Sake and Japanese Culture

Sake Ceremony in Japan

An Introduction to Sake and Japan

The Japanese archipelago stretches over 3,000 km from north to south. Therefore, there are various lifestyles and customs. In addition, Honshu (the main island) is divided into the Pacific Ocean side and Japan Sea side by it’s over 1,000-meter elevation backbone ridge. This further results in different lifestyles and customs.

Therefore, the various cultures such as food and drink, festival rites, and folk entertainment have developed according to the climate of the plains, basins, mountains, and seasides. Since there had been almost no historical influence of politics and religion, the cultures of each small local community have been well preserved.

Despite this history, the pursuit of higher-quality sake has progressively evolved.

For example, in ancient times, it was the custom for the people in each region to brew and drink sake with Shinto deities after offering it to those deities at festivals and events. The main sake was called doburoku (unrefined sake). However, such a tradition has declined these days.

More ancient sake, such as kuchinokami-no-sake (sake made from rice or other cereal which is chewed to promote fermentation) and shitogi-zake (sake made from powdered rice which is also chewed) were recorded but the details have not been confirmed.

Seishu (refined sake) is the symbol of present-day sake. In the urban areas, this dates back to the Edo period (17th to 19th century). However, for the farming, mountain, and fishing villages, it was after the Meiji era (19th to 20th century) with the development of brewing techniques and distribution channels.

Present-day sake is made with high-quality standards for a refined taste and is easily available.

However, this standardization does not necessarily mean the decline of the cultural aspects of sake. The relationships of festival rites and sake, appetizers and sake, and containers and sake pass on the unique Japanese tradition, although the differences of the regions are declining.

By striving for the excellent taste and recounting the history of sake, we hope to pass on this part of Japanese culture to future generations and the international community.

History of Sake

History of Sake

Sake is made from rice. In Japan, sake has been consumed since ancient times. Of course, it is not exactly the same sake as what we have these days. The technique has advanced over time to the present day. Considering that the common ingredient, rice, is both the staple of Japanese food and the main ingredient of sake, this history goes back about 2,000 years.

The brewing of sake is a complex process. First, the rice starch needs to be converted into sugar. Then sugar is converted by kobo (yeast) into alcohol. The present, established method of converting starch into sugar is by koji-kin (aspergillus mold), the same process used since the fourth century. Until that time, sake was brewed by a method such as kuchikami-sake (sake made from rice or other cereal, which is chewed to promote fermentation.)

The organization called Miki-no-Tsukasa (sake brewery office) was established by the Imperial Court and started brewing sake for the ceremonies during the Heian period (eighth to 12th century). During the Muromachi period (15th century), hundreds of small-scale sake shops were born in Kyoto and sake came to be brewed throughout the year. At the same time, the brewers of soboshu, sake brewed in temples in Nara and other places, came to lead the development of brewing techniques.

Since then, the technical development with consistent quality has progressed and from the middle of the Edo period (around 18th century), the brewing technique was established and is similar to the technique used today.

First, koji-kin (aspergillus mold) is carefully grown over the steamed rice to make komekoji (malted rice). Then, to komekoji, steamed rice and water are added to make the fermentation starter, shubo (yeast mash). After that, the fermentation is promoted by the method called danjikomi (three-step fermentation process) by adding steamed rice, komekoji, and water three times. After the fermentation, sake is filtered, pasteurized at low temperature, stored, and matured. This production method requires very complex, advanced skill.

At around this time, it became popular to concentrate brewing sake in the best season, winter. This technical development gave rise to the special professional group of sake brewing consisting of toji (chief sake brewer) and kurabito (a worker at a sake brewery.) Migrant workers mainly from farming villages during agricultural off-season became the professional group.

It was also discovered that the quality of water used in brewing had an effect on the brewing of sake. It was the development of the breeding of rice, brewery science, and manufacturing facilities after the Meiji era (19th to 20th century), which marked the beginning of modern Japan, that established the modern brewing process. However, the skill involved with the multiple parallel fermentation process, which converts rice starch into sugar by koji-kin (aspergillus mold) and converts sugar into alcohol by the power of kobo (yeast) simultaneously, has not changed even today.

The fermentation method, which performs simultaneous saccharification of rice and alcoholic fermentation of sugar. With this method, the putrefaction risk becomes lower and alcohol content becomes higher than saccharifying and fermenting alcohol separately.

