Shochu Distilleries in Kagoshima

November 2, 2015

The thing I love about wine is that it acknowledges its part in tourism and almost all wineries in Australia have cellar doors catering for tourists and fans coming for a taste.  In Japan, the culture is a bit different and especially for sake, cellar door tastings and tours are not so popular.  Maybe this is due to the generation old secrecy of the techniques and the Japanese culture of not inquiring too deeply and just respecting the product.  However for Shochu, there are a number of distilleries that do tastings and factory tours.

There are so many shochu brands and manufacturers and to be honest, all undergo the basic production of koji fermentation of sweet potato (or other main ingredient) and through to distilling so I don’t have any that I particularly dislike. Difference lies in the subtle aromas or the after note being sharp or lingering, the palate being mild or dry etc.  It’s all up to personal preference.

1. Kojika

When asked for a favourite, I would say Kojika, just because I have fond memories of travelling all around Kyushu when I was 21, stopped by the Kanoya area befriended a local young man at the pachinko shop and ended up being invited over to stay at his house for the night. Such is the climate of rural Kagoshima.  Welcoming and relaxed.  His pick of drinks for the night was Kojika.  The taste of Kojika reminds me of that night when he called his friends over for an instant drink till you fall party to entertain me and we emptied the 1.8ltr bottle easily.   Although I would recommend it and they do say they are open for tours, it is probably quite a small local company and I don’t know how you will go trying to book a factory tour without any Japanese capacity.  I trust though, as with my experience, the Kagoshima people are the most hospitable people in the world and if you manage to just get a booking across, you should be able to manage.


所在地 〒893-1101 鹿児島県鹿屋市吾平町上名7312
お問い合わせ TEL 0994-58-7171
要予約。Need to book. 
おすすめ時期:いも仕込み最盛期(9月~11月)  Recommended Season when sweet potato is harvested and fermentation starts  (Sept-Nov)
所要時間:60分程度 Tour takes 60min

2. Hombo

These guys seem to have a English (very limited but…)  selection on their home page and seem to have a more commercialized factory tour facility.

3. Satsuma

The largest distiller by far is Satsuma Shuzo.

They seem to have a walk in capability to cater for tours.  The city is also very famous for katsuo or bonito.  Eaten fresh or dried and becomes the main ingredient for the essence of Japanese cuisine, the dashi.

4. Here is the complete list.



May 12, 2015

I had a visit from Hakkaisan Sake Brewery today.  They came to promote their Junmai Ginjo sake and the new sparkling sake. 

 The characteristic of Hakkaisan is the Tanrei Karakuchi – Clean and Dry.  The ultimate food friendly sake.

They are showcasing some of their products at the Noosa Food  and Wine Show coming this weekend.

I had actually visited the Hakkaisan Sake Brewery in Niigata in August 2014 but not gotten around to publishing an article so here it is.

Perhaps a good destination for someone’s summer trip to Japan. The exeperience at Hakkaisan is eco-tourism at its best. There  are direct purchasing kiosks, a beautiful traditional hay roofed soba hut and most recently they have created a feature attraction by recreating a traditional agribusiness custom in a commercial scale in the form of a huge yukimuro (snow room).  This area is famous for its heavier than heavy snowfall and the farmers would collect snow and put insulation around it to create a ice box that would last all year until the next winter. They would stash their summer crop and sell their produce all season long.

Hakkaisan brewery has done this in an unheard of scale and erected an insulated warehouse with tons of snow and set up ageing tanks to store some sake which will be sold as vintage snow aged sake. The temperature is so stable and the beauty is that there is no vibration of motors/engines making the sake age with zero disturbance. You can also purchase shochu which they will store in the warmer part of the cellar for collection after a minimum 1 year period. The sleekly designed icebox architecture, cellar and shop is open for tours, tastings and the shop sells various aged vegetables, fish and meat. I tried the potato as the story was that the potato gets amazingly sweet due to it supposedly turns carbs into sugar during the hibernation to protect itself. It certainly was sweet! And I just can’t seem to resist the temptation of purchasing beautifully marbled snow aged wagyu.  I couldn’t tell the difference in this one so much but it was yummy none the less. IMG_5144.JPG IMG_5141.JPG IMG_5143.JPG IMG_5142.JPG 


Fugunoko / blowfish roe (poisonous!!)

April 13, 2014

Blowfish or fugu is known as a delicacy with a fatal attraction.

This delicate firm white fleshed fish is discovered thanks to the sacrifice of numerous foodies that have fallen victim to the fish’ deadly toxins contained in the roe and blood vessels.

