Mission Statement

SAKE SCHOOL OF AMERICA is an education and training center specializing in Sake, Shochu, and Japanese liquors, for sake professionals and enthusiasts to expand their knowledge and to explore further enjoyment of the category.

SAKE SCHOOL OF  AMERICA aims toward fostering higher appreciation for Japanese sake and memorable drinking and dining experiences.   We are fully committed to educating trade professionals and enthusiasts alike, to promote sake in faraway countries at the same level of understanding and enjoyment as is in its homeland of Japan.

During the 1980s in Japan, Jizake, fine artisan sake climbed to popularity as consumers discovered tantalizing flavors and aromas from microbrews crafted in remote breweries, some with legendary tales which date back centuries.  When this best kept secret arrived in the US during the 1990s, Americans too were quickly enamored and charmed by “the novel jizake”.

Nowadays, with a variety of specialized foods spanning from casual dining, to trendy sushi bars, authentic izakayas, and fancy kaiseki, there’s a jizake suitable for any dish.  The world of sake is a joyful exploration into Japanese culture, cuisine, and the brewing art, and it is our mission to spread this wonder of Japan to the people of the world.

SAKE SCHOOL OF AMERICA is endorsed by the Sake Service Institute International (SSI), the largest organization of sake sommelier certification in Japan, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), JAPAN Sommelier Association (J.S.A.), and the Society of Wine Educators (SWE).

SSI International WEB


Noritoshi Kanai

Founder of Sake School of America
Former Chairman of Mutual Trading Co. Inc.

Noritoshi Kanai was regarded as the ambassador of Japanese food to the world. He pioneered the Sushi industry in America in 1963 by bringing the first Sushi bar to Kawafuku Restaurant in Little Tokyo. In 1970, he imported the very first genuine Junmai Shu from Japan paving the way for the eventual growth of Jizake popularity in the 90s. As former Chairman of Mutual Trading Co. Inc., along with his personal mission statement of, “Bringing the Flavors of Japan to the People of the World”, he fostered a passion for authentic Japanese culinary tradition to be enjoyed by all around the world.



Executive Instructor: Toshio Ueno

Vice President & Co-Founder, Sake School of America
Master Sake Sommelier, Sake Service Institute
Master of Sake, Sake Service Institute
2016 Sake Samurai, Japan Sake Brewer’s Association
Certified Sake Educator Level 3, Wine & Spirit Education Trust 

Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma Candidate
Beer Adviser, Food & Beverage Organization Japan
Nanbu Toji Guild, Toji Candidate, Accredited Specialist,
2020 Awamori Jinbner, Okinawa Distillers Association,
2021 Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry

Born in Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan where his family has grown wine grapes for generations, Toshio Ueno grew up helping the business from a young age. After college studies in America, he joined a pastry and wine company, where he was put in charge, overseeing the personal wine collection of the company’s president. It was at this point when intrigue set in for him to enter the world of wine stewardship and research.

Toshio Ueno is currently Director of Sake Specialist Department in marketing Japanese liquor to the mainstream American market. With his unique knowledge and expertise in both eastern and western liquors, Jizake and Shochu of the east, and wine and beer from the west, he aims to further promote Japanese food and liquor cultures to new, international audiences.

Ami Nakanishi Picture2

Instructor: Ami Nakanishi

Vice President, New York Mutual Trading, Inc.
Master Sake Sommelier, Sake Service Institute
Certified Sake Educator Level 3, Wine & Spirit Education Trust
Sake Sommelier & Shochu Sommelier, Sake Service Institute

Ami Nakanishi has been recently appointed Senior Vice President/General Manager of New York Mutual Trading Inc. Over the last 17 years that she has been with the company, she has driven the company’s growth and developed the Planning Department to expand NYMTC’s reach into new markets. Despite her rigorous work schedule, she has managed to acquire advanced certifications and continues to expand her already extensive sake and shochu knowledge. She enjoys spending her free time with friends, family and two dogs. Ami’s goal, like NY Mutual Trading’s, is to spread the love of Japanese food, beverage and culture to the American people.


Instructor: Timothy Sullivan

Founder, UrbanSake.com, America’s foremost sake website
2007 Sake Samurai, Japan Sake Brewer’s Association
Certified Sake Educator Level 3, Wine & Spirit Education Trust
JSA Sake Diploma, Japan Sommelier Association
International Kikisake-shi, Sake Service Institute International
Co-founder, SakeJourneys.com
Official Brand Ambassador, Hakkaisan Sake Brewery

With his first sip in 2005, Timothy Sullivan simply fell in love with premium Japanese sake.  This inspired him to start the first sake blog in the United States: UrbanSake.com, America’s most popular sake blog & education website. His passion for sake has grown this site into America’s leading resource for sake related news, events and education.  In 2007, the Japanese Sake Brewer’s Association awarded Sullivan the title of “Sake Samurai” in recognition of his work to promote sake outside of Japan.