Various Sake Produced in Climate Conditions of Japan

Japan, which is situated off the northeast portion of the Eurasian continent is a long arc-shaped island country, surrounded by the Kuroshio (warm current) flowing from south to north and the Oyashio (cold current) flowing from north to southwest. The climate varies greatly from north to south and from the Pacific Ocean side to the Japan Sea side. Japan also belongs to the temperate monsoon region and experiences four seasons. However, due to the central mountain range that divides the archipelago, the character of the climate, even at the same latitude, is quite different from the Pacific Ocean side to the Japan Sea side.

As a result, the farm and marine products are very different in each region. Although food from all over the country is available these days, it was in the past the custom for the Japanese to eat local food using local recipes. Therefore, traditional Japanese cuisine is as diverse in flavor, seasoning, and cooking methods as each region.

As a result, the basics of brewing sake in over the 1,000 breweries in Japan are to match the sake to the local diet. For example, there is many red fish caught from the Pacific Ocean, white fish from the Seto Inland Sea, and fatty fish from the Sea of Japan because of the extremely cold winters. Food preservation developed in the inland provinces. In addition, some breweries brewed sake for Edo (present-day Tokyo), which was the world’s largest consumer city during the Edo period (17th to 19th century). Brewing sake for each lifestyle and diet was developed and refined for each region.

Even now, the Japanese cultural sensitivity to the four seasons is reflected in how sake is consumed. Each season brings us a different type of sake and a different way to drink it. In autumn, we have hiyaoroshi, which is sake well matured over the summer; in the winter to early spring, shiboritate (fresh sake) with a fresh flavor; in the hot summer, namazake (unpasteurized sake), which is cooled in the refrigerator. Some prefer to drink sake cold or at room temperature called hiya (unwarmed sake). On the other hand, even these days, others prefer the traditional drinking custom of kanzake (warmed sake) from autumn to spring.

Sake and Japanese Cuisine

Recently, a technical approach to sake brewing has developed. There are the traditional kimoto and yamahai with a sour and thick taste; and daiginjo (very special brew) with the fruity taste using highly polished rice and brewing at a low temperature. Recently, sparkling sake is being produced.

The traditional method of growing of active kobo (yeast) through the action of lactic acid produced by natural lactic acid bacterium while preventing other bacteria activity.

Yamahai operates kimoto-type shubo (yeast mash) growing method which cut the operation procedure called yamaoroshi, grinding rice during the process of active kobo.

Most importantly, the quality control of sake after shipping is essential for enjoying the delicate taste and different flavors. The reason for the sake containers to have lightproof brown or UV-cut bottles is to reduce the sunlight, the most dangerous factor for preserving sake. For drinking delicious sake, it is important to store it in a cool, dark place.

Three Reasons Why Sake Goes Well with Japanese Cuisine

A distinct flavor produced from the brewing of sake is called umami, or savory good taste. These days, sake is consumed with a variety of delicious foods. However, traditionally, it was consumed with a simple appetizer called sakana. The variety of conditions spanning east to west in Japan has produced a diversity of flavors complimentary to the local sake.

  1. Sake contrasts well with salty foods. Because the Japanese summers are hot and humid, salted seafood evolved as a preservative over smoked foods. Therefore, many appetizers that are consumed with sake are high in salt content. Shiokara (salted and fermented fish innards) and naresushi are such examples. It was also common to have sake with salt and miso (fermented soybean paste) only. The umami character of sake goes well with the salty taste of these appetizers.
  2. Sake complements fermented foods. The variety of ingredients used in Japanese cuisine results in unique seasonings. Common seasonings such as shoyu (soy sauce), miso, komesu (rice vinegar), and mirin (sweet sake for cooking) are all fermented using koji (malted rice). In particular, shoyu and miso, like sake, are uniquely developed in each region and have become the main taste of the local cuisine. The predominant use of fermented foods and almost no use of oils and fats are the features of “Washoku: Traditional Japanese Dietary Cultures” listed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
  3. Sake is good in recipes for cooking. The variety of fish, which Japanese people prefer to eat, is rich in minerals and calcium, more than that of Western food. Sake goes well with these flavors. Additionally, it has a good masking effect to remove the odor of raw fish. Therefore, sake is often used, not only as a drink, but also as a cooking ingredient. For these reasons, sake goes well with Japanese cuisine.

