Discover the Native Spirits of Kagoshima

shochu cocktail

The Basics

Imo and kokuto shochu stand out as two of Japan’s most remarkable distilled spirits. Bursting with rich flavor and enticing aroma, they embody the essence of Kagoshima, offering a cultural and historical experience with every sip. 

Authentic local specialties, these spirits are meticulously crafted in two distinct corners of the region—imo shochu hails from the Kagoshima mainland to the north, while kokuto shochu is produced on the outer Amami Islands to the south. 

Both locales are graced with nutrient-rich soil and steeped in a cultural heritage that spans millennia, providing the ideal backdrop for centuries of shochu craftsmanship.

Embark on a journey to explore these liquid treasures with us.


The Land

Kagoshima Prefecture unfolds in breathtaking beauty, stretching from the southwestern tip of Kyushu to the southernmost reaches of the Amami archipelago. 

It is endowed with mineral-rich soil, pristine waters, and a favorable climate, and enjoys ideal conditions for cultivating agrarian crops. Drawing on these natural advantages, Kagoshima proudly claims the title of having the largest number of distilleries in all of Japan. A total of 111 establishments call the region home, and craft an impressive array of exquisite beverages derived from locally sourced ingredients. 

The northern mainland offers optimal conditions for cultivating sweet potatoes, while the islands extending southward provide excellent terrain for sugarcane farming.

Steeped in tradition and widely acclaimed for its historical significance in Japan, Kagoshima embodies the essence of these two distinct worlds—geographically and culturally separated, yet bound as a cohesive state within Kagoshima Prefecture.

Imo Shochu – the sweet potato spirit

Imo shochu stands as the quintessential specialty of Kagoshima. Crafted from locally grown sweet potatoes, this spirit is celebrated for its aromatic and full-bodied character. Much like an IPA beer, imo shochu is renowned for its bold and distinctive notes, attracting a dedicated following of enthusiasts throughout Japan. 

Nowhere else can you encounter such a finely-tuned drink crafted from sweet potatoes—Kagoshima truly serves as the motherland of imo shochu.

satsuma imo

Historical Note

The sweet potato first arrived in Kagoshima in 1705, when a local fisherman named Maeda Riemon brought this revolutionary tuber back from his travels to Ryukyu, present-day Okinawa. Its cultivation quickly gained momentum, thriving in the local soil and earning acclaim for its resilience. It played a critical role averting widespread famines that plagued the region in the 1730s, saving countless lives. 

While the exact date remains unclear, it is believed that the sweet potato began weaving its narrative in the world of shochu in the latter half of the 18th century, some 50 years after its introduction to Kagoshima.

Pairing Ideas

In Kagoshima, imo shochu is often paired with satsuma age (fried fish cake), jidori sumibiyaki (char-grilled chicken), and kurobuta (black pig). Enhance your experience at home with these or any of the following dishes.  


sushi & sashimi


cheesy pizza

grilled meat

grilled chicken or pork

Kokuto Shochu – the traditional dark sugar spirit

Kokuto shochu is a regionally exclusive creation from the enchanting Amami Islands. It stands in a league of its own and can be likened to regional gems like Mezcal, Scotch, Bourbon, and Champagne. Exceptionally rare and challenging to find even in the bustling cities of Tokyo and Osaka, its key ingredient is the traditional dark sugar known as kokuto—a highly aromatic and flavorsome staple crafted on the islands of far-southwest Japan. The tropical paradise of Amami constitutes the kingdom of kokuto shochu.


Historical Note

Sugarcane first found its way to the Amami Islands in the early 1600s, thanks to the fascinating tale of Sunao Kawachi. Shipwrecked in China in 1605, Kawachi seized the opportunity to learn about sugarcane farming during his time there. Upon returning to Amami the following year, he smuggled three sugarcane plants with him. The inception of kokuto is believed to have followed shortly thereafter. 

Although early versions of the spirit existed on Amami much earlier, it wasn't until 1953 that kokuto was officially employed to create what is now recognized as kokuto shochu. 

Pairing Ideas

On the Amami Islands, kokuto shochu is enjoyed with a range of local dishes, from buta no kakuni (simmered sweet soy pork) to keihan (chicken rice) and passionfruit. This exceptional spirit complements rich and sweet dishes, and here are some tantalizing examples to try in the comfort of your home.

teriyaki chicken

teriyaki chicken

meat skewer

BBQ meat skewers

rum and raisin ice cream

rum & raisin ice cream

Comparison to Other Spirits 

spirits comparison

Though subjective, it's worth taking a look at where shochu stands in comparison to other spirits from around the world. 

