Kagura no Mai, with its plain black and white label with abstract drawings of village life, doesn't shout from you off the shelf. Nor does is grab you out of the glass. It's light and clean with the forward aromas of sake yeast. This leads me to believe it's a low pressure distillate and that the distillery has chosen to use a traditional sake yeast rather than one of the more neutral shochu yeasts.
I was up at 6am to wash the sweet potatoes – all 900 kg this time. Each basket of imo are put into a washing machine for 90 seconds. The timer will tell you how long it takes for you to load your next basket. When I first started I was hovering around 60 seconds to make the transition – get the washed imo out and put the next basket of dirty imo in. Today I managed to get this down to 45 or so seconds on average and as low as 39 seconds.
I was up at 5am to wash 900 kg of sweet potatoes before taking an early morning train (6:42am departure) to Kirishima in northern Kagoshima. This is an area near where Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima meet. Not far from Hitoyoshi where I visited early in my trip or from Kirishima Shuzo in Miyazaki, this is a shochu haven.
The entire reason for this trip was to come learn how to make shochu. Tekkan-san, toji of Yamato Zakura Shuzo in Ichiki, Kagoshima Prefecture, was kind enough to allow me to come work under his instruction. I'd met him thanks to Komasa-san, president of Komasa Shuzo, one of the largest distilleries in Kagoshima.
Last year when visiting Kyushu, I was amazed at how Kagoshima felt like home. Not only was it humid like Florida, where I grew up, but the people were warmer and friendlier than anywhere else I've visited in Japan. Since leaving last July I've been determined to come back.
Waking up at 7:30am for an 8am pick-up left us with no time for breakfast before our drive to Kumamoto's Hitoyoshi, home of 28 rice shochu distillers that collectively make "kumajochu", the WTO Appellation of Origin that can only be given to rice shochus that are made with local spring water and that are fermented, distilled, and bottled in the Hitoyoshi area.