The good taste and the variety of qualities of present-day sake have not only become popular over a wide range of Japanese cuisine. It has also become popular with international dishes including fatty meats.

Sake Strongly Connected with Traditional Ceremonies

Shinto is a polytheistic belief system based on nature and ancestor worship. As such, there are many Shinto deities throughout Japan. Based on farming culture, Japan cultivates rice in the northernmost possible location of the world. Rice produced under these severe weather conditions has become the most precious staple food for the Japanese. It has been ancient tradition to celebrate the good harvest and express gratitude by offering sake to the deities. The food and sake offerings to the deities are called shinsen. Although there are various offerings for each region, the essential ones are as follows: miki (sake made from fermented rice), mike (washed rice or boiled white rice), and mikagami (round rice cake made from pounded steamed rice).

These days, the Japanese people eat rice throughout the year as a staple food. However, in the older days, people used to eat katemeshi, rice mixed with crops such as millet as a staple food, eating pure rice only on honored days such as ceremonies. In addition, sake made from the abundance of valuable rice and through much effort has become the most important part of these offerings.

Drinking sake with the deities and offering gifts to them on festival days are traditions passed on to today. Even today, the summoning of the Shinto deities is a tradition that is preserved throughout Japan.

For example, the ceremony jichinsai, for the construction of the new buildings, is performed by sprinkling sake over the property and offering it to the owners. Furthermore, Japan celebrates four distinct seasons with a festival called Sekku, performed at the turning point of each season. Although it has been simplified in recent years, it used to be the custom to float seasonal flower petals on sake, admire the flowers, and drink sake. For example, peach sake in March, sweet-flag sake in May, and chrysanthemum sake in September. People drink it to ward off evil spirits and wish for a long life. Also, on New Year’s Day, there is a custom by which people wish the peace for the new year by drinking sake called toso, a mixture of about ten kinds of herbs mixed with seishu (refined sake).

While feeling the change of each season, we Japanese hope to cherish those events by celebrating with sake and strengthen the ties now and forever.

Sake in Japanese Wedding Ceremony

Sake Necessary for Social Bonding

Since ancient times, Japanese have used sake as a way to create special bonds with each other. Sakazukigoto is a ceremony meaning the exchanging of sake cups. San-san-kudo is the most popular type of ceremony. After pouring sake, each person takes three sips of sake from each of three kinds of cups: large, middle, and small. It is important to sip three times as the number three is considered lucky. Especially in wedding ceremonies, san-san-kudo is usually performed while making vows before Shinto deities.

Outside of weddings, a custom called katame-no-sakazuki (ceremony of exchanging sake cups as a pledge of friendship) is used when people with no blood relationship become sworn brothers or a parent and a child. The phrase, “exchanging sake cups,” has a similar meaning as “contract” in Western societies. The phrases “drink sake together” and “eat out of the same pot,” mean closer relationships without any special contracts.

During present-day Japanese banquets, we often hear the phrase like “let’s do without the formalities and make ourselves at home today.” This means that there is no distinction between social statuses for developing relationships. Usually organizers and guests of honor give the opening speech to propose the toast saying, “kampai” at the beginning of the banquet. Kampai means to dry or empty a glass. It is a Japanese word to express not only a toast, but also a feeling of cultural bonding.

After this reiko (formal ceremony) people start bureiko, an informal party. The phrase, “we wish you continued success and prosperity …,” is usually used to propose a toast of kampai.

The word kinen means, “praying to the deities” In short, the original traditional ceremony sakazukigoto (ceremony of exchanging sake cups) is symbolized in the act of the toast, kampai, as the simplified confirmation of the purpose of the gathering. Therefore, we make a toast, kampai, with sake to pray to the deities.

Originally, it was common that people drank sake not only for auspicious occasions but also for funerals and Buddhist services. People drank sake to bid farewell and to remember the deceased. For important emotions in Japanese life, sake was indispensable.

Sake in Gift Exchange Culture

Gift Exchange Culture and Sake

It is ancient tradition and customary for people to exchange sake as gifts. First, sake is indispensable as the offering to the deities.

People bring sake as the celebration gift on New Year’s holidays and at festivals saying the words such as “we offer this to Shinto deities” or “we offer this to Buddha.” After offering sake to the deities, people commenced with osagari, consuming sake with the deities. Therefore, sake is indispensable as the gift on festival days.

