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  4. 2019.1.11

Sake maker armed with global perspective「手取川」で知られる吉田酒造店の吉田泰之さん

© THE JAPAN TIMES
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「手取川」で知られる石川県の吉田酒造店の次期社長で杜氏の吉田泰之さんは、伝統的な日本酒の製造・販売を発展させるためには海外での経験や外国人との英語でのコミュニケーションが必須だと語る。地元に根付きながら、国際感覚も備えた吉田さんにお話を伺った。


Sake, or nihonshu, has always been far more popular domestically than overseas. But recently, it’s made inroads on the international stage, with sake makers sending salespeople abroad to secure distribution networks and collaborate with high-end restaurants. Sake has now become the thing to order in top restaurants from London to Dubai, Hong Kong to Reykjavik. Yasuyuki Yoshida, son and heir to one of the most respected brewery houses in Ishikawa Prefecture, with its signature sake Tedorigawa, is ready to toast to that — in both English and Japanese. Now in his early 30s, Yoshida had always known he would inherit the family business but it wasn’t until he left Japan to go abroad that “I got really serious about learning the sake business,” he says.

“It’s easy to think that working with highly traditional products like sake won’t require overseas experience and that everything we could ever want to study is right here in Japan. That’s only partly true. It’s vitalfor people in the sake business to go out and see the world. You gain a perspective and language skills that you would never get otherwise.” Yoshida’s first overseas trip was to Mongolia with his father, which opened his eyes to the outside world.
©THE JAPAN TIMES

“I was astonished at how large-scale everything was, and how different the culture,” he says. When the family business was looking to expand abroad, Yoshida knew he had to learn English. “I’m embarrassed to say my English was awful,” he laughs, adding that he felt the need to be in an environment where he had to force himself to use English. “So I enrolled in a language school in London in 2010 and stayed for one year.” He then went to New York in 2012 to intern as a salesperson and was there for six months, learning the ropes of sales and marketing. “On and off, I was in the U.S. for a total of two years,” he says. “I was so elated to be working there.” Yoshida says sake has matured into a highly marketable product overseas, especially for independent breweries with their own networks and spokespersons like himself. “The Americans were interested in everything I had to say,” he says. “Everyone was eager to learn how sake fits into Japanese food culture. I was gratified to be able to explain in a language they could understand.” Yoshida says his English isn’t perfect. “But I do know how to make a sales pitch and to work with people abroad. I’ve gone beyond learning the language to using it as a tool. And for me, that’s so important.” Yoshida’s family brewery company was founded in 1870, but “It’s never enough to keep doing the same things,” says Yoshida. Acknowledging innovation and creativity as key factors in keeping the business alive, Yoshida adds: “At the same time, we have to be one with the land, the region and the tradition. It’s really a matter of striking the right balance. “Sake is deceptively simple, requiring only two things: rice and water. But the water must be the purest of pure and the rice must be harvested from the cleanest paddies. Making sake is a delicate, labor-intensive process but it’s equally important for the brewery to steward the land.” Yoshida adds that foreign distributors are now fully aware of this, and how sake-making is heavily swayed by the environment. “It’s the same as wine. A lot of restaurants overseas now have sake lists as well as wine lists, and sommeliers that can pair sake with the food,” he says. “Going overseas opened up the world to me, but it also gave me an opportunity to learn how people outside of Japan view sake,” he adds. “Restaurants abroad value the powerful flavors of strong wines to go with the food, but when it comes to sake they want its purity, freshness and sensitivity. The global palate is changing and I’m happy to be right in the midst of this adventure.” (Kaori Shoji)

Words to live by

Even jogging in place will wear down your soles.
 
日本語のフレーズですが、実業家の高橋歩さんの「足踏みしても靴底は減る」という言葉が好きです。何か困難に遭ったときには思い出すようにしています。困難な時こそ前に一歩出よう、次の世界に行こう。そんな気持ちを忘れないで仕事をしていきたいです。
 

プロフィール

吉田泰之(よしだ やすゆき)
1986年石川県白山市生まれ。吉田酒造店の6代目。東京農業大学応用生物科学部醸造科学科卒業。2010年から1年間英国に留学後、2012年から米国の輸入会社でインターンを経験。日系米国人監督によるドキュメンタリー映画 The Birth of Sake への協力やイベント企画・出展など、日本酒を国内外に広める取り組みを積極的に行なう。地元の米と水を使った地酒造りにもこだわっている。

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