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).
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.
As many of you know, the origin story of my shochu obsession began on a Tuesday night at Izakaya Ten (now Juban) back in 2008. As a result, "Shochu Tuesday" has always had a special place in my heart and for the past 2 1/2 years I've been a guest-bartender-in-residence at SakaMai on the Lower East Side. As for December 15, 2015 that tenure ended - and with a bang. We had more than 40 guests for the farewell Shochu Tuesday at SakaMai.
On Monday, November 23, 2015, I had the distinct pleasure of appearing on the Japan Eats radio show with host Akiko Katayama on the Heritage Radio Network. If you're not familiar with Akiko's show, it's a beautiful exploration of Japanese food and beverage in an easily accessible format through interview with local New York chefs, restaurant owners, and experts in a variety of areas.
Hoppy Beverage Company, which only recently began selling in the New York market, recently hosted their 2,500th radio show (as a post-war phenomenon a radio show was a natural form of advertising) at SakaMai in the Lower East Side. At this invite-only private party an ice flume was used to pour Hoppy’s sweet potato beer (not yet available in the US market) and the hundreds of guests enjoyed Hoppy, a rokugo performance (traditional Japanese “stand-up” comedy performed in kimono kneeling on a cushion), and live music.