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Japan plans to apply for UNESCO heritage for sake brewing

Feb 08. 2020
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By Syndication Washington Post, Japan News-Yomiuri 

The Japanese government has decided to apply to have Japanese sake listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, with the aim of boosting name recognition and brand power as part of efforts to expand overseas exports. 

The government expects to file the application in early 2020s.

In April, the Cultural Affairs Agency will set up a team of a dozen or so officials to prepare the application. They plan to visit breweries across the nation and exchange opinions with master sake brewers, known as toji. These conversations will contribute to their study of the range of brewing processes and techniques to be covered by the UNESCO application, and of ways to support branding.

The UNESCO listing process starts with the government making a decision in consultation with the Council for Cultural Affairs, then a proposal is submitted. UNESCO's intergovernmental committee then decides whether it will be approved for inclusion on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

It remains to be seen how the government will create momentum aimed at earning registration and protect the technology of sake brewing. 

Prior to submitting the application, the government is considering designating techniques, such as temperature control, essential for sake brewing as important intangible cultural assets based on the Protection of Cultural Properties Law.

The government is also considering recognizing master brewers as living national treasures and providing them with subsidies.

Exports of Japanese agricultural products and foodstuffs, including Japanese sake, have been on the rise. With the inclusion of washoku on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, it has become popular the world over and overseas demand has been increasing.

Japan's exports of agricultural products and foodstuffs reached ¥906.8 billion in 2018, marking a record high for the sixth consecutive year.

Riding this trend, sake exports in 2018 increased 19% from the previous year to about ¥22.2 billion, the ninth straight year of increase and a tripling in 10 years. According to the National Tax Agency, more than half of the nation's breweries have exported sake.

Though the market share of sake among the world's alcoholic beverages remains low, it is possible to significantly increase exports through brand strategies and other means, according to the agency.

The agency will establish an export promotion office in its Liquor Tax and Industry Division in July.

There is a precedent for brewing methods being listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Mongolia's traditional technique of making airag liquor, made of fermented mare's milk and listed in 2019, is one such example.

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