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Japan Looks to Sake to Spur Exports

The fermented rice drink is growing in popularity internationally
A kurabito, or sake brewer, labors in a warm humid room called a kojimuro to work the stiffness out of the koji, or steamed rice cultivated with mold
A kurabito, or sake brewer, labors in a warm humid room called a kojimuro to work the stiffness out of the koji, or steamed rice cultivated with moldPhotograph by Andrew Parsons/I-Images/Zuma Press

Talks over a bilateral territory dispute were the first order of business at a meeting in October between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As the session came to a close, Abe marked another occasion—the Russian leader’s 61st birthday—by presenting him with a bottle of premium sake from Asahi Shuzo, a leading producer based in Yamaguchi prefecture, Abe’s birthplace.

News coverage of the gesture highlighted the rice-based spirit at a time when many of Japan’s more than 1,700 sake makers are boosting production and expanding global marketing and as Abe looks to increase sake and rice exports. The push comes simultaneous to a rise in interest in sake outside Japan. “Sales overseas are increasing with the popularity of Japanese food,” says Tomoko Sakaguchi, a spokeswoman for Takara Shuzo, the sake-manufacturing unit of Kyoto-based beverage maker Takara Holdings and the biggest seller of sake outside of Japan.