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        The Birth of Sake | Lesson Plan: Changing Values about Work, Workers and Progress

        In this lesson, Students are presented with an opportunity to reflect on society’s values around work, workers and progress. By comparing a clip from the documentary film The Birth of Saké with other media depictions of workplaces, students will compare and contrast ideas about work and workers across cultures (U.S. and Japan) and across time.


        Lesson Summary

        Today’s students receive mixed messages about work: Your current education is vital to future work success, though many of you will eventually be employed in jobs that haven’t yet been invented. Society respects those who work hard, but employers are replacing laborers with technology wherever possible.

        To help students sift through the confusion, this lesson gives them an opportunity to reflect on society’s values around work, workers and progress. By comparing a clip from the documentary film The Birth of Saké with other media depictions of workplaces, students will compare and contrast ideas about work and workers across cultures (U.S. and Japan) and across time. The Birth of Saké takes students behind the scenes at Japan’s Yoshida Brewery, where a brotherhood of artisans, ranging in age from 20 to 70, spend six months in nearly monastic isolation as they follow an age-old process to create saké, the nation’s revered rice wine.

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        Time Allotment

        2 class periods plus homework

        Learning Objectives

        • Reflect on societal attitudes about work and workers
        • Examine the influence of technology on the nature of work and definitions of progress
        • Read and analyze informational text about technology transforming work and replacing workers


        Students will need Internet access to view clips and read the assignment. If Internet access is a challenge, you could download clips (and put them on an accessible school site) and print hard copies of the reading.

        FILM CLIPS

        The video clip provided with this lesson is from The Birth of Saké.

        The clip, which consists of approximately the first 15 minutes of the film, starts at the beginning of the film with a shot of snow falling on tree branches and workers walking to the brewery as a narrator says, “saké-making is a living thing.” It ends at 15:22 with text that reads, “It is one of the few saké breweries that still uses the laborious and time-consuming traditional method.”

        The clip introduces viewers to the Yoshida Brewery, a 144-year-old family-owned establishment whose workers range in age from 20 to 70. This is an artisan brewery, where technology and mechanization play very limited roles. The small group of workers and their brewmaster spend six months in nearly total isolation as they follow a precise, labor- intensive, and almost mystical process to create a world-renowned version of Japan’s national beverage. Traditions reign. Even the brewery owner’s son, who will one day inherit the business, shows deference to the brewmaster. Depicting everything from sharing meals to working the rice by hand and making decisions based on intuition, the clip offers a range of contrasts to typical U.S. workplaces.

        Introductory Activity


        Step 1: The Nature of Work

        Ask students to envision themselves in ten years. They are at work. What do their workplaces look like? What do they do on a typical day? Who else is in the workplace and what are their relationships to those people? Do a quick pair-and-share so students can articulate their initial thoughts.

        Then have them imagine what it’s like to work at the largest companies in the United States (or the world). Look at the list of largest employers and talk about what they do:

        You may need to supply some information (e.g., Foxconn is the Chinese company that assembles iPhones).

        Learning Activities

        Step 2: Showing the Film Clip

        Briefly review this Business Insider article by Sarah Gardner discussing the decline of full-time, lifetime employees: “‘Wall Street Does Not Value Having Employees’ and That’s Changing Everything About the US Workplace” ( Just address the issues the article raises long enough to make sure that students understand the gist.

        Segue to the film clip by telling students they are going to see a very different depiction of work from a film about the traditional craft of making saké. If needed, provide general information about what saké is and the role it plays in Japanese culture. (See the Resources section below.)

        As a prompt for viewing, ask students to watch for:

        • attitudes toward work
        • attitudes toward workers
        • working conditions and the role of technology
        • the relationship between bosses and employees

        Play the film clip from The Birth of Saké. In the follow-up discussion, encourage students to respond to the viewing prompts and also to take notice of differences between practices depicted in the film and those typical in American workplaces (e.g., meal times).

        Step 3: Practice and Progress

        To provide students practice for the homework you are about to assign, show this clip, using the same viewing prompts as in Step 3.

        Budweiser Beer Factory

        In the follow-up discussion, guide students through a compare and contrast of the two clips.

        Continue the discussion by inviting students to reflect on whether or not mechanization and technology (such as the type used in the Budweiser factory) represent “progress.” What is gained and what is lost by implementing these things? Who benefits from such advancements?

        Step 4: Assigning the Homework — Clip Comparisons

        Assign each student to compare and contrast the clip from The Birth of Saké with their choice of one of these clips:

        Factory work scene from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times

        “The American Factory Worker”

        Just the Job: “Production Worker” (New Zealand energy drink factory)

        Depending on the skills you want students to practice, comparisons may be written or they may be presented in a graphic or multimedia format.

        Advanced students might be asked to compare and contrast more than one of the clips. In order for them to gain added context for such comparisons, you also might have them reread the Business Insider article provided above in greater depth and/or read the article “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs” by David Rotman, published in the MIT Technology Review

        Comparisons should address all the initial viewing prompts (attitudes toward work and workers, working conditions and the role of technology and the relationship between bosses and employees), as well as the degree of worker satisfaction and the relationship between co-workers.

        They should also address differences in media and how media production choices and techniques influence messages about work and workers (e.g., media form/genre, pace of editing, who is telling the story, whose voices are left out). Let students know when their comparisons are due.

        Culminating Activity

        Step 5: Synthesis and Reflection

        After viewing the clips, pose some or all of the following discussion questions:

        If time allows, invite students to share their work with one another.

        Wrap up the lesson by asking students what they learned about work from the Business Insider article and their comparisons. Invite them to reflect on what they want from their own work experiences.


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