The fish needs to be cut by a licensed chef and the roe, toxic enough to kill nine adult men must be stored in locked tin containers before getting disposed of properly.

So eating fugunoko or blowfish roe is even to a Japanese an act of pure lunacy. When i saw this product at a shop specializing in rural produce from north central japan, I was intrigued. I purchased and investigated and apparently people of Ishikawa have figured out that if you preserve the roe in salt and rice bran for 2 years, the toxins become benign and edible.

So I had it for snacks one midnight.

… It could be physiological but it might make the alcohol go around a bit more potently.

Taste… really really salty so I am working on creative ways of consuming it.

I mixed it with creme fraiche to top on some canapés for entertaining and it created a good talking point!


Pork Buns

July 29, 2013

Pork buns seem to be taking the world at a storm. Traditionally china, Korea and Japan had these soft beauties but I am guessing the roots of this modern day pork bun craze is David Chang presenting his twist in New York and this ignited pork bun sliders in New York starting with rival Ippudo (correct me if I am wrong this is my guess). However, to be fair pork buns even in its slider format is not David Chang’s original invention, there had been traditional recipes in places such as Nagasaki which has the kakuni-man.

Anyway, it is amazing that Brisbane now has its own bun mobile.
The Bun Mobile on Urbanspoon

They have some fine dining experience behind their recipes and are pretty good. Looking from a professional perspective, it’s a clever model. All the meat filling is pre-cooked and the finishing grilling is done to add the charry aroma and wrapped with fresh salad and sauce in the pillow of the buns, meaning great quality at lightning speed! I had the twice cooked pork belly bun with a zesty sweet sauce and the wagyu bun with a reconstituted dried shiitake braise and spicy relish. If i were to comment on the taste, for me personally, perhaps I have the image of traditional pork buns so the zesty sauces and the juicy meat are great but i still find myself looking for sweetness and umami that i am used to with the traditional buns. But these buns are in fact nouveau western foods closer to fancy hamburgers rather than traditional nikuman (Japanese pork buns). So from that angle, these are well made buns well exceeding the expected standards of the modest $8.00 price and I won’t hesitate to try another type when I have the chance. Also they have made me want to try David Chang’s famous version in New York.






Speaking of the traditional version, this home made pork bun (nikuman) from Art Taste Bakery in the Australia Fair Shopping Centre, Southport, Gold Coast is a classic. Love it. At 3.50, grab one if you are down that way.


Kyoto – Meimon/Gogyo/Ichibanboshi/Watanabe Seimen

July 2, 2013

19:00 June 30 やっぱ京都で最初の食事はここ以外ないかなー!学生のときはできなかったゴージャスサイドメニュー全種類をつまみに親友と楽しく飲りました!やっぱ名門うますぎ!


Aji no Meimon Head Quarters @ Shichijo Shichihonmatsu.  This was probably the best bowl rated by university student Taro Akimoto 20years old 17 years ago.  Sticky collagenous chicken soup with no added oils.  Enjoyed the same taste, had to be my first bowl to start my ramen memoir journey.

21:00 June 30 二件目もラーメン屋!一風堂系の焦がし味噌ラーメン五行。町家を改築したオサレなお店、接客もいいし参考になりました。美味しかった。温度が半端ない!あっつ!て感じ。


Gogyo @ Shijo Sakuranobanba.  Recommended by N san.  Not on my memory list, but after reading about it, a good choice for a few drinks and nibbles and a bowl to finish things off.  The atmosphere and service standards, high motivation of the staff creating a vivbrant feel, all very good stimulation.  They’ve refurbished a Machiya style house probably 300-400 years old to a ramen shop and bar.  The burnt miso ramen’s burn tongue temperature, a really interesting one making me want to experiment too!

11:30 July 1本日一発目は渡辺製麺@西院。日本離れたのが8年前なんで魚介豚骨つけ麺を始めて食べた。魚介濃厚豚骨って話だけどデンプンぽいドロドロさは天一系に魚粉いれた感じ?麺はなかなかだけど僕だったらもう少し加水高めてもっともちもちさせるかな。

WatanabeWatanabe 2

Watanage Seimen @ Saiin.  Have not actually had the chance to try out the Tonkotsu Fish Stock Tsukemen which became main stream several years ago after I left Japan.  So this one also not on my memory list but good breakfast to start the day.  The soup felt not so thick from Tonkotsu protein and fatness but more from starch driven thickness.  Which is not unpleasant but left me still wondering if the real famous shops are also like this.  The noodles also could have been a bit more resilient chewiness which I think can be bettered with more moisture during the noodle knedding process.  Anyway a decent bowl.

