Cognac in Japan: Bars, strong Yen and rich businessmen
Japan’s Cognac blogger Yasushi Tsutsui was so kind to write a guest article about Japanese Cognac culture.
While strong growth continues in China, it does not hold out too much hope of a major recovery in Cognac’s erstwhile Asian stronghold of Japan: Consumption of Cognac in Japan has recently declined, perhaps it could find some stabilisation in 2010. On the other hand, Japan remains a market for the high-end Cognac products, to give an example: 30 bottles of Rémy Martin’s premium Cognac Louis 13 Black Pearl Magnum were released in Japan, which makes up nearly 10% of all bottles, 358 in total (Asahi Beer holds the rights to distribute Rémy Martin in Japan).
When japanese Cognac enthusiast Y. Koinuma came to Charente to study different Cognac distillers – he returned to Japan and reported back.. this made me think of japanese Cognac culture. What is happening over there?
Luckily there is Yasushi who is a huge Cognac fan. His mission: making Cognac more popular in Japan.
In Japan, Cognac does not play such an important role; there aren’t many people who drink Cognac. Perhaps this is also because the quantity of Cognac shops, where the eau-de-vie is available, is very limited.
Lately, not only Cognac but also other spirits are getting less important – but Scotch, Vodka and Rum are still alive. You will find any of those liquors in any bar in Japan. On the other hand, there are not a lot of Cognac bars in Japan; and if there a bar offers Cognac – those are often the known brands: Hennessy V.S.O.P, Hennessy X.O., Remy Martin V.S.O.P., Camus V.S.O.P. and so on.
Most of the people in Japan see Cognac as a very expensive drink and it is considered as a rich man’s drink. There is a reason for that: For more than 20 years, the import taxes on Cognac were very high. But today, the taxes are really low – but the image of Cognac being expensive remained.
Actually, the Japanese Yen is very strong currently, so we can buy Cognac for quite a low price, even lower than in France where the consumption tax is about 20% – in Japan only 5%.
Now, for the fun of it, let’s have a look at this article from the 90’s.
See here a 1988 New York Times article:
Cognac became popular in Japan relatively recently. Sales rose to 8 million bottles last year from 2.6 million in 1978. ”The Japanese are beginning to travel more to France,” said Michelle Proud, an industry analyst with Wood MacKenzie in London. ”French products have a reputation for representing what is fashionable, stylish and smart” among the Japanese, she said.
In Japan, cognac has become quite the rage among executives entertaining at bars on expense accounts. Businessmen often pay more than $300 for a bottle that they drink slowly with soda. The cost is that high because the Japanese tend to buy older cognacs. In addition, there are steep import duties and cognac makers and bar owners take a large markup.
”When we entertain clients in our bars or clubs, it is very good to offer them a fine bottle of cognac,” said Seiichi Nagata, president of Suntory France, the Paris-based subsidiary of Japan’s largest spirits company.
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