As you may have already seen on our website, I have been selected to represent Japan in this year's Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
First of all, I would like to say that I am honored and delighted to have won this prestigious award. At the same time, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our customers who have helped and nurtured us to this point, to our business partners who have been responded to my reckless requests, to my colleagues at Asahi Shuzo who have helped me realize my dream, and above all, to my wife who has supported me to this point.
(Although my wife doesn’t seem to really believe her “useless companion" has come this far)
Mr. Kazuhiko Tomiyama, the chairman of the selection committee, commented: “We chose Mr. Sakurai based on one question whether or not he could best appeal to the world one of the universal core values of Japan. I do believe that Mr. Sakurai will be able to show during the World Competition that his business model is based on all the blessings of nature, from rice cultivation to the utilization of byproducts, while achieving both efficiency and quality, and embodying the culture of eco-friendly and healthy sake as a high value-added business.”
It is truly a wonderful comment.
As a preliminary step to the selection of the Japanese representatives, ten regional representatives were chosen from various industries throughout Japan, including the founder of a microfinance company. At that stage, I was told that the reason for my selection was that I had “created a new market for Junmai Daiginjo sake in Japan".
And actually, I think so too: 30 years ago, no one believed that daiginjo sake could be appreciated and sold to this extent, but rather, it was said that "certain types of daiginjo are good, but junmai daiginjo sake are too difficult to craft", that "daiginjo are like works of art and should not be made in large quantities", or that "making many daiginjo is an affront to the toji's hard work and efforts".
I thought that if we kept saying such things, people will never be able to get to enjoy good sake, I thought it was worth it to just ignore the voices of the industry and keep crafting quality sake.
The Entrepreneur of the Year World Competition will be held in Monaco next June. The world's best will be decided there and then. Becoming a representative of Japan means that I have earned the right to participate in the competition. Naturally, at first I thought, "If I've come this far, I should aim to be the best in the world," but as I thought about it… I changed my mind.
It's not about being the best or the second best, it's about letting the world know what I've been trying to achieve and how meaningful it is to society.
Moreover, sake is a drink that is almost unknown in the world. I would like to showcase Japanese sake by showing its peculiarity, its taste, and what kind of social significance it has among the various kinds of alcohols there are in the world.
I would also need to promote the idea that making sake means supporting agriculture, and that once the rice is delivered to the sake producer, it will be used not only for making sake, but that we also use the byproducts for the benefit of society.
Behind, the most important thing I want to mention is the concept of "labor". Rice growing of course but the entire sake crafting process as well, which takes an enormous amount of time and effort, especially when trying to make excellent sake.
The fact that it takes a lot of time and effort means that it requires a lot of investments, and in today's capitalist society, people tend to think of such things as outdated, inferior and should be discarded. However, those who understand the concept of Dassai know that this is not the case.
This "time and effort" is what has sustained Japanese culture since the Edo period, and although many tried to abandon this in the flow of Westernization during the Meiji period, but it has persisted in Japan.
I would like to show this to the world in Monaco. I am grateful for the great luck I have of being chosen for such a prestigious position, and for that reason, I feel I need to take on this specific responsibility.
I was allowed to stand in the batter's box; I just need to swing the bat as hard as I can.