Sake shipments into the UK are caught in a regulatory black hole as Japanese authorities struggle to cope with the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
Sake importers and restaurants are reporting delays while shipments are quarantined awaiting certification as free from radioactive contamination.
Asami Tasaka, sales director for World Sake Imports UK, one of the major sake importers into the UK, said, ‘Our shipment which was due in the UK on 1 May has been delayed for tests in Japan, and will now be arriving on 17 May.’
Christine Parkinson, group wine buyer at Japanese restaurant Hakkasan in London said, ‘There is a backlog, with brewers unsure who the regulating body is, and shipments stuck in Japanese ports.’
Mario Armani, operations director at Sake No Hana, another London restaurant, said some of their supplies are held in quarantine in Japan.
He also spoke of customers being ‘increasingly apprehensive’ about Sake, an important issue with a drink that is little understood anyway.
Sake consumption within Japan has been in decline for decades now, and the newly-found interest in sake in export markets, particularly the US, and more recently the UK, had been a welcome boost.
There are now concerns about the possibility of radioactivity spreading to the ground water, and thus into the sake, for which spring water is an important ingredient.
Oke Nordgren, a Swedish sake expert and importer, said, ‘it will be next year that the repercussions will really start to be felt’ as everything coming out of the area affected will have to be certified.
Asami Tasaka confirmed this. ‘It will be after the harvest in September and October this year that sake will be seriously scrutinised for radioactive and other contamination.’
All those involved in the sake trade in the UK are donating percentages of their takings on sake to relief charities.
Written by Gilbert Winfield