13:00 July 1思い出の一番星。マスターは屋台3年、岡崎で34年。味も素敵な笑顔も全く変わっていませんでした。僕はまだ3年、頑張るぞ!

IchibanboshiIchiban 2Ichiban 3

Ichibanboshi @ Okazaki.  From the outside, you can never tell that this coffee shop looking place is a ramen shop if it werent for the tonkotsu aroma reeking the perimeter.  I rode my bycicle around the corner and smiled to myself as I knew straigth away from the smell that they were open from down the block.  This is the place that i frequented dueing my student days. Probably twice a week.  I was able to speak to the master in depth for the first time in 18 years and introduce myself as a fan and that I have followed his path in Brisbane Australia.  He was very happy to hear of my story and we shook hands.  His stock is tonkotsu predominant and charsiu seasoning as the predominant tare.  Topping is 3-4 decent slices of belly and or shoulder charsiu (very very good!), sprouts, shallots, bamboo shoots.  I always add some raw egg.  He has been keeping his style for 3 years as mobile yatai and 34 years at the current location.  He mentioned there are so many restaurants in Kyoto but still there was a need for a different taste and went for a distinct tonkotsu predominant ramen compared with the other shops that used chicken mainly.  Compare to his 37 years, I am still not even born.  Gambaro!

14:00 July 1 Tenkaippin Head Quarters @ Kitashirakawa. (just as a spiritual pilgrimage, no eating).


Other shots.  Lost track of time exploring and testing my memory and wasn’t able to score my fifth bowl of ramen.

Nishiki Markets and me sampling some ayu and hamo.

NishikiNishiki hamoNishiki eating

Doshisha Uni, Otani Uni.


Nanzenji Temple and Biwako Sosui.

Biwako 2Biwako SosuiNanzenji

A shot of my super fast ride of the day ($5 for the day and quicker than car or train!).


Farewell Japan till next time!

Fukuoka Ramen Pit Stop

January 12, 2013

Ramen at Fukuoka.

Dropped off my bags at the airport, took a 5 minute subway ride to Hakata station to visit a classic tonkotsu staple, “Fukuchan” Hakata branch. Classic Hakata style, head bones, back bones visible from the pot. No finishing aroma oils used. Lots of tare, a spoonful of the magic powder, two separate scoops from the same pot. An oily layer and then the soup. The noodles are a tiny bit thicker than mine. Charsiu is very lean. A heavily pork smelling with a nice oily layer but relatively light soup base.

Next shop, catch a cab to Yakuin. Noodle Theater “Genei”. The shop is fitted out like a theater. The seats are elevated and look down on to the stage being the kitchen. They claim no MSG and house made noodles, so adhere to a similar standard to mine. Their recommendation was the fish based Shoyu. They fry shallots and make an aromatic oil to every order. They hand rub the noodles each serve. The soup is pretty much 100% fish stock. The noodles are high moisture so plump and chewy.

I was impressed and also running short of time to be able to explore and cue up at another shop decided to order their tonkotsu soup as well.

The tonkotsu had pretty good density, not as high as ours but given a twist to part themselves from the numerous classic tonkotsu staples. I got a strong aroma of ginger probably in the finishing oil. The noodles shared the same hand rubbed thin wavy noodles. The charsiu was basically the same slow cooked type but the tonkotsu
came out with a softer cut and the Shoyu had a leaner cut.

Both shops have a strong character and worthy of their respective fame.

Won’t go into point evaluation as I am no longer a unbiased blogger but I will say that I strengthened my confidence that my pursuit of my ramen is the closest to the ideal tasting ramen according to my preferences and standards!

3 bowls in 30minutes. This was my last food in Japan as I fast in my jet star flight.

As you can imagine, 5kg heavier in the very very intense 2 weeks in Japan!









Sasebo eats

January 12, 2013

Kurume Taiho head quarters long cue. Had to give up so visited Shuho in Miyaki. The champon was a failure should have stuck with ramen.
The ramen is good. Nice and thick ton soup a bit on the sweet side.

Mother in law’s cooking. Chikuzenni and red and white kamaboko, black beans. Traditional osechi cooking.

Interesting finds in markets. Soy milk in plastic. Vegetable of the future “ice plant”.

Fresh seafood restaurant “kasayama”. Private seating and good sashimi!