Also since ancient times, sake has been used as the expression of sympathy and condolences. It was especially important to give sake as an expression of sympathy in the case of fires and disasters. It was custom for neighbors to help clear debris of fires and disasters. It was also custom to bring sake to encourage good feelings and restore good luck. As such, the custom of bringing sake as the expression of sympathy after fire and accidents was established.

There are other Japanese unique gifts called o-chugen in summer and o-seibo at the end of the year. These are gifts from one person to another to express gratitude for their help. The gift-giving custom of o-chugen and o-seibo started during the Edo period (17th to 19th century) when subordinates gave gifts to superiors as a token of their gratitude. In return, the superiors would give back a gift, twice of value, called baigaeshi. Soon after, this custom became popular regardless of social rank. The main gift was sake.

Although modern society has a variety of items for gift giving, the custom of giving gifts as religious offerings, expressing sympathy, and o-chugen and o-seibo are deeply rooted in Japanese society. Sake still shows its presence as one of the main gift items.

Development of Sake and Its Distribution

Originally, sake was brewed in each region throughout Japan as local production for local consumption. From the late Muromachi period (16th century) to the early Edo period (17th century), the brewing industry was concentrated in the Kinki region such as Nara, Fushimi, and Itami.

This changed during the Edo period (17th to 19th century) because of a peaceful 300-year reign of the Tokugawa shogunate and a developing economy. Since the population of Edo (present-day Tokyo), the center of politics, was already over one million, there was a strong demand for sake there. In addition, the shogunate and related domains strictly controlled the licensing system for production and sales of sake.

Present-day Nada in Hyogo Prefecture, the largest sake-producing district, grew as the largest sake supplier for Edo. Originally, the Kansai region had the concentration of sake brewing techniques from the Nara period (eighth century). Also, the extremely cold winter climate was suitable for brewing sake. In addition, an abundant supply of hard water called miyamizu, suitable for brewing sake, was discovered there.

As it was located near Osaka, the center of the nation’s economy, a special sea route using a ship called tarukaisen was established for shipping the sake to Edo. Although it had several sea routes surrounding the Japanese archipelago, throughout the Edo period, the original purpose was for the transport of sake.

The sake wholesale district in Edo, Shinkawa, which was established as the shipping discharge base in Edo, became the largest base of sake distribution in eastern Japan. Sake brewing in Nada was developed to the taste of urban residents of Edo. Nada thus grew as the representative sake-producing district in Japan. Because of the abundance of sake shipped to Edo, it was easily available to the population.

Since the main distribution system moved from maritime to railroad in the Meiji era (19th to 20th century), several sake brewery districts were established mainly for selling outside of their own area: Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture, Saijo in Hiroshima Prefecture, and Jojima in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Nowadays, people can drink various locally brewed sake quite easily throughout Japan owing to the development of reliable logistics systems. Presently, the most productive districts of sake are Hyogo Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, Niigata Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, Akita Prefecture, and Aichi Prefecture.

Sake as the National Alcoholic Drink of Japan

Presently in Japan, people can drink various types of alcohol such as beer, wine, and whiskey along with various foods from all over the world. It was important for us to understand and respect the cultural backgrounds of each country as we consume a variety of traditional food and drink of each of those countries.

Although the Japanese diet has undergone many changes, the conventional Japanese cuisine and sake are being seen in a new light. At the same time, the cultural and historical significance of Japanese cuisine and sake have come to attract people’s attention as well.

The reasons why sake qualifies as “the national alcoholic drink of Japan” are the followings: it is made from rice and water, the blessings of Japanese climate; it has the unique technique of using koji-kin (aspergillus mold) grown by the blessed climate of Japan; it has the history that people have consumed it for a long time throughout Japan; it has the strong connection with Japanese native beliefs, traditional annual events, and lifestyle; and it is brewed all over Japan.

Therefore, cherishing “the national alcoholic drink of Japan” is none other than being proud of Japanese culture. Of course, it is also important to deepen the mutual understanding by respecting foreign cultures, histories, foods, and alcoholic drinks. Japanese sake has been recognized overseas as the word, “sake.” Furthermore, recently the words such as ginjo (special brew sake) and junmai (pure rice sake) have become popular as well. In recent years, the export volume of sake for overseas has increased favorably.

The Japanese have promoted sake overseas as the representative of Japan, in other words, “the national alcoholic drink of Japan.”