Note that this chart doesn’t factor in shochu aged in barrels or earthen pots, but is focused on the spirit aged in tanks. Imo and kokuto shochu aged in barrels and earthen pots introduce an additional layer of complexity to the products. For example, kokuto shochu aged in barrels exhibits a character similar to high-end rhums with a twist, while imo shochu aged the same way brings a new dimension to barrel-aged spirits.  


Koji-kin – the superfood

Koji-kin, an edible mold, plays a pivotal role in fermenting the mash in shochu production. Serving as the catalyst for saccharification, it facilitates the breakdown of complex sugars into simpler forms, enabling yeast to transform them into alcohol.

Considered a superfood, koji-kin has the unique ability to enhance the inherent goodness of any food it encounters, arguably contributing to the delectable taste of Japanese cuisine. This essential ingredient is widely utilized in the creation of various traditional staples, such as soy sauce, miso, and sake, imparting them with rich flavors and distinctive character.

Koji-kin is typically applied to rice, acting as the medium for the mold culture to thrive. It comes in three types, each imparting a distinct flavor to the shochu it helps produce.

The Black

Black koji takes center stage in the crafting of imo shochu, infusing the spirit with robust and punchy flavors. Accompanied by complex aromas, it creates a distinctive and bold character in the final product.

The White

White koji stands as the predominant variety used in kokuto shochu production. It is known for imparting a fresh and clean flavor, along with a corresponding aroma that enhances the overall profile of the liquor.

The Yellow

Yellow koji, primarily reserved for sake production, is rarely used in the creation of shochu. However, when applied, it imparts elegant and fruity aromas over a sweet, silky palate, offering a unique twist to the traditional shochu experience.

Varied Variables

While each koji variant contributes distinct characteristics to the liquor, several other variables play a crucial role in determining flavor and aroma.

Pot Still 

There are two types of distilling employed in shochu production. These are known as atmospheric and vacuum distillation. Each method imparts distinct characteristics to the final product; atmospheric distillation is recognized for its ability to draw out the innate qualities of the key ingredients, while vacuum distillation is regarded for its delivery of a crisp and clean liquor. 

The type of pot still, whether it is atmospheric or vacuum, along with its size and shape, among other factors, inevitably influences the taste and aroma it imparts upon the shochu.

Atmospheric robust, punchy, and full

Vacuum → light, easy, and crisp

pot still

Aging Vessel

Aging vessels also play a significant role in shaping the taste and aroma of the final product.



No flavor or aromatic impact, instead delivers the inherent qualities of the distillate

earthen pot

Earthen Pots

Unrefined earthy notes, occasionally imparting greyish hues



Woody, sweet, and vanilla notes with amber hues


koji rice

Koji Rice Making

Steamed rice + koji-kin = koji rice → takes about 40-hours to make!


First Stage Mashing

Koji rice + yeast + water = first mash → ferments for about a week!


Second Stage Mashing

Key ingredient + first mash = second mash → this is where the sweet potato or kokuto is introduced to the mash! It ferments for about two weeks here!



Second mash + distilling = distillate (raw liquor) → this is where the mash is converted to raw liquid alcohol! 



Distillate + aging vessel = potable liquor → here, the distillate is aged to mellow the product for consumption!  Aging can be as short as 3 months and last longer than several decades!



Filtering + bottling = finished product → after shochu has undergone aging, it is then filtered, blended, bottled, and packed for shipping. Indulge in the finest of shochu from Kagoshima! 

Shochu & How to Enjoy It

Kagoshima shochu is incredibly versatile, presenting a range of drinking styles to compliment your preferences or occasion at hand. From the classic to the modern, whether sipping it neat or cutting it with warm water or a fizzy carbonated mixer, delve deep and explore the many ways to experience shochu. The choice is yours.

straight up shochu cocktail

Sutoreito — Straight Up

What you’ll need: shochu and a stylish glass



oyuwari shochu cocktail

Oyuwari — Cutting with Warm Water

What you’ll need: shochu, warm water, thermometer, and a ceramic cup or heat-resistant glass



sodawari shochu cocktail

Sodawari— Cutting with Soda Water

What you’ll need: shochu, soda water (carbonated water), ice, chilled glass, and a muddling spoon 



old-fashioned shochu cocktail

Imo Shochu Cocktail – Old Fashioned

What you’ll need:


coral negroni shochu cocktail

Kokuto Shochu Cocktail – Coral Negroni

What you’ll need:



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