Stuart Ablett
Stuart Ablett
Photo by Maki Nibayashi

Sakaya (liquor shop) operator

Time in Japan:
Nine years

Where are you from?
Kelowna, British Colombia, in Canada.

What brought you to Japan?
I came for six months to study and practice aikido.

What is Masutoh International?
We are a family-run liquor shop that specializes in "Fine Wine, Jizake, Import Beer and Cigars."

What do you do there?
Just about everything. No really, I and my lovely wife Emiko run the place. I take orders, do deliveries and advise customers on wine, jizake and beer, not to mention cigars. We study a lot about wine, sake, beer and cigars, and soon will be holding our own wine tastings in our newly completed tasting room. I also recently got my cigar-advisor license from the Japan Wine Association.

What does a cigar advisor do?
I help customers with their selection of cigars and try to match the cigar with the person. I also teach customers how to cut and light the cigar, and advise them on the proper care of cigars. I have smoked every cigar I sell, so I know what they taste like and can match them to various drinks as well. It can be as complex or as simple as you want.

Tell us a bit about your company' jizake.
Firstly, jizake means regional sake as opposed to national brands, but recently jizake has taken on the meaning of microbrewed sake, like microbrewed beer. Our shop is a member of Ginso no Kai, which would be best described as a co-op, or a buyers group. There are about 60 shops around Japan. We have smaller regional sake makers produce sake especially for our group, which is then sold exclusively under our label at member shops. The sake is very good and reasonably priced. All of our members take special care in handling the sake and have fridges that the sake is stored in. This sake improves with age, like fine wine. We also import wine.

What's the one thing a person should see or experience before leaving Japan?
My mother-in-law! Just kidding. That's a hard question because Japan is so much to so many people. I would say, just once go to the Meiji Shrine on New Year's Day at about 11am. There are so many people there all going to the same place at the same time, and yet there is no or very little shoving and pushing. It is amazing and scary at the same time. I say go once because after you go one time, you'll most likely never, ever go again. It makes the Yamanote line at rush hour in Shinjuku look like a cake walk.

What's your strangest experience in Japan?
Where to start? How about customers who come into my shop and want their tobacco, but cannot remember what they smoke, and get pissed that I don't remember. I mean, they pull a smoke from the pack with the name plastered all over it at least 20 times a day, but they cannot remember the name! Go figure.

What's your recipe for a happy life in Japan?
The same as in any country. Surround yourself with friends and family and work, and I mean work, on your relationships with them. For us non-Japanese, I would suggest getting involved in your neighborhood. Buy your fruit and vegetables at the local shop, your meat at the local butcher, your rice at the local rice shop, etc. After a while you'll not just be another foreigner, but part of your local community. When you walk down the street, at least the shopkeepers will say hi to you. Then, if all else fails, find a nice quiet spot and sit down with a good friend and enjoy a good cigar (if you indulge), a good bottle of wine, and some great conversation. Learn to relax once a day.

Contact Stuart at or see his website:

Stuart Ablett spoke to Maki Nibayashi.

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