Japanese Sake, Whisky & Gin – Miraculous Breakthroughs With Kodawari

Ken Mogi explains one crucial aspect of kodawari: people pursue their own goals above and beyond reasonable expectations based on market forces. He gives sake (Japanese rice wine) producers as an example: how they do their craft, not for their own pleasure, but for somebody else, and how Japanese people can produce better qualities of their products.

Nick: There's one more thing I'd like to talk to you about, Ken, and this is something you mentioned in your book and you write:

 “One crucial aspect of kodawari is that people pursue their own goals above and beyond reasonable expectations based on market forces.”

 And then you write:

"Eventually, something miraculous happens, a breakthrough, the creation of a new genre of products resulting in a new market where people are prepared to pay premium prices for qualities previously unimagined." 

So would you like to offer an example of that?

Ken: Well, something I'm familiar with is a sake, Japanese rice wine. Many rice wine producers really believe what they do is incredible. Maybe you're familiar, you know ginjo, is when you polish the rice until only a tiny fraction of the original grain remains.

Maybe only 10% in extreme cases 20% 30% and so that adds to the purity and resonance of sake taste. What 's funny is that many sake masters actually cannot drink sake. That often happens because they cannot take alcohol.

So, they do not enjoy sake but they produce the best sake. So, that is kind of a contradiction which is very interesting because the craftsmen do this not for their own personal pleasure, but for somebody else.

Sake-making and Japanese whiskey, of course I mean, nowadays Japanese whiskey is really regarded highly in the world market and you cannot really get hold of the best whiskies, like Hibiki, Hakushu, and so on, because they're so rare now.

Also even Japanese gins. Gin is always considered British, I think, but now you can get a really wonderful gin from Kyoto. Kinobi is a Japanese craft gin, and it's really wonderful. It has opened up a whole new world of what gin can be.

It's something beyond belief. I would really love to give you a bottle of kinobi. It would change your concept of gin forever. Do you know kinobi?

Nick: No, I hope we can share a bottle

Ken: One of my best friends, he's based in California. Out of the blue, he sends me this email that says, "Hey Ken! Do you know this gin from Kyoto, kinobi?"

Yeah, of course, I know and he says, "that's the best thing you can get in the world!" He's saying that from California. This is the kind of breakthrough that you're talking about. 

Nick: That's another thing about Japan. They'll look at something outside of their culture and think okay, whiskey, let's try and make whiskey. And after 30, 40 years, 50 years, maybe 100 years.

All of a sudden people start talking about this amazing Japanese whiskey and people are going to be talking about this amazing Kinobi gin.

Japanese have this talent for taking something already I guess that's produced at a high standing but putting their own stamp on it and in the process making it perhaps more refined or better quality.

Ken: Yeah, that's one of them. Because many people don't think that's possible. Kodawari actually shatters these preconceptions about what our country is about and what our country is capable of. 

Because I would say that probably Japanese wine would be improved so much that in a few years people would start talking about Japanese wine as well, whether it's red or white or sparkling. So it's repeated many many times