I would not be exaggerating if I said there were chickens clucking in the yard with a 4x4 up on blocks, but this isn't the U.S., this is Japan, so instead there was a decrepit k-truck tucked under a tarp and a lithe cat warming itself in the sun. There was no activity, though I spied a middle aged man through a 2nd floor window of the old home. He quickly turned and disappeared from sight.
Had I known it was the last time I’d be sleeping in a bed for the next 10 weeks, I would have enjoyed the moment more. I found myself at 5 a.m. wide awake staring at the ceiling in my small hotel room in Amami City. It still hadn’t hit me how much different Amami is than the Japanese mainland.
I arrived in Amami still jet lagged and confused on where to go. My phone wasn't working. I had no place to stay. No English translations to rely on. No idea which bus to catch (there are no trains in Amami).
Fukurou is the first US outpost of a Japanese izakaya chain, but you'd never guess this was a corporate location from the experience. It's a tiny space with a few counter seats and tables that are almost always reserved by Japanese patrons or foodies.
I just spent 2 months in Amami-o-shima, an island off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan. I went there to learn how to make kokuto, or black sugar, shochu. How did I get there? Well, that’s kind of a long story. Let me start at the beginning. In fact, before that.
Nakanaka is the main brand of barley shochu from the very well respected Kuroki Honten in Miyzaki, which makes a wide range of delicious shochu across two different distilleries, but under the same ownership. Their premium barley shochu, Hyakunen no Kodoku, a 40% ABV barrel aged barley shochu, is arguably the most famous barley shochu in Japan. Nakanaka takes a more straightforward approach with atmospheric distillation and 100% barley.