Soccer star Nakata's sake bar pops up in London

Soccer star Nakata's sake bar pops up in London

At his temporary London bar, the Japanese sports star raises a glass to his latest endeavor
Keeping style alive, both for himself and also his new pop-up sake bar. The ambitious soccer icon is planning to launch his own line of sake next year.

While David Beckham made his country proud by playing a key role in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, another soccer hero is also sharing his personal and national pride. 

Retired Japanese soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata is presenting some of his favorite sake at a pop-up bar on the banks of the River Thames, hoping to boost interest in the popular drink and also prepare for the launch of his very own sake label. 

"N Bar" is part of "Arigato in London," an event organized by prominent Japanese scholars, artists and athletes to thank the international community for its support in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. 

Along with the sake bar, various events including markets, performances and movie screenings will also take place. 

But what's more interesting than the lips-on experience of sipping traditional liquor when you want to learn more about that country?

Nakata is heading to a new career off the field. A grand total of 26 different types of sake from 19 brewers -- all selected by Nakata himself -- will be served during the event, including some from Tohoku, which was severely damaged by the earthquake. 

"I think this is one of the best sake lists existing in Europe at this very moment," Nakata told CNNGo.

The interest toward sake came quite naturally, as the 35-year-old soccer star felt the need to learn more and also try to promote his country's liquor after he retired and traveled the world. 

"When I lived in Europe, I used to drink a lot of wine and Champagne," he said. "(When) I traveled around the world, (I was) asked so many questions about Japan, which I didn't have the answers to." 

So he returned home and discovered his fondness for sake over the past three years.

After visiting a number of Japanese sake breweries, bars and experts, he decided to create his own. There are currently more than 1,200 sake brewers in Japan, who each make about 10 different brands. 

"People started to get to know about sake because of the Japanese food boom, (but) not many have a experienced a wide selection. So I thought there could be a chance to expand and I was sure it could be much more attractive once people learned more about it," he said. 

"I want to thank (the fans and supporters) and I am very grateful to have this opportunity to show our appreciation to the world. Through Arigato in London and the sake bar, I hope I can raise attention toward Japan and get many people to start visiting Japan again."

Nakata's sake line will launch next year. 

London County Hall, London Marriott County Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 7PB

N Bar's sakes cost £7-£10 (US$11-US$15); open daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m until August11; www.arigato-in-london.jp

Rachel Sang-hee Han is a freelance writer for CNN Travel. 

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