During the Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333), learning about sake and how to properly enjoy it was known as Shu Dō (酒道). Shu Dō became popular and spread across Japan in much the same way as Kadō (華道) ikebana flower arrangement and Sadō (茶道) tea ceremony. However, toward the end of the Meiji Era in the 1860s, Shu Dō began to fall out of favor and its popularity waned.
To share and spread Japanese sake and culture with the world, the Sake World Association (SWA) relaunched the Shu Dō movement as Sake Dō (shu and sake are written using the same kanji). Among their goals is getting the idea out that sake can be paired with international cuisine and result in a pleasant harmony. They are working to listen to voices from other countries and passing the messages along to brewers in Japan to collaborate and create sake that suits global desires and tastes.
To develop and train sake aficionados, the SWA will issue sake rating certificates based on people’s knowledge, similar to the rankings given by other dō such as kadō and sadō. The tests are available online allowing people from anywhere in the world to take them.
Although nowadays sake refers to all alcohol in Japan, it used to refer to just nihonshu, Japan’s traditional “rice wine.” By going through the Sake Dō Test, people will be able to learn the proper etiquette for consuming sake. This process is helped by gaining a certain level of knowledge about what one is drinking and the processes used to create it and developing an appreciation of it.
Additionally, the SWA hopes that through this process people will be able to understand some of the spirit of Zen and the harmony that has been pervasive in Japan throughout its history. They hope that this will enable people to live calm and happy lives, even. In an ever-changing world.
The Sake Dō Test (酒道検定) rankings will begin with monka (門下) or pupil. The free test for this level is a basic introduction to Japan in general and people who have interest in Japan and things Japanese should be able to pass this fun test with ease.
You can try the monka text from this link. https://sakedou.net/
The next level is seito (生徒) or student and is considered a beginner-level exam. Passing this exam likely means more than just a passing interest in Japan and probably a desire to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun to learn more about and sip sake. Those who pass this will receive a certificate attesting to their knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture.
After seito comes the mid-level senpai (先輩) or senior test. Those that pass this level will have a deep interest in Japan and things and will be able to enjoy sake and be able to speak about Japanese culture. Passing this level will result in receiving a Sake Dō diploma and benefits fitting someone with this level of understanding of Japanese sake and culture.
The final level test is the advanced-level sensei (先生) or master. People that pass this level will have a deep knowledge about Japanese culture, tradition, history and, of course, sake. These people will be able to educate others on the finer points of sake and the brewing process. Masters can receive support from the SWA and may be able to act as a representative for a brewery.
The first test date availability is expected to be October 2021.
The SWA also plans to have several overseas branches to help in spreading the gospel of sake.
The rankings are designed to encourage learning more about sake and are not nearly as difficult as other tests, with the monka test being almost comically easy.
Rather than trying to sell sake, the SWA hopes that the Sake Dō Test will increase awareness of sake and spread information about the culture surrounding the drink.
In addition to their Sake Dō Test plan, the SWA will publish “The Best Sake” manga to teach basic sake knowledge and explain how to best enjoy sake. The book, which will be published in several languages, will even go into closely guarded sake brewing methods and techniques to help people gain knowledge of sake in an easy-to-understand way.
The SWA also offers a community space where sake fans can get together and experience a variety of activities both online and in person. One of these events are Kanpai Festivals, which will take place at various times throughout the year. The event will take place in 20 locations around the globe and attendees can enjoy newly released sake alongside global cuisine. There are also various events limited to those ranked as sake sensei, senpai and seito.
At the online Kanpai Festival, sake lovers from around the world can share in the sake experience from their homes.
This past April 11, the SWA held their kickoff event (https://sake-world.jp/sake-world-association-kick-off-event-held) and on May 9 they had their first international Kanpai Festival that saw brewers from Japan join guests from five European countries share their experiences with sake.
Another goal the SWA is striving for is creating new sake collaborations with breweries in Japan and overseas. In doing so, they are not merely looking to sell sake. Rather, they are listening to what people overseas have to say and passing the information along to brewers in an effort to create sake that appeals to non-Japanese tastes and pairs well with international cuisine.
The organization is currently working to promote “59jo (Gokujo).” This is a group of Nagano-based millennial sake brewers who were all born in the 59th year of the Showa Era (1984). Partners as much as rivals, the group name is a combination of their birth year and the Japanese term “jo (極上),” which means “superb,” they are working to brew the finest sake to shape the future of the drink.
59jo released their first “The Best” five-bottle set globally today, and it is expected to sell out very quickly (https://sake-world.jp/gokujo). For the set, each sake was made with inspiration and consultation with people from five countries under the idea that sake can be paired well with international food, as well as Japanese.
For those unable to purchase the limited 59jo “The Best” set, the SWA will be releasing a second edition that can be pre-ordered from July. Purchasers of both will be invited to online events that will allow them to drink and chat with 59jo sake brewers and other sake fans from around the world.
In the future, the SWA plans further collaborations with other sake brewers from around Japan to continue their work of creating a new sake market and global sake lovers.
For more information, please visit SWA’s website (https://sake-world.jp/)