Marketing Sake: The Visual Element

In last week’s entry we discussed the marketing of sake. We continue with that theme this week, focusing on the importance of the visual.

“The consumption of craft products is currently flourishing….This study deals with consumers’ preferences in a context where…globalization is threatening traditional handicrafts. To analyze the attribute preferences of consumers [we examined]…three highly relevant attributes…: label, region of origin (RO) and price.”1 These are the opening lines of the abstract accompanying a recently published article in the International Journal of Arts Management. Sake-brewing is arguably the most quintessential of Japanese crafts, and the toji (brewmasters) working therein are dedicated artisans.

The latter half of the abstract contains these lines: “The results [of our study] indicate that the label is the most important of the three attributes [emphasis added], while price is the least relevant to consumers. Novices and low-involved consumers perceive price as a more relevant criterion, while experts and high-involved consumers attach greater importance to the label [emphasis added] and the RO, two high-scope signals of product authenticity.”2 That highly engaged consumers, who ipso facto must also be more knowledgeable than their price-conscious counterparts, assign the greatest importance to the label as being emblematic of the authentic nature of the product should come as no surprise to our readers. This cohort can also be presumed to be more affluent and therefore constitute a more attractive target market, as they seek quality, as opposed to quantity, and have the wherewithal to acquire it.

At this point we will ask rhetorically, “how might sake labels be used to express authenticity at an almost subliminal level?” While there may be many answers to this question, brevity requires that we confine ourselves to just one. Answer: through label art that features images that are unmistakably Japanese, icons if you will. As the word icon suggests more than a modicum of gravity, pop-cultural ephemera would naturally be excluded. Our next rhetorical question is, “Where might one turn for iconic material?” Answer: to Japan’s cultural treasure trove of woodblock prints (ukiyo-e). And our final rhetorical question, for this entry at least, will be: “Who among Japan’s many woodblock artists might offer the greatest potential for the project at hand?” Answer: Katsushika Hokusai and his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, that unmistakably Japanese volcanic cone that, despite its beauty, remains vaguely threatening.

The inspiration for what follows comes from Peter MacMillian’s—Irish writer, translator, artist, and longtime resident of Japan—“Thirty-Six New Views of Mount Fuji,” in which he juxtaposes “an idealised historical view of Mount Fuji and Japanese culture with the reality of contemporary society.”3 In our case, we used DALL-E 2, which Wikipedia defines as a “deep learning [model that generates] digital images from natural language descriptions, called ‘prompts.’”4 We prompted DALL-E 2 to produce an image in the style of Hokusai’s Fuji series and include therein aspects of sake production. The image above was what resulted. DALL-E 2’s creation went far beyond our expectations. The gravitas that is Mt. Fuji is clearly expressed in the Hokusai style and a bit of humor is included, as well: doesn’t the lava flow resemble nigorizake? The luscious liquid flowing down is evocative of the wonderland depicted in one version of McClintock’s “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks,

And the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks,

There’s a lake of stew

And a gin lake too

You can paddle all around it

In a big canoe….5

The possibilities are endless!

N.B. A criticism often made of generative AI of this kind is that it draws from the work of others without acknowledging their contribution and compensating them financially. The proposal presented above would in almost all instances of its utilization borrow from works that have long been in the public domain.

1Kilani F., et al. “The Relative Importance of Labelling a Craft Product: A Conjoint Analysis,” International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 22, Number 3, (Spring 2020).


3MacMillan, P. “Thirty-Six New Views of Mount Fuji,” Ireland-Japan Connections and Crossings (Cork University Press, 2022).

4“DALL-E,” Wikipedia.

5Raulerson, G. “Hoboes, Rubbish and ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain,’” American Music, Volume 31, Number 4 (Winter 2013).

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