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Yukino Ochiai becomes Australia’s first female Sake Samurai

Yukino Ochiai becomes Australia’s first female Sake Samurai

The Japan Sake Brewers Association (JSBA) has named Sydney Wine Academy’s Sake educator Yukino Ochiai as Australia’s first female Sake Samurai.

Ochiai, one of Australia’s biggest importers and distributors of sake, and now an Australian permanent resident, will join only three other sake ambassadors to be inaugurated into the role of Samurai by the Japan Sake Brewers Association, with his year’s official ceremony to be held on September 27 at Kyoto’s Matsunoo-taisha shrine.

The award, established in 2005, is given to people who embody the culture and identity of sake in Japan and global markets. Ochiai is the third Australian to receive Samurai distinction, with only 70 people holding a Sake Samurai title worldwide, 15 of which are women.

“Lots of women are coming into the industry and they’re doing a fantastic job”, Ochiai told Sydney Wine Academy. “I’m honoured to be one of them. Regardless of gender, I work in the industry because I love the product and I’m proud to promote the traditions from my home country.”

The sake industry is deemed a place where women are significantly underrepresented. In the Japan Sake Brewers Association, women hold only 30 of the 800 chairs within the association’s Junior Council.

While Ochiai is breaking the barriers of female representation in the sake industry, she is also working towards westernising sake, assisting the category towards prominence in Australia.

Australians and sake

Ochiai established Deja vu Sake Co in 2012 with her husband Andrew Cameron (co-owner of Deja vu Wine Co); a company that imports Japanese sake, whisky, wine and beer to Australia with the intention of normalising the Japanese categories.

“We want to make sake accessible to Australian people. My dream is for Australians to come into a wine shop, buy a cold sake, take it home and get a nice pizza and watch a DVD or movie” she told The Australian.

“I want to have that, so we are not shy to show sake to the off-trade like bottle shops, wine shops and stores. And that is the path we want to take.’’

While it is estimated that more than 70% of sake sales in Australia are through the on-premise market, such as bars and restaurants, and only a small portion sold at bottle shops such as Dan Murphy’s or Vintage Cellars, people like Ochiai are influencing Australians to enjoy premium sake in the comfort of their homes. 

“Sake is still a category on the way to being established in Australia, so maybe 10 years later it will be established and become more easy to access or find in a store. Sometimes it’s like two steps forward, one step back, but that is our journey, little by little’’, said Ochiai.

Ochiai will be delivering the Sydney Wine Academy’s Sake Level 1 course on Tuesday, 19 September. You can enrol now at the Sydney Wine Academy website.

The growing globalisation of sake

The Japanese have been drinking sake since the eighth century. Sadly, in recent years sales have been declining in Japan for a number of reasons.

In the mid 1970’s, the Japanese drank approximately 1.67m million kilolitres of sake a year, according to the national tax agency. But by 2014, domestic consumption had shrunk to 557,000 kilolitres. Moreover, in the 1980s there were an estimated 3500 breweries; now there are just 1300.

The decline is being blamed on Japan’s falling population and young people’s recently acquired taste for wine and other new and exciting alcoholic drinks.

In contrast, sake exports have doubled in the past decade to a record 19,737 kilolitres last year, according to the same tax agency findings - with the US accounting for about a quarter of the total imports, followed by Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and South Korea.

"This photo was taken 5 years ago at Hihou Bar in Melbourne. Our first trade and media tasting. Deja Vu Sake Co. were just started. We came a long way 'together' since then to create Sake category in Australia. Team work makes all possible. We love working with our partners." Source: Instagram @dejavusake. 
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