In 2013 I wrote an entry for every day of my 3 week adventure in Kyushu. This year I didn’t write a single post while spending 3.5 weeks in Japan. I’ll blame a wonky laptop that was in the Fukuoka Apple Store until the day I left Japan, but mostly I wanted to immerse myself in the moment without the distraction of “What am I going to write about today?”
This year I returned to Yamato Zakura, which has become my “home kura” … the place where I truly feel like part of the team. No, not the team. Part of the family. Staying in the toji’s home with his family and sharing meals with them day after day is a precious experience that I will always treasure.
This year two of my good friends in Japan spent time with me at Yamato Zakura learning to make hand-crafted sweet potato shochu. Christopher Pellegrini, author of the first English language shochu book, The Shochu Handbook, spent a weekend at Yamato Zakura where he was exposed to everything magical and backbreaking about Yamato Zakura’s “sadistic system”.
Nori-kun and I became fast friends on my first visit to Kagoshima. We met within 2 hours of my arrival while he was working as a manager of a shochu shop in the mall next to the train station. He must have spent more than an hour introducing me and Seikai to about 50 different shochus at the shop. That night, after his shift, he met us at an izakaya he’d recommended. He’s since moved to Kumamoto where he’s opening his own sweet potato shochu bar. I visited him in Kumamoto earlier on my trip this year where we stayed up until the early hours drinking obscure shochus and talking about our dreams.He took a couple days off work in Kumamoto to visit Yamato Zakura as well. That night we visited his parent’s house in Satsuma Sendai where we had shochu conversation with his father and mother. I arrived as Nori’s shochu buddy and left as a friend of of the family.
On my last night in Kagoshima, the shochu makers organized a goodbye party for me. We went to a great little self service shochu izakaya where I was able to catch up with people that have become increasingly important to me over the years. It helped ease the surprisingly emotional goodbye when hugging the toji’s children when they dropped me at my hotel. They’re really becoming family.