It happened all of a sudden, without any cause.
Beginning with a tiny buzzing sound, followed by pain in her head, 22-year-old Ayumi Fujishiro found herself deaf in one ear all within a span of two days.
While sudden hearing loss can devastate the career plans and confidence of someone who’s just entered the workforce, the Tokyo native did not let the loss drag her down.
Instead, Fujishiro says that although her hearing has been affected, her sense of taste is sharper than ever – and that’s important, considering she’s one of the world’s youngest Sake Service Institute Official Lecturers.
A sake lecturer is a certified sake expert, and one league above certified sake sommeliers (kikisake-shi).
Now 28, Fujishiro is one of only two sake lecturers in Singapore and a large part of her job involves educating people about sake.
Through appreciation talks, navigator courses, pairing dinners, translation works, the sake lecturer shares everything she knows about traditional Japanese rice wine, from its history and culture to the production process.
In an interview with Business Insider, Fujishiro said her aim now is to “improve and establish sake as a world-class product”.
And while she’s carved a name for herself, the loss of hearing in her right ear was not without impact.
The sudden shock left her devastated, and her mind went wild. Despite that, the young woman realised that the only way forward was to look at her life from a different perspective. “It came to one point when I thought to myself that perhaps it was a new beginning for me,” she said.
A year later, she quit her administration job in Japan, and moved to Singapore to help her father with his two businesses – the now defunct F&B and retail outlet IPPIN Cafe Bar, and IPPIN, a supporting agency for Japanese SMEs in Southeast Asia.
Aside from running IPPIN and holding regular sake courses, Fujishiro is now also in charge of the setting up of her father’s new sake bar, HOP, in Paragon.
Love for sake deepened in Singapore
One might assume that Fujishiro had established her expertise in her home country before coming to Singapore, but the truth is far from that.
She had actually studied traditional arts performing in university, and only became a sake lecturer after moving to Singapore, she tells us.
It was only in Singapore that Fujishiro came to deeply appreciate the tradition of Japanese sake, thanks to an encounter with a female director of the Sake Service Institute.
It was from this meeting that Fujishiro was encouraged to sit Singapore’s first-ever international kikisake-shi exam.
But even that wasn’t enough for the passionate sake lecturer. Fujishiro then moved onto becoming an exam facilitator for a few years, before finally having enough experience to take another exam to attain the Sake Service Institute Official Lecturer certificate.
Now, she plans to also take up the Sake Tasting Master certificate.
Intoxicated with Japan’s traditional arts
Fujishiro’s adoration for the world of sake-drinking stems from being born into a family which truly values the Japanese culture and tradition, she says.
Her grandmother used to be a traditional Japanese dancer, while her uncle performed in old-school Japanese puppet shows.
Fujishiro herself used to take lessons for Shamisen – a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument – and Japanese dance.
Wanting to learn more about the traditional arts of her own culture, Fujishiro enrolled in Kyoritsu Women’s University, where she committed four years to studying traditional arts performing, film study and theatrics.
Soaking up the Singapore culture
And while she has a passion for Japanese culture, Fujishiro has also been quick to adapt to Singapore’s unique flavour.
Fujishiro can even speak Singlish, and she’s so good at it that many Singaporeans have sang her praises, she told Business Insider.
Learning to speak Singlish has helped her forge friendships here – but of course, there’s also the added advantage of getting special discounts and other perks.
“Actually when I first used ‘lah‘, I realised that people (started to) treat me like a friend,” she said.
She added: “It’s a really nice feeling to be able to speak the local language and even get discounts when I shop! Bonus right?”
Fujishiro even knows the different implications of using ‘lah’, depending on the tone one says it in. And it’s all thanks to a colleague of hers who taught her how to use uniquely Singaporean terms.
According to her, she enjoys local cuisine so much that she’s even gained 10kg since coming to Singapore.
And there’s one more thing the sake lecturer has come to love: Tiger Beer.
“Tiger Beer is always very, very shiok for me, especially after work,” she said.
But at the end of the day, sake still has a special place in her heart.
In her responses to Business Insider, Fujishiro recalled that while she was still in university, drinking 1.8 litres of sake every single night was not a big deal for her. Still, she maintains that she was the “worst drinker” among her friends, who could stomach much more.
“Even until today, when I drink with my father, I will pour him lesser sake and more for myself,” Fujishiro said.
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