The population of this insular country prefers sake to every other alcoholic beverage, although Japan brews extraordinarily tasty and delicate beers. Believe it or not, Japan also produces Scotch-style whiskies that are exported to several countries, including Canada.
Sake is a rice beer, although it is colourless and still. Western style beer, brewed in the country, has become quite popular, particularly with promotional efforts of Kirin, Asahi and other large breweries.
Wine has become the drink of modern, educated, and young people and is now increasing in popularity mainly due to millions of Japanese travelling to Europe, North America, and Australia where they become acquainted with wine.
Average wine consumption is now over two litres per capita. By western standards this is miniscule (by comparison average per capita wine consumption in Portugal is well over 56 litres, and France over 54), but it has doubled in the last two decades, although from a small base.
Many Japanese businessmen buy expensive French wines as gifts, and many of those receive them in turn use them for gift giving.
Though the exact date of origin is unknown, Japanese viticulture has a very long history. According to historians, vines were brought to Japan from southeastern Asia via China along the Silk Route during the second millennium B.C, and there is irrefutable evidence that wine was made and consumed as far back as the Nara Era (710 – 784 A.D).
Buddhist monks helped sustain wine culture. Japanese follow mainly Buddhism of Shintoism, and blend the rituals of both religions.
In the 12th century, viticulture had spread from the Nara-Kyoto basin where it began, into the Kofu region.
By the 20th century, grape growing had reached Yamagata, and close to Tokyo, then known as Edo.
France initially influenced Japanese vitiviniculuture, but now New World producers i.e the U.S.A, and Australia are more influential
Japan’s archipelago extends from 46 to 25 North (Okinawa). Grape culture is limited to a few regions due to the cool and humid climate. Most of Japan’s soil is acid and unsuitable to grape growing.
Summers can be, and often are very hot, witners cold and humid. Oidium, downy mildew, and many other vine deiseases represent constant hazards requiring intensive labour for sprying.
In Japam 23 000 hectares are under vines, and the average harvest is approximately 250,000 metric tons, but only eight per cent of all grapes are used to make wine.
Some disease-resistant vitis labrusca hybrids i.e Delaware, Campbell’ Early , New York Muscat, and Muscat Baily A were responsible for 90 per cent of wine production.
All yield overwhelmingly fruity wines that fail to please most wine consumers.
In the past 30 years or so, mainly vitis vinifera grape varieties i.e. cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Muller Thurgau, Riesling, Chardonnay were planted. Kosyu is a hybtrid rgape developed in Japan; it yields aromatic, light, and off-dry wines that appeal to many.
Mercian, Suntory are the biggest wineries and spend considerable funds to improve viticulture.
Japans’ grape-growing prefectures: