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Asahi Shuzo Hosts Rice Contest to Elevate Sake Quality

At the contest, premium sake brewer Asahi Shuzo and farmers from across Japan showcased their unwavering commitment to the pursuit of the finest sake.



The first prize and second prize received ¥30 million JPY (around $200,000 USD) and ¥10 million JPY, respectively. (©Yukihiro Watanabe)

Asahi Shuzo, the renowned producer of Japanese sake brand Dassai, recently organized a rice competition to assess the quality of Yamada Nishiki, a rice variety used to brew high-quality sake. 

Rice holds a special significance in Japanese culture, its cultivation dating back around 2000 years and leaving an indelible mark on the nation's culinary traditions and economy. 

During the Edo period (1603–1868), following a tumultuous era of civil wars, the magnitude of a feudal domain was measured by rice production in units called "koku." This metric also quantified a samurai's salary, underscoring the deep-seated importance of rice.

Barrels of premium sake Dassai. (©Yukihiro Watanabe)

A National Staple

Despite the growing influence of Western cuisines over the past 50 years, leading to increased bread consumption in Japan, rice continues to be the primary staple. This is evident in the recent surge in the popularity of onigiri (rice balls) and the prevalent use of rice in bento boxes across the country.

Given the integral role of rice in Japanese culture, perhaps it is unsurprising that Japanese sake is crafted from this grain. However, Dassai, a distinguished sake brand, exclusively uses the Yamada Nishiki rice variety.

Therefore, improving the taste of sake is intricately tied to improving rice quality. The Yamada Nishiki contest, organized by Asahi Shuzo, is designed to incentivize rice farmers in this pursuit.

Various Yamada Nishiki rice produced by farmers across Japan. (©Yukihiro Watanabe)

Better Rice, Better Sake

Rice farmers from across Japan gathered at the contest's award ceremony. The event witnessed a spectrum of emotions, from celebratory moments to disappointments. Yet, the unwavering commitment of both farmers and breweries to elevate sake quality was a truly remarkable sight.

Sake produced from award-winning rice naturally comes with a higher price tag. However, when farmers earnestly compete to cultivate high-quality rice, the positive impact extends beyond Dassai to benefit the whole industry.

Without a doubt, the primary beneficiaries of such a contest are the consumers. And it is for their enjoyment that farmers come together to compete.


Additionally, Asahi Shuzo's brewery in New York has introduced Dassai Blue, an exclusive offering available only in the United States. In an upcoming interview, Hiroshi Sakurai, Chairman of Asahi Shuzo, will share his insights on sake with The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Yukihiro Watanabe

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