6 Questions with Hidetoshi Nakata

  • Hidetoshi Nakata, former football star and creator of N sake.

    Hidetoshi Nakata, former football star and creator of N sake.

  • N sake's sleek bottle was designed by much-acclaimed Japanese firm Nendo.

    N sake's sleek bottle was designed by much-acclaimed Japanese firm Nendo.

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A decade after retiring from the field, Japanese football hero Hidetoshi Nakata tells us about his new set of goals making his US$1,000-a-bottle sake, N.

By Gabrielle Lipton

Why did you decide to create N?
The Japanese have such great traditional products, but they don’t promote or brand them well. Sake is a case in point—it’s drunk in Japanese restaurants the world over, but can anyone name a single brand? I thought I could raise awareness by making my own premium sake and also an app, Sakenomy.

What’s so special about your sake?
It’s made by a 15th-generation toji, or master brewer, at Takagi Shuzo brewery in Yamagata prefecture. We use the best types of rice, Yamadanishiki and Aiyama, which are hand-pressed in cloth bags. It’s time-consuming, but it gives the smoothest flavor.

What does Sakenomy do?
Sake labels are usually in Japanese. With my app, you can photograph a label, and it gives you info about the bottle in English, Italian, and soon more languages. You can also see ratings from users, search for specific sakes, and get recommendations based on what you’ve drunk before.

What’s a misconception about sake you wish to change?
People think that sake only goes with Japanese food, but that’s not true. We drink wine with any kind of food, so why not sake? Whenever I host a tasting dinner, I always include champagne and wine alongside my sake. Then people understand the similarities.

How did you choose your brewery?
After retiring from football, I went back to Japan to learn more about my culture, which included touring all 47 prefectures. Along the way I visited more than 250 of Japan’s some 1,300 sake breweries, and eventually chose Takagi Shuzo as a partner.

What have you learned from your travels?
The best travel experiences involve the help of people, not the Internet.

For more information, visit N Sake.

This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Sake Star”).

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