Destinations

Japan's Hidden Distilleries

The southernmost prefecture of Japan's islands contains a multitude of family-owned distilleries. But you'll need a car (and a map) to find them.

Targawa distillery is on Miyako Island, which is blessed with a rich underground water source. Targawa distillery is on Miyako Island, which is blessed with a rich underground water source.

If you want to taste the oldest spirit in Japan, you'll need to head south of the mainland.

From Tokyo, hop on a three-hour plane ride to the Ryukyu Islands. From the capital of Naha, Okinawa, a rental car is necessary to find Kin, Mizuho, and Chuko, before hopping on another domestic flight to Miyakojima-city, which is about 190 miles southwest of Okinawa island. Be sure to take the bridge from Miyakojima to Irabu island to visit Miyanohana distillery — it's the longest toll-free bridge in Japan with an absolutely breathtaking view of the turquoise ocean and beaches (the area is renowned for its scuba diving).

Most of these distilleries offer free tours and tastings, and each one has a different story to tell — whether it's a yeast they sent into space, a mother-daughter team on an island of 5,000, or a natural limestone cave where hundreds of anniversary bottles are stored for decades, these distilleries should be on your bucket list when seeking out the distilled rice spirits of shochu and awamori.

Kin-Shuzo, Kin Town, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture

Kin distillery is one of the "new kids on the block in Okinawa" according to the owner/head distiller. Kin distillery is one of the "new kids on the block in Okinawa" according to the owner/head distiller. It was founded in 1949.

Highlights

  • Winner of numerous awards, including Best Awamori and the Prefectural Governor's Award
  • Their hometown of Kin is known for its exceptional water quality
  • Puts aside half their awamori for aging in a natural limestone cave nearby
  • Second-generation family distillers

Mizuho-Shuzo, Naha city, Okinawa

Mizuho was established in 1848. Mizuho was established in 1848. They were the first to commercialize kusu (aged awamori.)

Highlights

  • Founded in 1848, one of the oldest distilleries in Okinawa
  • Hundreds of thousands of liters of awamori are actually underneath the tasting room
  • Their awamori is stored in several tanks underground, where the temperature is kept at a consistent level throughout the year
  • They also produce Moromi drinking vinegars, a byproduct of awamori production
  • They create an awamori aged in sherry barrels, as well as one made with an isolated yeast from a lily flower

Chuko-Shuzo, Tomigusuku-city

Chuko is so committed to to their aging process that they create their pots by hand. Chuko is so committed to to their aging process that they create their pots by hand; everything from soil preparation to firing is done in-house.

Highlights

  • Third-generation family distillery
  • Pottery factory next door features active kiln firing for pots and clay vessels
  • The distillery also includes a fine art gallery
  • A massive wooden cellar for aging kusu; the cellar is the second-biggest wooden building next to Shuri castle, and classical music is played year-round to assist with aging
  • Makes a unique awamori made with mango yeast

Taragawa-Shuzo, Miyakojima-city

The Taragawa distillery in Miyako-jima island stores a majority of their awamori in this limestone cave. The Taragawa distillery in Miyako-jima island stores a majority of their awamori in this limestone cave.

Highlights

  • A man-made limestone cave for aging private bottles
  • Uses ground water (rich in minerals) when distilling awamori
  • Unlike many distillers, they prefer horizontal distilling
  • Nearby grounds are a shrine to a holy mountain

Miyanohana, Miyakojima-city

Miyanohana is located on the beautiful Irabu island, with a mother-daughter team at the helm. Miyanohana is located on the beautiful Irabu island, with a mother-daughter team at the helm.

Highlights

  • The only female master distiller (fifth from left), she took over when her husband passed away
  • Her daughter is the president of the company (pictured far right)
  • All their workers wear pink shirts that say "Consideration & Kindness," which is their company motto
  • Makes a brown sugar drinking vinegar and a 100% biodynamic/organic awamori

Komaki-Jozo, Satsuma-county

Two brothers are at the helm of Komaki distillery. Two brothers are at the helm of Komaki distillery

Highlights

  • Creates sweet potato shochu, including some that are 100% sweet potato (no malted rice)
  • Family-owned distillery, currently two brothers at the helm (pictured above)
  • Located next to the Kawauchi river, known for its ayu (sweet fish) and eel
  • They source their water from the sacred Shibi mountains
  • Hand-filter shochu with a thick cheesecloth

Okuchi-Shuzo, Isa-city

The Okuchi distillery is in the heart of Kagoshima's rice paddy fields. The Okuchi distillery is in the heart of Kagoshima's rice paddy fields. Their Kuro Isanishiki is the number one selling shochu in Kagoshima City.

Highlights

  • 11 distillers merged in 1970 to form this distillery
  • Only uses rice from western Japan
  • Only makes sweet potato shochu
  • They source their sweet potatoes from farmers in Kagoshima

Oyamajinshichi shouten, Ibusuki-city

Oyamajinshichi has a gorgeous tasting room built in the architectural style of Gassho-Zukuri, which needs no pillars for support. Oyamajinshichi has a gorgeous tasting room built in the architectural style of Gassho-Zukuri, which needs no pillars for support.

Highlights

  • Sent their yeast into space via the final flight of the Space Shuttle "Endeavor," stayed for 16 days at the International Space Station
  • Have a small, yet impressive museum with shochu/awamori products, including 20th century picnic baskets with their own shochu cups
  • Uses a 50/50 mix of black and white koji in production

Satsuma-Shuzo, Makurazaki-city

If you visit the Satsuma distillery in Makurazaki, be sure to stop by their English pub onsite to try their sweet potato beers and plum wine. If you visit the Satsuma distillery in Makurazaki, be sure to stop by their English pub onsite to try their sweet potato beers and plum wine

Highlights

  • Makes both sweet potato and barley shochu
  • Also produces beer made with purple, white, and golden sweet potatoes
  • Have a rickhouse onsite with new Canadian oak barrels for aging barley shochu
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