Sake – which is traditional rice wine made in Japan – is growing in popularity among Chinese tourists who come home from Japan, particularly the one manufactured in Miyagi prefecture. The problem here is that Miyagi is just north of Fukushima – the prefecture ravaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and the resulting meltdowns at the nuclear facility within the area. As such, it is among the 10 prefectures in eastern Japan whose food products are not allowed by the Chinese government to be imported into China.
The ban started to be in effect in April 2011, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster and was initially targeted at 12 prefectures. Sake is one of the food products that falls under the ban. But such is the quality of the rice wine that Chinese tourists have taken to its unique taste. Zhou, a 42-year-old employee from Shanghai, said that she was well aware where the Japanese rice wine came from, but bought some anyway because she had tasted the brand and liked it. “Nobody is bothered by whether they are produced in eastern Japan,” she said. “The flavorful brand will be appreciated by anyone in China.” At Narita airport, souvenir shops are taking advantage of this phenomenon, advertising their sake in Chinese with tags saying they are “high quality both in flavor and taste” and “soft and pleasant to the taste.” These shops say that they sell over 750 bottles of wine a month to Chinese tourists.
According to one of the shops that sell the wines, all the top five best-selling sake brands that Chinese tourists purchased in 2012 were from the prefectures of Niigata, Saitama and Chiba – all three locations are under the ban by the Chinese government. “Chinese buy sake without caring much where the products were made,” said an official of the shop. Shuichi Mizuma, representative director of the Niigata Sake Brewers Association, said that, “We hope that the Chinese government will review the ban as soon as possible.”
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