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Japanese Government Strives to Make Sake Fans

Shunsuke Takei, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited Chicago to strengthen Chicago-Japan relations and promote Japanese alcoholic beverages, sake and shochu. Consul General Naoki Ito hosted a sake and shochu event at his official residence on July 24.
Sake importers TENZING, Vine Connections, and Kobrand Wine & Spirits set up tables and offered their sake. Takei and his crew hand carried four shochu bottles “Kuro Kirishima” from his hometown and offered the attendees to taste it.

The guests were the members of the Choose Chicago, the World Business Chicago, the Japan America Society of Chicago, JETRO, restaurant owners, and the people in the alcohol industry.

Consul General Ito welcomed the guests and said that Japanese Government has promoted exporting sake and other beverages, and sales of sake have increased 10% annually in recent years. “Sake and shochu pair well with Japanese and other cuisines. With a large number of all types of restaurants here, people’s dining experience can be even richer with our beverages, sake and shochu,” he said.

Takei said that sake promotion was one of his Government’s important roles to offer foreign people an opportunity to enjoy Japanese cuisine with sake. “I saw sake is sold at supermarkets in the U.S. and feel that sake has become a familiar item to American people. The size of sake market, however, is only 7% to 8% of the wine, so I would like to ask your cooperation to foster the sake market,” he said.

Takei explained the difference between brewed sake and distilled shochu, and emphasized that the shochu from his hometown was made by pure sweet potatoes harvested in the southern Kyushu.
He wished deepening US-Japan friendship through sake and made a toast.

Tona Palomino of TENZING said that most wonderful aspect of sake was many distillations of Japanese culture and the hospitality aspect of Japanese culture through sake. “It is really the most generous way to open yourself,” he said.

Jonathon Edwards of Vine Connection said that the different varieties of sake in Chicago have been deepening connections between sake in Japan and Chicago. He had been educated and trained by professionals in the sake field and said, “Chicago is such a great place for Japanese business as well as food, and people are interested in not only sake but also Japanese food and culture.” “I love most about sake is that we are always trying to communicate to people all the stories, history and tradition behind sake themselves. I encourage all of us who not only working for sake, but also who enjoy sake. That is an avenue towards growing sake even more not only in the U.S., but definitely in the Midwest and Chicago” he concluded.

Interview with Shunsuke Takei

Q: You arrived at Chicago this morning.

Takei: Yes. I met Illinois’ lawmakers and people related to Chicago’s politics and economics. I also visited Japanese companies in this area.

Q: How do you like Chicago?

Takei: It’s a beautiful city with a lot of green. I heard that someone was saying, “If you go to New York, you will see New York, but if you go to Chicago, you can see America.” I think that it was really true.
I ate Chicago hot dogs at a local restaurant and rode a METRA train this afternoon. I could suck real air of the city. It’s important for me.

Q: How is the promotion about sake and Japanese cuisine?

Takei: Promoting sake is very important to revitalize the local economy in Japan. We have made effort to register Japanese cuisine as a world cultural heritage. If it were done, I think that sake will grow together with it..
I’m pleased to see that Japanese cuisine has become a boom overseas, so I think that we have to serve it in a right way. It is important to educate chefs, no matter if Japanese or foreign, to cook true Japanese dishes.

Q: Where are you going to visit next?

Takei: I’m going to visit Anchorage tomorrow to meet the people there and of course introducing sake and shochu. I’ve visited about 25 countries since I became Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs last summer. I’m in charge of visiting the North America, Latin America and Africa.

Q: Did you want to become a politician from the beginning?

Takei: I worked in a travel agency after graduated from college. It was an interesting job; however, I began to see people struggling to keep their businesses in my home prefecture, Miyazaki. I thought why those hard-working people had to face such difficulties, so I decided to become a politician.

Q: So, you brought shochu “Kuro Kirishima” today.

Takei: Miyazaki is an agricultural prefecture and losing population due to declining birth rates, so we have to work on revitalizing the economy. There is no easy thing to do, but I want to do one by one and pursue my role.

Q: I heard that you meet Japanese Americans each place you visit.

Takei: Yes. I recently talked with Japanese American people when I went to Colorado. I really think about the hardships that they had endured and worked hard to make strong communities.

Q: Thank you very much.


Shunsuke Takei, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs (R) and David Jonson, President of the Japan America Society of Chicago