Photo/IllutrationAmong those showing an agreement on May 9 in Niigata’s Chuo Ward are, from left: Shunji Odaira, chairman of the Niigata Sake Brewers Association, Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama and Sugata Takahashi, president of Niigata University. (Kohei Kano)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NIIGATA--University students have always been known to enjoy a drink, and soon they will be able to sip on sake in the name of their education.

In the first attempt of its kind in Japan, a university here is planning to offer a course in a bid to nurture graduates well-versed in the cultural, business and other various aspects of Japan’s traditional drink.

While some universities already have departments to teach students about brewing and fermentation of sake, there are currently no schools where the beverage itself is studied.

The introduction of the planned course at Niigata University is aimed at reviving the traditional brewing industry, as people consume smaller amounts of sake in the 2010s compared with past decades.

The university on May 9 signed an agreement with the Niigata prefectural government and the Niigata Sake Brewers Association to establish an educational center to conduct research and provide education on the drink.

The new course will open in fiscal 2018 at the earliest and students will be allowed to minor in it in the future, according to the university.

“I hope it (the university) will become a center to learn about sake,” said Shunji Odaira, chairman of the association.

Under the plan, the fermentation, brewing, history, culture, distribution and other topics related to sake will be researched on the initiative of faculties of economics and agriculture. Even a class teaching “how to enjoy sake” is expected to be given.

An objective of the program is to develop human resources who can use their knowledge about sake in the restaurant, tourism and other industries after graduating.

Although sake consumption in Japan reached a peak of 1.67 million kiloliters in fiscal 1975, the figure had dropped to 555,000 kiloliters by fiscal 2015.

But exports of sake totaled a record 19,737 kiloliters in 2016, almost two-fold over the past 10 years. The Japanese government plans to promote sake exports as part of its growth strategy.

Niigata Prefecture, famed for its “tanrei karakuchi” (clean and dry) sake, is home to 90 brewing companies. The prefecture’s shipping volume for sake is the third largest across Japan, behind Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures.

But products made in Niigata Prefecture are currently losing ground, as sake characterized by sweet flavors, such as Dassai brewed by Asahishuzo Co. in Yamaguchi Prefecture, have proved popular among consumers.

(This article was written by Kohei Kano and Shinya Takagi.)