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What is sake? Japan brewery hopes bilingual picture book ferments interest in tradition

This image provided by Suigei Brewing Co. shows a page from "What is Sake?" -- a picture book published by the company.

KOCHI -- A sake maker in western Japan has published a picture book titled "What is Sake?" which takes readers on an illustrated tour of its facility to show how the alcoholic beverage is created, and presents drinking as a fun activity that brings the whole family together.

    The book, whose text is accompanied with English translations, was published by Suigei Brewing Co., based in the city of Kochi, in hopes that Japan's sake culture, which has become gradually forgotten, will be shared throughout the world. President Hirokuni Okura, 42, spoke of the desire to "have both adults and children view sake, an element of Japanese food culture, as something close to them."

    The picture book features charming illustrations that show the process of sake being brewed at the company's Tosa-gura facility and the employees who work there. The Tosa-gura facility also accepts tours for the public, and foreigners had apparently visited the site as well prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

    This image provided by Suigei Brewing Co. shows a page from "What is Sake?" -- a picture book published by the company.

    Misae Nagai, 31, an illustrator living in the city of Kochi who was in charge of drawing the pictures, sat down and talked with the company's 53 employees, all of whom appeared in the book. One page contained the description, "It's really hot in the muro (the room where the koji fermentation preparation is made), but the brewers don't mind since they want to make the tastiest sake," along with workers sweating away at work while saying, "Mix it! Mix it!"

    "I learned that the brewers were making sake with pride. I'd like to make this known to the next generation," said Nagai.

    In the book, sake was also presented as a communal activity and communication tool that is a part of Japan's culture. Okura explained, "It has long been said that people are drinking sake less and less, but the party culture of Kochi where people make friends through the act of toasting and drinking together is splendid."

    This image provided by Suigei Brewing Co. shows a page from "What is Sake?" -- a picture book published by the company.

    The book also introduces sake tasting and seasonal sake, as well as the company's original products, such as sake cups and sake lee beauty products, suggesting that those who do not drink can also have a fun time at the brewery.

    "I wanted to think outside the company's framework and convey the pleasures of sake to people around the world," said Okura.

    Of Suigei Brewing Co.'s sake products, about 10% are exported overseas, and those shipped to the United States and China account for around 80% of all exports. As the company's products are designed to be paired with food -- a concept called "shokuchu-shu" in Japanese as opposed to aperitif (shokuzen-shu) and digestif (shokugo-shu) -- it has made suggestions regarding sake and food matching, as well as specific settings to enjoy sake, at events held overseas.

    Suigei Brewing Co. President Hirokuni Okura, left, who published the picture book "What is Sake?" and Misae Nagai, who was in charge of the book's illustrations, are seen at the brewery's Tosa-gura establishment in Tosa, Kochi Prefecture, on June 2, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kobayashi)

    The picture book is 24 pages long, and costs 1,320 yen (about $12). It will be sold at major bookstores in Kochi Prefecture, as well as in Suigei Brewing Co.'s online shop. While it is currently not available for customers abroad, the company is considering overseas sales of the book.

    (Satoshi Kobayashi, Kochi Bureau and Chinami Takeichi, The Mainichi)

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