Instructor: Takao Matsukawa

Manager of International Sales Division, Mutual Trading Co., Inc.
Vice President, Super Nikkei S.A.C. (Peru).
International Kikisake-shi, Sake Service Institute International 
Advanced Sake Professional, Sake Education Council

Born in Peru, Takao Matsukawa is a third-generation Japanese from Okinawa Prefecture. Takao joined Mutual Trading Company’s sales team (1998) and became attracted to the idea of expanding the Sake sales business and culture in Latin countries. Over the year, he has covered more than one thousand Sake Education Training sessions for professionals in the field; Chef, Wine Sommeliers, Restaurant Managers, and Servers in many countries of LatAm. In an effort to reach a large audience and new Sake followers, he’s done many Sake Seminars open to the General Public at Expositions and Events in countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador, and Argentina.

Instructor: Sara Guterbock

CBS, ISS, ASP, CS, CWE, DipWSET, JSA Sake Diploma Certified Sake Educator Level 3, Wine & Spirit Education Trust Advanced Sake Professional, Sake Education Council
International Sake Sommelier, Sake Service Institute
Certified Sake Adviser, Certified Shochu Adviser, Japanese Beverage Specialist & Educator | Key Account Manager New York Mutual Trading Company

Sara spent a year living in Japan as a high school student and grew up in a family that placed great emphasis on learning and experiencing the Japanese language and culture.  Becoming proficient in Sake has brought together Sara’s passion for the beverage industry with her life-long love of Japan, its people, traditions, and cuisine.

Sara devotes a tremendous amount of energy introducing people to the complexities and beauties of Sake and its unmatched ability to pair with food.  She has developed a growing portfolio of 135 sakes, the largest in North Carolina, which she helps to distribute, market, and educate about throughout the state and beyond.

Instructor: Eda Vuong

JSA Sake Diploma, Japan Sommelier Association
Certified WSET L1 and L3 Award in Sake Educator, Wine & Spirit Education Trust
International Kikisake-shi, Sake Service Institute International
Sake Adviser, Sake School of America, Sake Service Institute
Certified Sake Professional, Sake Education Council
Shochu Adviser, Sake School of America, Sake Service Institute
Author of Sake Splash
Sake Specialist, Mutual Trading Company

Eda is a Californian born and raised (with a few detours here and there). She spent 10+ years in the food, restaurant, and service industry in the San Francisco and San Mateo areas, working mainly with Japanese business owners. Having found a deep love and respect for both Japanese food and culture, it was only natural that Japanese alcoholic beverages were the next step. After moving to Southern California to attend university, Eda graduated with a focus in Business and Marketing, landing her a position at Los Angeles Mutual Trading Company and Sake School of America. She believes that there is always a story behind everything and translating that story into an experience that can resonate with everyone is incredibly important, especially in sake! “I want the story I am telling to become a part of my audience’s lives and in turn, their own story. The best storytellers know that the magic is in the details and first-hand experience. Trust is key when you’re going to take someone on an adventure!” Catch Eda as a host to many of our Sake School events.


Instructor: Aya Nomoto

International Kikisake-shi, Sake Service Institute International 
Certified Sake Educator Level 3, Wine & Spirit Education Trust

Advanced Sake Professional, Sake Education Council
Certified Specialist of Wine, The Society of Wine Educators
Advanced Sommelier, The Court of Master Sommelier
Semi-finalist of World Sake Sommelier (Kikizake-shi) Competition 2014

Aya Nomoto is the Business Development Manager at Breakthru Beverage Nevada.  She oversees a portfolio of more than 500 Japanese sake, shochu, whiskeys, and craft beer. With over 20 years of experience in Restaurant and Hospitality, including 9 years of sales and marketing in the Beverage Industry, Aya Nomoto is a highly driven manager and sales guide with an exceptional reputation for customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Aya Nomoto is an accomplished and dedicated Advanced Sake Professional with the Sake Education Council, Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators, and Certified Beer Server for the Cicerone Program. She recently earned her Advanced Sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommelier in 2016, and is currently working towards her Master Sommelier Diploma.  Having experience in hospitality and a Master’s degree in Music Composition and Theory, Aya is a creative and outside of the box thinker.


Instructor: Chizuko Niikawa-Helton

Founder: Sake Discoveries – The first sake PR company based in NYC
2012 Sake Samurai, Japan Sake Brewer’s Association
International Kikisake-shi, Sake Service Institute International 
Certified Sake Educator Level 3, Wine & Spirit Education Trust
Co-founder, SakeJourneys.com
Founder, Sake Caliente – Pop-up Kanzake (Hot Sake) bar project

Chizuko has a unique background. She grew up at the 400-year-old Buddhist temple in a small snow town in Akita, then moved to Tokyo to work in the fashion business. She moved to New York in 2004 with a Kikisake-shi certification, then she became a top sake sommelier at NYC’s preeminent sake restaurant Sakagura. Chizuko cultivated a selection of over 300 different sake labels, a collection size rarely achieved, even in Japan.

