Justin’s Japan: Interview with Sake Evangelist/JET Alum John Gauntner

"It was not one big thing but rather a million coincidences that led me to apply for the JET Program. I never, ever imagined I would stay here very long, much less 24 years (and counting)!" (Courtesy of John Gauntner)

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his Japanese culture page here for related stories.

Known as the Sake Guy or the Sake Evangelist, John Gauntner (Kanagawa-ken, 1988-89) is the world’s leading non-Japanese authority on the nation’s signature beverage, penning numerous books on the subject and touring the world with his popular seminars and speaking engagements.

An Ohio native who currently resides in Kamakura, Gauntner returns to America next week to anchor Rice & Water: The Building Blocks of Premium Sake, this year’s annual sake lecture and tasting at Japan Society on June 19. The Evangelist will introduce the importance of rice and water in sake brewing, and a special sake tasting reception with more than 30 kinds of premium sake will follow.

In this exclusive interview, I caught up with Gauntner on his nearly quarter-century relationship with Japan, some of his favorite spots to drink and dine in New York, and—of course—the best sake he ever drank.

You’re known as the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert. What motivated you to take your love for sake to such heights?

It actually was the result of countless coincidences. I did not plan it, really. I just got interested in sake, and after drinking with a friend that worked at the The Japan Times, he asked me to write a piece for them. That led to a column, which led to a book, which led to another. I got involved in the industry so I could study more and that led to my involvement in export and education. I didn’t really choose this path; it chose me.

What attracted you to Japan originally, and how did you get the opportunity to first go there?

Again, I have to say that it was not one big thing but rather a million coincidences that led me to apply for the JET Program. I never, ever imagined I would stay here very long, much less 24 years (and counting)!

As a participant in the early days of the JET Program, what things about Japan and its people do you feel have changed for the better since then?

I was in Kanagawa and participated in JET for two years, ’88 and ’89. But I have been here the whole time, and the changes have taken place so gradually it is hard for me to see them. Certainly, though, a familiarity with people from other countries has changed—for the better!

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