Today is another slower day at the distillery since Sunday’s closure means no imo washing today. I get to sleep in until a decadent 7am before starting the day’s work. Over breakfast Tekkan-san informs me that the local newspaper and government offices will be visiting to conduct an interview with me – they’d caught wind of my internship through his facebook page.
We spend more than an hour answering questions from a reporter and a government official, asked through a translator from the Ichikikushikino government office. The questions focused largely on how I’d discovered shochu and why I wanted to do an internship and how I’d picked Yamato Zakura. Tekkan-san and I did our best to shift the conversation to the philosophy we share around shochu and izakaya life, but they wanted “just the facts” so we gave them what they wanted. A brief photo shoot followed during which I turned the camera on my inquisitors. The story will be released the day I’m scheduled to leave Ichiki.
Afterward it was back to work. I worked closely with Tekkan-san to wash, steam, cool, and salt the day’s rice with koji. The entire process is a test of strength, patience, and endurance. As Tekkan-san is fond of saying, “Making tezukuri (handmade) shochu is a marathon.” Of course, he’s also fond of saying, “This is the Yamato Zakura sadistic system.”
(koji spores are acquired from the largest koji maker in Kagoshima – founded by the man who discovered several forms of koji common in shochu production today)
(unlike many automated distilleries, Yamato Zakura hand mixes the koji and steamed rice)
After finishing that backbreaking and exhausting work it’s time for a break. A quick lunch and a run into town to pay the tax bill brings us to the Ichikikushikino government office where we meet Tekkan-san’s classmate from the evening before. I also peruse a display case that shows the wares of the area including shochus from the surprising number of distilleries that exist in this hamlet. Maguro ramen also makes an appearance in plastic form.
The afternoon work is pretty sedate as well so on our next break I decide to wander around the distillery. They’d been moved by government decree a few years ago – in order to open a city park on their former sight. This move could have forced them to close their doors, but the endurance and dedication of the Wakkamatsu family would not allow for failure. They reopened in their new location and released new products to commemorate the move.
Much of their equipment was moved into the new distillery, but some was retired. In my wander around the property I discovered their old gas powered boiler, now left to oxidize in the elements. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the shacho’s house for nearby Hamada Shuzo sits on a bluff over the Yamato Zakura property. Hamada Shuzo is one of the largest distilleries in Kagoshima and the president refused to move during the city’s beautification efforts. When the land was graded around his home, he was left with high retaining wall, an unencumbered view of the South China Sea (4 or 5 blocks from the intersection), and a nice bird’s eye view of the Yamato Zakura compound.
Beside the boiler is a windowed shed full of detritus from days gone by. I have a feeling that room is full of memorabilia that could fully decorate a shochu bar with pieces of history of the distillery. Rescued from sitting in an old shed to rot are a few important pieces from the history of the distillery. The traditional wooden buckets used to transport moromi to the still are displayed in the bottling room along with a wooden box apparently decorated by the first toji of Yamato Zakura, who was making his shochu around the time of Admiral Perry’s opening of Japan (1854).
When the day’s work is done we settle into a nice homecooked meal including nikujaga, a traditional miso based beef stew complete with carrots, onions, and potatoes. Were it not for the miso, this would be the beef stew you’d have in the US.
Exhausted we have a quick nightcap of Manzen’s special shochu (leftover from our Kagoshima dinner) and drop off to sleep. This might be the first night I’ve begged off another pour in favor of going to sleep before Tekkan-san does.