image: Leah Ikeda, the wine and sake director of Pho Republique, holds a bottle of Fukucho Moon on the Water sake. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
Until 30 years ago sake breweries were strictly off-limits to women. On the one hand, their presence might anger the sake goddess, and on the other, the temperature of their hands was thought to ruin the process. In like manner, women were forbidden to ‘touch fire’ in ceramic kilns (Read More). In a Japan still regarded as male-dominated, it is the emergence of women in traditionally closed professions that augurs broader social change. In the world of sake, as in the world of ceramics and art generally, women are the source of some of the most creative and inspiring contemporary works – ceramicist Kishi Eiko and screen artist Maio Motoko spring to mind immediately.
Changing demographics in regional areas of Japan and the lack of male heirs is seeing women take on the traditional role of toji, sake brewer. With over 75% of young Japanese women between the ages of 20 and 30 rarely drinking sake, the potential to tap in to the female market with a new approach drives many of the new female brewers (Read More).
How to appreciate sake then would be one of the requirements for this new market and once again we see the emergence of women- this time as sake sommeliers, and not only in Japan. Boston is the home of a number of female sake sommeliers (Read More), one of whom, Leah Ikeda describes sake as “”one of the most diverse and complicated liquors in the world.” She also suggests that women are more interested in the story of the sake and its artisanal qualities.
To my knowledge we are yet to add a female sake sommelier to the growing number of women in the Australian wine industry, but we do have our own tea sommelier, Sarah Cowell at Vue de Monde in Melbourne (Read More). Cowell travels to Asia and meets tea growers in her quest to appreciate the finer qualities of tea, a journey just begun ”I know nothing compared to the masters.” Vue de Monde’s specialty is a $1000 tea for six from a 3200 year old tea bush in China, a tea with a special energy. She has also created a tea matching menu with the restaurant’s fine cuisine, something she sees as appealing to the adventurous at heart: ‘The whole process is sensual. You’re looking at the dry leaves, you smell them, then put them in the pot and warmth and moisture bring out the aroma … there are many more aspects to tea than just drinking it.”