence, it is unlikely to ever reach its prior heights. At least Japanese Saké brewers do have a growing export market for their product.

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