#8 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
"From Asahi Fuji to Dassai"
Around the time we started making Junmai Daiginjo, discount stores began to pop up all over Japan. Up until then, all the liquor stores had to do was to stock up on local sake and big name sake. But now, they couldn't compete doing business the same way they used to anymore. So they tried to have sake that the discount stores didn't carry. At the time, we sold quite a lot of our Junmai Daiginjo to those liquor stores through what was called “Jishu VAN”.
Our Junmai Daiginjo was called "Yukikaze", a name that is not quite typical in our region, Yamaguchi Prefecture. It was unfiltered and hazy white at first: a white frosted bottle with a red cap and a transparent label. It was stylish and gorgeous looking. It sold quite well, even in Ginza’s major department stores and big supermarkets. But eventually, other companies began to offer similar products. One day, a buyer from one supermarket told me: “Your product will soon stop selling, so go ahead and come up with the next project”. I just thought this was a bad idea. The market needed us to come up with new products all the time. By doing that, we would soon get exhausted. As a producer, if you deal with big players like supermarkets, you are disposable. So I decided to make a sake that would only be available to local sake shops, shops that value our sake brand. That's how I came up with Dassai.
The main motive for the creation of Dassai was that in 1987, a sumo wrestler named Asahi Fuji became an ozeki (2nd highest rank in the sumo world). This was a chance for us, our main sake had the same name: it had to start selling from now on. So I decided to go to this wrestler home town (now called Tsugaru City) in Aomori Prefecture. But nobody was interested. I was so disappointed that, even though I was planning to go to Sendai to say hello to a wholesaler next, I passed by and went to Tokyo instead. With no idea of what to expect, I called one of my college senior and he took me to an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Kanda. It was a place specialized into lesser-known sake, and as I talked with the owner, he asked me to bring him a bottle of my own. The following year, I brought him a bottle of our Junmai Daiginjo and he accepted to have it on his menu. Since the place was famous for its local sake, various liquor stores frequented the store and tried our sake. Eventually, through introductions between customers, the private brand “Dassai” was sold through 24 liquor stores in Tokyo.
The reason I didn't go with a sake called “Asahi Fuji Junmai Daiginjo” was that the name Asahi Fuji already had a bad image. We used to sell it with discounts in our hometown, and we didn't want to discount it in Tokyo. That's why we named it “Dassai”. The name comes from the place where our sakagura is located: “Osogoe” (i.e. “where the otters pass through”). I didn't think about it a lot, but it just came to me. Later, I found out that one of Shiki Masaoka's pen name was "Dassai". If it was up to me today, I wouldn't have the guts to give my sake such an unreadable name. But I didn't think much of it at the time.
Anyway, in 1990, the first bottles of Dassai were sold in these 24 liquor stores in Tokyo.
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