TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Japan's sake exports increased 19 per cent in 2017 from the previous year to 23,481 kiloliters, setting a record high for eight years in a row.
Partly boosted by a growing interest in Japanese cuisine overseas, sake exports have enjoyed an upward trend since 2006, when exports topped 10,000 kiloliters.
Last year, the volume passed the 20,000-kiloliter mark for the first time, and the rate of increase was also the highest ever.
Sake exports via Kobe Port - which is surrounded by a number of prestigious sake breweries - accounts for about half of the total, giving business opportunities to breweries in western Japan, mainly the Kansai region.
Behind the rising exports lies shrinking sake consumption in the nation.
Current domestic consumption is as low as about one-third of the peak it reached in fiscal 1975, driving brewing firms to find their way in exports.
In parallel with this trend, the rising popularity of Japanese cuisine overseas has been helping sake exports.
The number of restaurants serving Japanese cuisine outside Japan stood at about 118,000 as of October 2017, up about 30 per cent from the 89,000 figure seen in a July 2015 survey, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
The large export volume via Kobe Port is attributable to the fact that the nation's leading sake producing districts - such as Nadagogo in Hyogo Prefecture and Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture - are dotted about the Kansai region.
According to Kobe Customs, 49.7 per cent of Japan's total exports in volume terms are shipped from the port.
The top export destination is the United States, which accounts for 25 per cent of the total, followed by South Korea, China and Taiwan.
Sake breweries have begun efforts to meet overseas demand.
Since summer 2017, Kyoto-based Gekkeikan Sake Co started selling certain sakes exclusively for export, such as a distinctly fragrant product called "Taruzake," made with European consumers in mind.
Kobe-based Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Co will start shipping its new product "Hyaku Moku" - the firm's first new brand in 130 years - to Europe sometime this autumn or later. The product's lingering umami savoury aftertaste is said to suit Western cuisine as well.
In September last year, Akana Shuzo brewery in Iinan, Shimane Prefecture, opened a business office in Bangkok as its first overseas base.
"The competition is getting more fierce even within the sake business itself," the president of the company said.