Staying Up to Speed on Leadership Reading

Michelle Kumbier, senior vice president, motorcycle operations, Harley-Davidson Michelle Kumbier, senior vice president for motorcycle operations at Harley-Davidson believes in lifelong learning and aspires to inspire her employees to believe in that. She says, “you don’t become a leader and then forget about it; you need to continue to grow and develop.”

Kumbier has the following books on her credenza on leadership:

Create Your Own Care Package

Create Your Own Care Package Think about what you’d do to renew yourself with just a snippet—or more—of time.

  • When you have five minutes … lay your head down, put your feet up, and give yourself a moment to think and dream.
  • With a half-hour … start a journal or give that yoga DVD a try.
  • During an afternoon … take yourself to a matinee or walk in the park.
  • Over a weekend … visit a friend you haven’t seen lately or hang out at a spa.

Whatever your ideal break, do it!

The Secret of Creating Winning Brands

The Secret of Creating Winning Brands

Brands are a company’s most valuable asset. It is critical that companies have to value brands as strategic assets. They have never been more important than they are today. Media and social networking are becoming very complex.

In today’s fast-paced world of business, companies need to be consumer-centric, risk-inclined, nimble, opportunistic, and prepared for contingencies. Today’s brand identifiers are required to assume new meaning and context quickly and be potent in significance.

Consider these four techniques that he savviest brand managers have adapted to create a winning brand.

  1. Reflect on what should spring to mind when customers hear about your brand. Prudent branding is more about associating an identity with a strong and coherent significance. Polish up the intent of your brand to separate your company and its products from the rest of the pack. Belief and brand loyalty are no longer precursors of business success. Take account of points of differentiation.
  2. Winning Brands The branding process is no longer linear and consistent. Enhance the branding to promise value and ensure that it resonates with the organization’s best prospects. Diluted and weak branding results from trying to be cater to the needs of many a variety of customer.
  3. Integrate all your forms of communications and your messages to ensure that all channels interact with the customer consistently. Inventory all the current marketing communications to understand points of discrepancy in branding communications. Our forms of communication must directly reflect the quality and value your company deliver to our customers. Therefore, fashion all messages with the customer’s experience in mind.
  4. To work at the success of your brand image, broadcast your branding strategy to all employees to ensure that every element of your company remain authentic not only to your brand, but also to the people, products and services that it represents.

States with the Lowest Tax Burdens

States with the Lowest Tax Burdens

To rank the state’s tax burdens, the Tax Foundation compared the total taxes that state residents pay as a percentage of per capita income. Included in the total taxes are local taxes such as property taxes and local sales taxes.

States With The Lowest Taxes

The states whose residents pay the least in taxes are:

  1. Alaska at 6.4% of income
  2. Nevada at 6.6% of income
  3. Wyoming at 7% of income
  4. Florida at 7.4% of income
  5. New Hampshire at 7.6% of income

It’s interesting to note that none of these states have an individual state income tax.

States With The Highest Taxes

At the bottom of the Tax Foundation’s rankings were these states, with the highest tax burdens in the nation:

  1. New Jersey at 11.8% of income
  2. New York at 11.7% of income
  3. Connecticut at 11.1% of income
  4. Maryland at 10.8% of income
  5. Hawaii at 10.6% of income

Warren Buffet’s Big Gig: Capital Allocation

Warren Buffett's Recommended Books on Investing

Most of us know Warren Buffet as perhaps the greatest investor who has ever lived. Thinking about how to invest. But, behind the scenes, he also runs Berkshire Hathaway.

Warren Buffet is the CEO there at Berkshire Hathaway. No doubt, Berkshire owns stocks which Buffett himself purchased. But Berkshire also owns 100% of franchises whole bunch of other businesses. Including household names Diary Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Geico, Netjets, etc.

Warren Buffett started to make his living from investing on the stockmarket in 1951, and was deeply influenced by Ben Graham, who wrote a classic book on investment, “Security Analysis” (1934), and had been his tutor at Columbia University.

Berkshire Hathaway, for much of its long history, was only in the textile business. Using its very modest excess cash flow, Berkshire Hathaway in its present form was created. The morph of Berkshire Hathaway from a sleepy New England company producing men’s suit liners to the present day conglomerate generating more than $100 million of cash a week is one of the best business lessons of our age.

