Hiroshi Sakurai, Chairman of Asahi Shuzo Co., Ltd
Hiroshi combines traditional methods with innovative solutions to transform the sake industry.
Hiroshi Sakurai’s willingness to innovate the traditional, centuries-old sake industry has seen him grow Asahi Shuzo Co. into one of the world’s most respected and profitable sake producers. When Hiroshi took over the family business in 1984, sake shipments were in decline and the Japanese craft of sake production was at risk of vanishing. He knew the industry had to reform or face failure.
He upended traditional production methods through digitalization, using data analytics to control temperatures and automate manufacturing. He also challenged the belief that Japanese sake could only be made during winter. Asahi Shuzo Co. developed a year-round brewing method, resulting in 3,000 batches annually — equivalent to hundreds of years’ worth of brewing by conventional methods. The company’s new sake, Dassai, is now sold in 90 countries and was even the official toast drink at a 2015 dinner hosted by then-US President Barack Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.
Hiroshi and his team have had tremendous success with their modern production techniques but always acknowledge the value of “tema” — a team commitment to pour huge amounts of love, time and effort into the business. This is the perfect match of new technology with traditional values.
Sustainability has also been at the forefront of Hiroshi’s considerations. He has encouraged farmers to grow sake rice and found a way to reuse the rice’s outer layers — previously a waste product. This means the company has achieved both superior quality and a stable supply of sake, once considered impossible.