Chicago Shimpo
Abe’s Advisor Stops in Chicago for Sake Promotion
During Mission to Boost U.S.-Japan Ties on Local Level

• Kentaro Sonoura, Advisor to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a member of the House of Representatives, joined the Sake Tasting and Promotion Reception held at the Consul-General’s official residence in Evanston on May 22. Two sake makers from Japan, along with two local sake dealers, offered many kinds of Japan’s local brews for tasting during the event to promote Japanese sake and sweets.

• The reception was held just after the Japan’s participation in the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show from May 19 to 22, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place, where the Japan External Trade Organization (“JETRO”) Chicago exhibited a Japan Pavilion for the first time. A total of 19 parties showcased authentic Japanese flavor there.

• Sonoura is on the mission from P.M. Abe to strengthen Japan’s relationship with the rest of the world on a local level. He has recently visited the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Colorado and Virginia. During this U.S. visit, Sonoura was scheduled to visit Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
• “Not just with the federal government, but we need to develop political ties with the local governments in the U.S. Such ties will boost economic activities, through which cultural and human exchanges grow,” commented Sonoura at the reception. “We want to establish a cycle of such activities that will continue.”

• During his stop in Chicago, Sonoura has talked with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner via teleconference, as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in person. He said the talks were highly fruitful, discussing such critical topics as the U.S.-Japan alliance and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”).

• Sonoura referred to the ongoing effort by the Japanese government to promote Japanese beverages overseas, noting that the Japanese Embassy and Consulates across the U.S. have been busy hosting sake tasting events. He encouraged the guests to familiarize with and learn more about sake through such occasions.

• According to Consul-General in Chicago Naoki Ito, Sonoura, while serving as the State Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2015 to 2017, was an integral part of the effort to set up Japan House, a “one-stop service” facility overseas to provide information and promote further understanding of Japan and its culture. Currently, there are Japan Houses in Los Angeles, San Paulo and London.

Sake Makers from Japan

• Akashi Sake Brewery from Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, and Shibata Brewery from Aichi Prefecture each brought some of their special local brews to the reception. Along with them, local sake dealers Tenzing Wine and Spirits and Vine Connections offered several locally brewed sake and spirits from all over Japan.

• When it began marketing its products abroad 13 years ago, Akashi Sake Brewery had a hard time finding a channel to the U.S. market. Major trading houses turned down the idea of marketing Akashi’s sake in the U.S. for its low name value and lack of low-price advantage.
• It was late last year that Akashi finally started to export to the U.S. A substantial quantity of sake has already been sold in the West Coast and East Coast regions, while export to the Chicago area has only begun. “We are located [in Akashi] right next to Kobe, which is known for its Kobe beef,” explained Kimio Yonezawa from Akashi. “Our sake is made to go very well with beef as well as seafood. We hope the people in America will enjoy our sake along with their beef steak.”
• Akashi was one of the exhibitors at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show.

• Yuki Shibata from Shibata Brewery is the ninth-generation brewer of the sake-making family that boasts 200 years of history.
• According to Shibata, their sake is made using the traditional method of natural fermentation and has a distinct rich flavor. Its smooth and mild texture comes from the water called kanzei, which is renowned as the “softest” water in Japan.
• “We hope the guests here will fully enjoy the rare occasion today to taste the brews that are yet to be marketed in the U.S.,” Shibata said.

• Aside from the brewers, Kobe-based Mochi Cream Japan provided the guests with 12 varieties of ice cream wrapped with sweet mochi, or rice cake (flavors included strawberry, peach, mango, chestnuts, green tea and red bean, among others). Very well received at the National Restaurant Association Show, these Japanese-flavored desserts will become available for purchase at Mitsuwa Marketplace in October or November.

Interview with Kentaro Sonoura:
Japan’s Foreign Policy on North Korea, TPP

Q: In view of the imminent top meeting between the U.S. and North Korea, what can you tell us about Japan’s role and where it stands?

Sonoura: Our specific focus is the abduction issue, and it’s important to provide an input to America about our position regarding that issue.

More specifically, the way America sees Asia and the way we, the Japanese, look at it from the viewpoint of an Asian nation are not necessarily the same. So, we must provide the U.S. with a more accurate picture of Asia so that the U.S. government can utilize that information in the process of appropriate policy making.

Prime Minister Abe is pretty close to President Trump. They have spoken over the phone more than 20 times so far, I believe. So, [through such close communication] the American side has hopefully begun seeing the situation in Asia through our eye, not just analyzing it on its own.

The President and Prime Minister have been exchanging their views in such detail. And, I believe, the result is that America’s Asia policy and that of Japan are synchronized so well to the degree that the two countries can be called as true allies.

Q: What’s your take on the flip-flops on the U.S.-North Korea top meeting?

Sonoura: It’s completely acceptable to try to make your own position strong before having diplomatic negotiations, so I think anything can happen before the meeting. Certainly, we want to decide what to do as we read the general direction the things move, instead of being based on specific individual comments.

While we remain alert, we can’t react to incidents and comments every time they occur. Rather, it’s our role to steer the overall flow of things toward more positive directions. We can’t do this type of job in any other way.

This issue [with North Korea] isn’t a matter that would end with a denuclearization negotiation. We must also make sure that [the negotiation] will include questions such as whether they would destroy inhumane weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons as well as nuclear weapons); whether they would get rid of intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as mid-range missiles; and whether they would carry out proper investigations and return all the Japanese abductees to us.

Q: I understand that the House of Representatives has passed the bill to ratify the TPP11, making its enactment imminent. But before Japan can notify the other participating countries that the pact is ready to go, the Diet has to pass some legislation to protect domestic farmers. What’s your prospect about that?

Sonoura: We have to develop legislation regarding the TPP, relating to industry and commerce as well as agriculture. Such legislation is now being debated by the Diet. The pact requires ratification by six out of the 11 participating countries to be in effect, and I’m optimistic that we will have it by the end of this year. Mexico has ratified already, and Australia and New Zealand are now deliberating it.

So far, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Britain have expressed their hope to join the pact. I was in Britain recently, and felt that they were really serious about joining it. When a wide-ranging economic bloc like the TPP has come into existence, I would think that the U.S. would be better off to be part of it, but of course that’s a matter for the U.S. administration to decide. So we can’t say anything about it. But I really get the feeling every day that the idea of TPP is spreading over and beyond its initial boundaries.

In any case, American involvement in Asia affairs remains highly critical. In addition to the communication between Deputy Prime Minister [Taro] Aso and U.S. Vice President [Mike] Pence, now a new framework for trade talks is to be set up between Mr. Toshimitsu Motegi [the state minister in charge of the pact] and U.S. Trade Representative [Robert] Lighthizer, and I believe that will provide the possibilities for further talks in the future.

Q: Thank you very much.

Jonathan Edwards of Vine Connections explains about some sake brands.

A visitor tastes a sake brand at Tenzing booth.

Akashi Tai introduced by Akashi Sake Brewery

Kanzui brought by Shibata Brewery

Shimauta Awamori introduced by Tenzing

• Kentaro Sonoura, Advisor to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and
Consul General Naoki Ito