Bill Gates should take a close look at Warren Buffett’s business model at Berkshire Hathaway. Managers at the various Berkshire companies use whatever portion of the cash flow they generate to grow their respective businesses and send the rest to Omaha for Buffett to allocate as he sees fit. Net users of cash (like Executive Jet) get whatever cash they need from Omaha to continue growing their business.

Jeff Bezos’ Two Pizza Rule: Small Teams Work More Productively

Jeff Bezos' Two Pizza Rule: Small Teams Work More Productively

When you look deeper into teams within companies, one factor stands out as a predictor of success: size. There’s a right size for every team, and it’s almost always smaller than you think.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon likes to use the “two-pizza rule” for strategy and development teams: if it takes more than two pizzas to feed the team, the team is likely too big.

Bezos didn’t invent the term; it seems to have first appeared at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s. The surface reason most often cited for using the two-pizza rule is that it keeps teams agile and fast—and it does. But there’s a deeper reason it works. When teams consist of a dozen people or fewer, each team member is more likely to care about the others, and members are far more likely to share information. They are also far more likely to come to the aid of another team member.

  • Small teams are more entrepreneurial
  • Teams with fewer people move faster
  • People in small teams trust each other
  • Sometimes they’ll even sacrifice themselves for their teammates
  • Small teams can become more specialized
  • They don’t waste your human resources
  • Small teams foster mentoring
  • Mini teams weaken the glass ceiling

Recommended Reading

Why is Costco so Successful

Why is Costco so Successful

Costco established the warehouse club retail business model, which relies on bargaining power, a no-frills shopping atmosphere, supply-chain efficiencies, and customer-friendly typical markups on branded products. Now, Costco is transforming its no-fuss wholesale business into a global brand.

Membership Fees

Costco has become a significant shopping destination for consumers across all income levels, as well as small businesses. This is foremost because Costco derives approximately 75% of its operating profits from membership fees.

Costco derives nearly all of its profits from membership fees, allowing the firm to sell many of its products at little to no margin, and sometimes at a loss. These loss-leading capacities are reinforced by the firm’s deployment of gasoline to drive store traffic. When blended with membership renewal rates above 85%, these characteristics give Costco a defensible competitive advantage.

Succeeding Overseas

There is little room for more household penetration because Costco already has more than 70 million members; historical sales and earnings growth forecasts may not be justifiable.

In 1985, Costco opened its first warehouse outside the U.S. in Canada. Currently, Costco has 187 locations in Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Australia. Overseas sales more than doubled from 2008 to 2013. While other traditional American retailers grapple to stay competitive in international markets, Costco’s no-fuss warehouse-shopping model is a new experience for international consumers. Remarkably, people in Asian markets are acclimatizing well to shopping in bulk—although it means fastening pallets of toilet paper and enormous teddy bears to the back of their motorbikes as they whizz away from the Costco parking lot.

A Good Living Wage for Employees

Costco has long been known for paying higher wages and offering more liberal benefits than its rivals have—and generating greater sales per square foot, too.

Unlike most retailers, Costco does not see raising employee salaries and growing profits as opposing objectives. While the average hourly wage for a full-time worker at Wal-Mart is $12.81, Costco pays its workers an average of nearly $21. Costco sees the return on this investment in its low employee turnover rates: Just 10% in 2013 and 7% for employees who have worked at least one year. High employee retention permits Costco to reduce considerably on training costs.

Superior Customer Experience

  • A guarantee of quality. Their model promises fundamentally “100% satisfaction” and they mean it. Their return policy stands out among the best in many retail categories and they are exceptionally relaxed about fulfilling it. Costco will take back an empty package of any food, if you are not satisfied, and give you your money back.
  • A extraordinary selection of products that is a bit more refined than most but at a pretty good price. A typical Costco store only carries about 5,000 items, and there is a bunch of those items that rotate regularly.
  • The “treasure hunt” model. The store does have a layout, but within that layout, everything is rotated frequently to keep you looking. This would never work at Walmart or Target —because you’d get frustrated. However, at Costco, it’s part of the fun to “treasure hunt” a new find. They have a very wide selection of very different merchandise types which offers an unique convenience level as a shopper.

CEO Jim Sinegal once said, “If that stuff doesn’t really turn you on, then you’re in the wrong business.” Costco caps margins at a sacrosanct 14% on branded goods, pushes buyers to find creative ways to lower prices and add value, and gets store managers to crank up their efficiency efforts. Under Sinegal’s leadership, Costco has gained a reputation for bargain prices and surprise designer goods.

