Makgeolli exports to Japan were three times higher by sales than sake imports from the neighboring country last year, according to data released by the Korea Customs Service on Thursday.
While total exports of the milky white Korean rice wine more than doubled last year from 2010, some 92 percent of these were sent to Japan as demand there continues to surge.
The total exports surpassed US$50 million for the first time in 2011, totaling $52.76 million. This is a 176.3 percent increase from $19.10 million a year earlier, and a 21-fold rise from $2.5 million in 2006. Japanese consumed $48.42 million of the Korean shipments last year.
But sake imports to Korea, which had been increasing by more than 40 percent annually in previous years, amounted to just $15.27 million in 2011, up only 7.3 percent from a year earlier. Some 94 percent of all the sake brought into Korea last year, or $14.35 million worth, came from Japan.
As a makgeolli boom is taking Japan by storm, and sake is losing favor among Korean drinkers, the balance of trade in this area has shifted dramatically. In 2009, when sake was very popular here, imports from Japan reached $9.57 million -- almost double the size of makgeolli exports ($5.40 million) to the country. But the situation changed in 2010, with the Korean drink pulling in greater sales.
"While sake, which was once so popular in Korea, is falling out of favor, demand for makgeolli among Japanese people seems to be soaring as they see it as a healthier beverage," a customs official said. "It looks like this trend will continue for a while."