Japan to seek UNESCO listing of sake and shochu as new intangible cultural heritage in or after 2024: Suga’s first major policy speech

TOKYO, Jan. 18 – Japan is planning to propose to UNESCO the addition of sake, Japanese rice wine, and shochu spirits to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritages. Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga confirmed the idea in his first policy speech on January 18, 2021. The demand for sake and rice suitable for sake brewing is declining due to the new Covid-19 pandemic. However, the export and domestic consumption of these two Japanese traditional beverages can increase if they are added to the list. The government is already preparing for the submission, but the new listing may take place in 2024 at the earliest.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization makes the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage to protect important intangible cultural assets worldwide and raise awareness of their importance. The list contains elements like performing arts and native craft techniques deeply connected to local history and practices. From Japan, the elements like Kabuki and Nogaku Theaters are already on the list. The latest addition from Japan made in 2013 with Washoku traditional Japanese dietary culture, and that boosted the popularity of Japanese food and its ingredients worldwide.

The government plans to submit the application based on the use of koji mold in the brewing process of sake and shochu. It intends to make the application in February 2022, ensuring that the brewing technology is protected. However, UNESCO puts priorities on the applications from countries with no assets on the list. So, Japan already having many listed elements can expect the addition once every two years, this time in 2024 at the earliest.

The Japanese government sees sake and shochu as good boosters for its export and included them in the list of “important products” in its growth strategy for exports of agriculture, forestry, and fishery products and foods established in 2020. The strategy wrote the need to make a faster move toward the submission, and the growth in the export will lead to the rise in demand for rice suitable for brewing sake, as well.

In 2019, Japan earned 23.4 billion yen and 1.6 billion yen in its sake and shochu export. The latest strategy calls for expanding the figures to 60 billion yen and 4 billion yen, respectively, by 2025. The UNESCO’s recognition of the two native beverages will hopefully motivate sake and shochu brewers and rice growers locally, make the products more popular worldwide, and finally create new local demand and boost the export, according to the National Tax Agency of Japan.

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