Melinda Joe

Melinda Joe

Professional boozer


Originally published on on March 2010

Photo by Mariah Robertson

Where are you from and what brought you to Japan?
I’m from Shreveport, Louisiana. Yes, I have a southern accent, but only when I’m terribly drunk… or angry. I originally came to Japan because I’d wanted to travel around Asia, but I fell in love with Tokyo and ended up staying.

What got you interested in drinks?
Thanks to my time at the University of California, Berkeley, I became interested in drinking wine at an early age. I only really got into the tasting side of things, though, after I came to Japan. Once I started training my palate and learning about the history of wine, wine making, and its cultural significance, the whole experience of drinking became that much more exciting for me. After that, I naturally turned my attention to sake, which is much subtler but equally fascinating and delicious.

How about the journalism side of things?
When I started studying about wine and sake, I began a blog called “Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass.” It was intended as a means of keeping track of the sake and wines that I’d tasted, as well as the things I was learning (all that info can be rather overwhelming), but I was lucky enough to get some attention for my writing, too.

Do you have any favorite wines or sake?
Goodness, that’s a difficult question. It’s like having to choose which of your five senses is the most important. I can tell you a few general things, however. In winter, I tend to drink red wine and heavier sakes like yamahai or aged sake. In summer, I like to drink food-friendly rosés, crisp whites like Gruner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc, and zippy, unpasteurized namazake. I drink Champagne and Pinot Noir all year round. Right now, I’m quite keen on Kamoizumi junmai-shu (warmed), Odayaka Tokubetsu junmai-shu (warm or cold), and Matsu no Tsukasa daiginjo (when I’m feeling fancy), as well as reds from Italy and Portugal.

Is it true that sake sales are waning?
Domestic sake sales have been declining for decades, but I hope that this trend reverses in the near future. It’s certainly taking off internationally. One piece of good news is that there seem to be more young people in the industry now, and I notice more people in their 20s and 30s at sake tastings these days.

Tell us what you’re up to now.
In addition to my duties as bar editor for, I’m doing a lot of writing for and sake articles for The Japan Times, as well as other publications abroad. I also host sake tastings a few times a year at A Taste of Culture with the esteemed Japanese food expert Elizabeth Andoh.

What are your plans for the future? How long do you think you’ll stay in Japan?
I don’t plan on going anywhere soon.

What’s your favorite area of Tokyo?
That’s hard, but maybe Ebisu. There are so many great places to eat and drink there, and the atmosphere is relaxed but far from stodgy. I also love areas like Shimbashi and Shinjuku-Sanchome because they have so much character.

What’s the one thing everyone ought to try before leaving Japan?
Of course, everyone should try sake! Visit a brewery if you can. Once you meet the people who make it, and see the enormous amount of artistry and labor that goes into it, you’ll never look at it the same way again.