Fascinating Facts about Microsoft

Microsoft Campus, Redmond Washington

  • In March 2006, Microsoft logged its 5000th patent granted in the United States. This milestone patent covers technologies featured in Xbox 360 games, allowing consumers to tune into a video game much as they would a sporting event.
  • For the fiscal year starting in July 2006, Microsoft will spend over $1 billion on research and development in its MSN unit alone. Total R&D spend across the company is estimated to reach $6.2 billion.
  • Microsoft summer interns work for 12 weeks right alongside full-time employees on a specific group and are given real work with tremendous problems to solve, as well as benefits and salary.
  • Starting their first year, Microsoft employees enjoy 15 paid vacation days, the US holidays, and two personal holidays, along with 10 days a year for paid sick leave.
  • Over 7 million free sodas are consumed on Microsoft’s corporate campus each year. The top three drinks of choice are lemon lime talking rain, diet Coke, and natural talking rain. The least popular drink? Caffeine free diet Pepsi.
  • Ultimate Frisbee, flag football, soccer, cricket, dodge ball, volleyball, and softball are some of the team sport is played on Microsoft’s intramural fields.

Microsoft Shuttle

Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research has more than 700 researchers studying over 55 research areas. These areas include speech recognition, information retrieval, user Interface research, programming tools and methodologies, operating systems and networking, graphics, natural language processing, machine learning, and mathematical sciences.
  • Through the Microsoft PRIME program, employees can get discounts on brand-name products and services nationwide, including computers and electronics, restaurants, shopping, travel, and local attractions.
  • In 2005, the average number of people served per day in Microsoft’s 22 cafeterias in the Puget Sound area boasts 17,436. The most popular item on the menu was pizza.
  • In 2005, Microsoft donated more than $ 334 million in cash and software to nonprofit organizations throughout the world.
  • In 2006, Microsoft awarded half a million dollars in scholarships to college students. Over 50 students received scholarships, benefiting the largest number of undergraduates since the scholarship program’s inception in 1989.

Microsoft CEOs: Bill Gates, Satya Nadella, and Steve Ballmer

Recommended Reading

Cinque Terre in the Italian Riviera: One of the Treasures of Europe

Manarola - The Heart of the Cinque Terre in the Italian Riviera

The cluster of seaside villages along the Italian Riviera known as Cinque Terre (five lands) is a UNESCO World Heritage site made up of five small villages, connected by a charming walking trail. Train or boat can reach each village, but the only way to discover the craggy coastline is by foot. The five villages of Cinque Terre offer us the opportunity to experience astonishing journeys as well as genuine destinations. Only two narrow, cliff-hugging roads lead to the coastal villages, which limits access—a characteristic that locals have preferred to keep. Each town is a unique destination carved rather amazingly into the steep terraced-vineyard coastline.

Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera Families tag along the Italian Riviera mountaineering between hillside fishing villages and paddling underneath the cliffs that line the Ligurian Sea. The southernmost village, Riomaggiore, was established many centuries ago as the wonderful location to plant olive trees and grapevines. The stone houses are built vertically, like multilevel towers, to accommodate the steep terrain. Vertiginous staircases let access between the homes and buildings. Here you will find the start of the famous Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s Walk. This 0.6-mile paved trail links Riomaggiore with its nearby neighbor, Manarola. Cut into the rock face, the Via dell’Amore takes merely twenty minutes to walk and allows visitors impressive spectacles back over the village and out across the Mediterranean. The small town of Manorala is the second smallest of the Cinque Terre, perched on rocks above the sea.

The route from Manarola to Corniglia takes around an hour. The middle of the five villages, Corniglia, is surrounded on three sides by ancient stone terraces and lush green grapevines. Vernazza is a traditional fishing town with a natural harbor. It is accessible only by foot because the locals decided long ago not to build road access, in order to preserve the character and quiet pace of life. The final leg of the Cinque Terre walk stretches to Monterosso and takes around ninety minutes. This is the steepest and most challenging part of the walk, but also one of the most exquisite. The hike will lead you through snaky olive orchards and green vineyards, and will reward you with remarkable ocean views you will not want to leave. In 1997, Italy’s Cinque Terre was named a World Heritage site for its splendor and cultural importance.