Slam Dunk: When manga meets sake

The popularity of an anime film is generating a cult following for a small sake producer in Fukuoka Prefecture, western Japan. It turns out the brewery is the kanji namesake of a character from the popular manga series, Slam Dunk.

The Mii no Kotobuki brewery has been flooded with orders since the overseas release of the Slam Dunk movie. It has even been forced to limit orders. And the town of Tachiarai, where the brewery is located, is also enjoying the effects of a Slam Dunk boom in tourism.

Big in China

China's April premiere of The First Slam Dunk generated a great deal of buzz. About 4,000 fans attended an advance screening at a university in Beijing.

A university in Beijing hosted an advance screening.
Enthusiastic fans at the advance screening

The original anime was enormously popular when it was first broadcast in China in the 1990s. Many of the fans are now in their 30s and 40s.

A fan cosplaying as Mitsui Hisashi

Mitsui Hisashi and Mii no Kotobuki

Slam Dunk follows the story of a high school basketball team in Japan as it grows from a gang of dysfunctional misfits to a national powerhouse. One of the members of the team is number 14, Mitsui Hisashi. His name and number are linked to the sake brewery.

Mii no Kotobuki was founded in the town of Tachiarai in 1922. The abundant waters of the Chikugo river system allow it to brew sake using locally harvested rice.

The Mii no Kotobuki sake brewery
Mii no Kotobuki

Take the "no" out of the brewery's name, and the kanji reads Mitsui Hisashi, the same as the Slam Dunk character.

Fourth-generation sake brewer ― and the chief brewer at Mii no Kotobuki ― Inoue Tadatsugu is a Slam Dunk fan himself.

Inoue Tadatsugu

Fifteen years ago, Inoue was thrilled to learn the manga's author had suggested the character's name was derived from Mii no Kotobuki sake.

"The number 14 reflects our sake's +14 on the Sake Meter Value, which is a measure of how dry or sweet a sake is. And the alcohol content is 14%," notes Inoue.

"I'm not saying that this is 'Slam Dunk Sake' or anything like that. But ultimately, what we produce is 'Mii no Kotobuki +14 Very Dry Sake.'"

Inoue says sales inquiries ― domestic and foreign ― have risen by four to five times since the film's release. However, the brewery can only produce a fixed amount.

On one Chinese e-commerce site, the price of Inoue's sake has reached 498 yuan, or around $70 dollars, roughly three times the retail price in Japan.

The brewery receives many groups of visitors from China and South Korea, but because it does not offer direct sales or tours, fans are directed to local liquor shops.

Inoue is delighted by the attention: "In the spirit of 'one cup is better than none,' I've been thinking for a long time about how to encourage people who don't really drink sake to start. Anything that gets people drinking sake is a real cause for celebration."

A Slam Dunk for Tachiarai

Officials in Tachiarai are using the brewery as part of an international tourism drive.

In May, a campaign in Hong Kong promoted the town and local produce, including Mii no Kotobuki. It coincided with Slam Dunk-branded streetcars running through the city as a sense of excitement built around the film.

A branded streetcar in Hong Kong
Staff wearing No.14 jerseys welcomed guests at a Hong Kong promotional event.

"Given that our town boasts a sake brewery that has been explosively popular throughout Asia, I think that's an incredibly strong draw," says local official Murata Mami.

"We would love to use this sake as a jumping-off point to tell the world about what Tachiarai has to offer."