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Sake Injustice – How Japan’s “Airline” Treats Japan’s Sake

JAL May 2014 1Wow! Just wow! On my recent trip to Japan to visit Akita I wisely cashed in on some crappy United Airlines miles and upgraded to business class on Japan Airlines – the namesake Japanese airlines that has actually been doing business at SFO for 60 years! As a biz class flyer I was allowed to visit the “Sakura Lounge” before boarding.

On first inspection of the lounge I did what all long haul flyers do I looked for the booze buffet. And there it was right there! I saw the fridge full of imported Japanese beers (not the ones made in LA or Canada), mixers, juices etc. Then I saw the hard alcohol offerings, the gin, vodka, shochu etc. Then came the wine offerings! Three different wines to choose from in a nice ice bucket. Then the instant ramen noodles with hot water pourers. Then onigiri. Wait what? Where’s the sake?

JAL May 2014 3Yup people! No sake in the JAL Sakura Lounge! Really? Where was the love? Are you kidding me? Are you freakin kidding me? So I drank a beer and had a gin and tonic! This is so five or ten years ago. And to think that they had sake coming in on every flight from Japan! This spells no love! No fascination. No attention. No passion. No love.

Fast forward to the plane. I was in my seat checking out the in-flight menu. There had to be a lot of well featured sakes no? It’s a very large menu and I was starting to notice a lot of French words mixed in to the titles. Oh god! Yup! That means wine. Lots of wines. Yup. There they were. The entire first page of the entire food and beverage menu was a dedication and tribute to wine. An entire page. The first page. Well things could only get a little better for sake right. Where were they? Aperitif and Cocktail? No. Whiskey? No. “Spirit”? No. Brandy and Liqueur? No. This was the actual order and it went on. Beer? No. Japanese Shochu? No. Sake. Bingo! There it was. The last libation before “Non Alcohol Drink.” I’ll be damned!

JAL May 2014 2The “wine of Japan” or Sake was the last listed offering on the in-flight beverage menu. I was stunned. Well sort of. Actually it was totally predictable.

So after finding the sake selection I was given two very solid choices. The first was a powerhouse Junmai Daiginjo from Hakurakusei from Miyagi Prefecture. The second loe and behold was a Junmai Daiginjo from Dewatsuru a brewery that I was flying to go visit in Akita. That makes for a good story. But this whole lack of love tragedy reminded me of events that occurred roughly 8 years ago when I was flown over to Japan to become the first sake samurai.

I was having déjà vu. So many years ago I was so amazingly honored to be in business class seat whisking above the dark sea in a Japanese craft with the name “Japan Airlines” on it’s tail. It was then that I noticed the same thing. Sake was an after thought. Sake was lost on the menu. Sake was the ugly red-headed step child.

JAL May 2014 4When I got to Japan I asked the sake gurus around me. Why no love for sake? (I didn’t want to pin this on JAL as they gave me the ticket gratis to support the Sake Samurai, which they do to this day and I am grateful for that, but I had to point things out.) All of my Japanese sake brethren agreed. It was a shame that JAL didn’t take the opportunity to extol the virtues of the liquid essence of Japan. It was a shame that they put every other beverage in front of sake. It was odd. As a fan of sake it was sad.

So imagine my surprise to see the same that night at altitude. To see the liquid afterthought unceremoniously shoved to the back of the menu. To see my libation last, knowing full well that there is this HUGE governmental push in Japan and abroad to take sake out of the shadows and promote it and its producers on the world’s liquid stage. The irony was not lost on me.
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