Saga's industries founded in the Edo period: A continuation of two glorious traditions Establishing a new line-up with cups & sake & people
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Arita porcelain, 17 projects are now underway, and one of them is the Sake Cup Project. As an initiative to stimulate and expand the demand for Arita porcelain in the Japanese market, this project is designing a new sake cup series in collaboration with the local brewers of the Saga region whose sake has recently been making a fine showing both at home and abroad. We are pleased to give an update on this exciting venture.
Saga's sake and ARITA sake cups: local meets local
It is a well-known fact that over many centuries Arita porcelain has enjoyed an outstanding reputation for the quality of its ceramics, not only in Japan but throughout the world. However, in this time of slowing domestic demand, ARITA EPISODE 2 drawing upon a 400 year history, explores innovative ways and practices and takes ARITA forward into a new age. Tradition has it that in the past there was once a bright and glorious era with the ethos of "Good things will always sell well," but times and consumer tastes change and no longer can any producer rest content on their laurels; to paraphrase the proverb: "Time and the market wait for no man."
The present-day market has surely shifted and has had to confront the reality that the "good" products of yesterday will not always sell well today. Looking to the future, the Sake Cup Project aims to create new sake cups by making use of a very detailed and intensive survey into just what customers want. There is no reason why the very latest in-depth marketing techniques cannot be married to the traditional skills of the ceramic makers to produce sake cups that are fresh, exciting, and in keeping with modern times.
Born of fire and water: the perfect marriage of Saga sake and porcelain
The collaboration of sake cups and sake is a venture unique to the Saga region with its long history of porcelain firing and sake brewing. The taste of Saga's sakes are different from those crisp and dry sakes brewed in the cold north of Japan; rather Saga sakes are mellow and mild with a roundness of taste, reminding us of a warmer temperate climate. In 2011, at the UK's annual International Wine Challenge (IWC), the most influential liquor competition in the world, the Fukuchiyo Sake Brewery from Kashima City in the heartland of the Saga region won the highest honor, the much coveted Sake Champion award for its superb sake Nabeshima Daiginjo; since that momentous event attention to the Saga region's sakes has been increasing every year.
The history of sake brewing in the prefecture is many centuries old; Mado no Ume, the oldest brewer in Saga, has been brewing since 1688. Naturally, in those days, Arita porcelain sake bottles, cups, and serving bottle sets were of course produced, and both porcelain manufacture and sake brewing were flourishing industries supported by the Lords of the Saga domain.
This historical relationship is now about to open up a new era for ARITA.
Eight study sessions
The project invited the participation of Arita's porcelain producers, and is making progress along the long road from study sessions, planning, and product development through to release.
From July 2014 to January 2015, eight study sessions, including lectures and group discussions, have been held for the participating producers. Speakers invited from a broad range of fields included professionals vital to the success of the project, such as leading players in the brewing industry and ceramics, sommeliers, and experts on marketing or promotion. The following subjects were studied:
With the cooperation of the Saga Prefecture Brewers' Association, sample tasting of SAGA certified sakes (sake brewed from the rice and water of Saga Prefecture) and visits to sake breweries were hosted this year to deepen the understanding of Saga sake. Not only for those porcelain producers who have long included sake cups in their product line-up, but also for those who have never released them, knowledge gained in these events provided invaluable pointers.
Ready for developing sake cups
By covering the history, production and marketing, as well as the taste of sake, preparations to create sake cups made steady progress with project members making the maximum use of their new broadened knowledge about sake cups and sake.
Sake cup development is well underway, but with an approach quite different from the conventional one, in which porcelain producers lead the way, decide the cup shape, and declare, "We will make this one!" The project is taking on this new challenge by firstly holding in-depth discussions among the participating porcelain producers, resulting in the setting of three target clusters: (1) women in their 30s who are certainly leading the demand for sake in recent years; (2) older men of the baby boom generation; and (3) male children of the baby boomers. Each producer selected and interviewed a target group to find the answer to such questions as what kind of sake they like; who they drink with; and what kind of sake cup they want. Based on their answers, participants analyzed the user's personality type, their typical drinking situation, the quality of sake, product images, feeling whilst holding and drinking from a sake cup, design preferences, etc. Key design concepts were established, prototype sake cups made, and each group was given the opportunity to try them out.
Their opinions were then collected and fed back into the production of refined prototypes. In addition, a support team consisting of experts from many fields shadowed the project, exchanged opinions and offered advice to the producers; in this way the sake cup development has made very thorough and solid progress. A number of porcelain producers are now making a new series of Arita porcelain sake cups thanks to the hard work of some very particular and discerning sake drinkers.
For the customers of tomorrow
Perhaps the phrase that best sums up the Sake Cup Project is: "To know sake cups, first know your sakes." More and more producers are realizing, there is no bright tomorrow if they just reminisce about a past era where potters only made the ceramics they wanted to make, and customers were happy to accept what they were offered. Today, the essential question is: "What do we need to do to make products that customers will buy?" Such products are not something that will somehow just make themselves and meet all tastes; clear targets must be set and an important issue addressed, just what kind of satisfaction can we offer to the user. Read and understand the user's desires, develop products that fulfill them, and share the appeal captured in the products; this approach is the path that EPISODE 2 is following. It is hoped that this Sake Cup Project will be the first step into the future for the coming generations.
Under the project, the completed new sake cup line-up will be announced in 2016; everyone is working with their eyes on the release, the booklet production, and preparation for a very sakeful unveiling party. Kanpai!