Satsuma Bar – Kagoshima Shinkansen Station
Kagoshima is the shochu lovers playground. This is the equivalent of a Speyside tour for Scotch aficionados or a meander through Bourbon County Kentucky for bourbon connoisseurs. While our 2012 Shochu Tour began in Fukuoka, that was just an opportunity to get acclimated before embarking on our trip to Mecca – the prefecture where virtually all top sweet potato shochus are made. Kagoshima sits at the far southern end of the last of the main Japanese islands. It’s got the hottest temperatures, the most typhoon risk, and an active volcano across the bay from its main city.
The region was originally known as Satsuma when it was an independent country within the kingdom of Japan. Proud of their independent heritage, “satsuma” appears regularly in the names of local products, such as the shochu Satsuma Shiranami, or in the case of this story, a bar. But not just any bar. This is a bar that greets anyone who enters the city of Kagoshima on the high speed rail, or Shinkansen. Kagoshima is the last stop on a high speed train ride that runs from Osaka to the southern tip of Kyushu Island. To get to Kagoshima from Tokyo it’s far faster to fly, but you could conceivably take a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka and transfer to the next to get to Kagoshima. We were fortunate enough to take that train from Fukuoka (the largest city in Kyushu) where we’d flown from Tokyo.
So back to Satsuma Bar. This bar is sandwiched between a coffee stand and a soba shop. The cluster of tables in front of the bar are meant to be shared by customers from all three establishments. When we arrived, about 11:30 or noon on a weekday, we were quickly left as the only customers in the Shinkansen waiting area – most travelers, of course, leave the station upon arrival. Not us. We stood in awe of the 250 brands of Kagoshima-made shochu that awaited us at the unexpected Satsuma Bar. Ranging in price from 300¥ to 700¥ ($3.80-$8.95), the choices were overwhelming. We quickly ordered a couple glasses while we contemplated our next move. Before we’d even finished those we decided to go with a tasting flight.
Less than an hour after arriving in Kagoshima we’d already sampled 5 of the local products. All astoundingly delicious. We hadn’t even had lunch yet. We knew then that Kagoshima was going to be an amazing experience – and hard on our livers.