In 2008, focused on developing independent sake events and on sake sales techniques designed to make sake more fun, delicious, and entertaining, she founded her own consulting company, Sake Discoveries, LLC. Focused on increasing sake fans nationwide, she consults with restaurants to develop unique sake lists and staff training programs. Also, she is a founder of Sake Caliente, a pop-up Kanzake – hot sake bar project. She has promoted her love of Kanzake culture in this fun way. She was awarded the prestigious title of Sake Samurai by the Japan Sake Brewers Association.

Instructor: Stephen Lyman

Official Cool Japan Ambassador for Honkaku Shochu
1st graduate of the SSA Certified Shochu Adviser’s Course (2015)
Certified Sake Adviser, Sake Service Institute
Production Assistant, Yamatozakura Shuzo, Kagoshima, Japan
Founder & Editor, www.kampai.us
Founder & Partner, Honkaku, LLC

Stephen discovered shochu at an izakaya in New York City before he’d ever been to Japan. Less than a decade later he’d become America’s leading expert on this traditional Japanese spirit, establishing the largest English language website for shochu information, Kampai.US. Since 2013 he’s worked every autumn at Yamatozakura, a handmade sweet potato shochu distillery in rural Kagoshima. In 2015 he became the first graduate of the Sake School of America’s Certified Shochu Adviser’s course, which he now teaches. He was subsequently tapped by the Japanese Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS) as their shochu consultant in New York City and on their behalf he’s spoken at venues ranging from the Consulate General of Japan to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans to Japan Society in Manhattan. In 2016 he was named an official Cool Japan ambassador for honkaku (authentic) shochu. He’s also the co-founder of Honkaku, LLC, a full-service shochu consulting service focused on assisting shochu makers with export and distribution worldwide. Stephen is a university professor in his spare time.

Rachel Io Fiekowsky

JSA Sake Diploma, Japan Sommelier Association
Certified WSET L1 and L3 Award in Sake Educator, Wine & Spirit Education Trust
International Kikisake-shi, Sake Service Institute International

Advanced Sake Professional, Sake Education Council
Sake Adviser, Sake Service Institute
Shochu Adviser, Sake School of America

Rachel Io Fiekowsky is a New Jersey native originally coming from a background studying medical sciences. She fell in love with Japan at an early age and was determined to learn Japanese, so she did so while working on the side in restaurants between biology courses. Her curious nature, a love of Sake and Shochu, and a deep appreciation for Japan’s culture and cuisine earned her a place at New York Mutual Trading as a Japanese Beverage Specialist. She has been with the company since 2012.

Rachel spends each day looking for new ways to share her passion with the world, and consults regularly with all sorts – producers, distributors, small businesses and consumers – on the most fun and interesting ways to experience Japan in every glass.

Marie Cheong-Thong

Executive Director, British Sake Association
Council Member, Association of Wine Educators
Member, Circle of Wine Writers
Spirits Judging Committee, International Wine and Spirits Competiton (IWSC)
Competition Committee and Technical Director for Asian Spirits, CINVE (Spain)
Panel Chair Asian Spirits, International Spirits Challenge (ISC)

WSET Certified Sake Educator Level 3 (trained in Japan). JSS Certified Sake & Shochu, Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association. Sake School of America Certified Shochu Advisor and Sake Advisor. BNIA Armagnac Diploma. WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. Le Cordon Bleu London Diploma with Distinction. Diploma in Marketing, Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK). Diploma in Market Research, Market Research Society (UK). BSc.(Hons), ARCS Imperial College London. Awarded a competitive scholarship in 2015 to research washoku, sake making and related culture in Mie Prefecture, Japan.
Born in Malaysia, Marie spent her formative years in UK, at boarding school then Imperial College London. After a mispent few years working in the City of London she took a tangent and did her Cordon Bleu and WSET Diplomas. Moving to Boston, Mass. she discovered her true love for food & beverage, and continuing into her fourth decade visiting, interviewing producers and researching indigenous dishes, ingredients and drinks in over thirty countries on six continents. Marie has also presented on both sake and food to hundreds of people at major Food and Drink Festivals over the years. For over 15 years she has been on the Competitive Judging circuit including International Wine Challenge (UK/global, Japan). Le Mondial des vins blancs Strasbourg (France). Berliner Wein Trophy (Germany). Mondial des Pinots and Mondial des Chesselas (Switzerland). Marie currently spends her days writing, presenting and teaching.