Kaiseki at Tsukiji Tamura つきぢ田村

Tsukiji Tamura つきぢ田村

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 2-12-11 中央区築地2-12-11

Tel. 03-3541-2591

11:30 – 15:00, 17:00 – 22:00, Monday – Friday

11:30 – 22:00, weekend and holidays


A few blocks away from the market, Tsukiji Tamura is a top destination for kaiseki cuisine by third generation chef Takashi Tamura. His father, Teruaki Takashi has penned a book (Japanese and English) that demystifies many of the rituals of this stylized cuisine, “The Elegant Art of Japanese Food and Manners”. The main dining room has several tables and the noon meal is often filled with ladies who lunch. Private rooms are also available for an extra charge. Lunch is a bargain for the several courses.

Tsukiji Tamura

Tsukiji Tamura

Tsukiji Tamura is just a few blocks away from Tsukiji Market.

Seasonal Winter Dishes

Seasonal Winter Dishes

Just some of what came with this course is pickled renkon (lotus root), Tsukudani fish, nanohana (the greens), sushi wrapped in sakura leaf, grilled tofu with an herbed miso sauce, and octopus.



The sake is served in a wooden boat filled with crushed ice, and I love the fresh flowers. The attention to detail here is impressive.



Fish meat is ground to a paste for this fluffy ball in dashi broth with bitter greens and mushrooms.

Sashimi Course

Sashimi Course

Note how the squid on the far right is just slightly scored to make it easier to chew on. Again, the attention to detail by the chef is amazing.

Grilled Course

Grilled Course

My favorite course was the grilled fish. Kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) is grilled and served in a broth. So simple, just salted, grilled, presented in a broth with a slice of lemon.



Scallops with warabi (fern), takenoko (bamboo shoots) and a colorful dressing (I forget, but think it included oranges).

Spring in a bowl

Spring in a bowl

This dish sings of spring with the takenoko (bamboo shoots) and green peas. The pink flower in front is nama fu (wheat gluten).



The rice course (shime) was in a broth with mitsuba. As you can see it comes with pickles (handsome husband not included).



Strawberries are available year-round in Japan due to greenhouses, but you do see more of them in the markets starting in December and January.

Mattcha and Shiruko

Mattcha and Shiruko

And just when we thought we were done, as many kaiseki restaurants end with a fruit course, the kimono-clad waitress came out with a tray with a paper lantern and a picture of Mount Fuji (painted by the father of the chef). This course was a sweet azuki bean soup with mochi dango (sticky rice balls) and mattcha green tea. A great lunch and highly recommended.

Shotengai Shopping Arcades – Walking Food Tours of Tokyo



I love the shotengai, Japanese shopping arcades. Filled with ma and pa shops selling tofu, fresh produce, rice, pickles, miso, and other basics of the Japanese pantry. This article recently appeared in Metropolis magazine and features five of my favorite shotengai in Tokyo.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/street-eats/ (text follows)

While the one-stop food shopping at Tokyo’s depachika is an amazing experience, the gourmet eats come with a high price tag. At the other end of the spectrum are the places where most Japanese do their daily shopping: neighborhood shopping streets known as shotengai, where you’ll find mom and pop shops selling vegetables, fish, meat, rice and even handmade tofu. The Tokyo Shotengai website (http://meturl.com/shotengai) lists over 550 of these shopping streets; here are some of our favorites.


This foodie neighborhood is filled with many fantastic shops along the main drag. Try 50-ban (3-2 Kagurazaka) for its steamed buns, Kintokiya (2-10 Kagurazaka) for wagashi made from sweet potatoes, and the gorgeous Rakuzan (4-3 Kagurazaka) for tea. Isuzu (5-34 Kagurazaka) offers a variety of Japanese-style sweets and, if you walk along the street far enough, Baikatei (6-15 Kagurazaka) has fantastic handmade wagashi. Nearest station: Iidabashi


Just outside of Nippori station lies the Yanaka shotengai—very typical of what you would imagine an old-style shopping street to be like. Two of the area’s meat shops are famous for their menchikatsuNiku no Sato (3-13-2 Yanaka) and Niku no Suzuki (3-15-5 Nishi-Nippori). Goto no Ame (3-15-1 Nishi-Nippori) has a colorful selection of candies. There are many options, including deep-fried tofu balls known as ganmodoki, at Musashiya (3-9-15 Yanaka), oyatsu-pan (snack breads) at Atomu Bakery (3-11-14 Yanaka), and skewered and grilled seafood at Fukushima Shoten (3-13-4 Yanaka). Note that a lot of the shops are closed on Mondays.Nearest stn: Nippori. www.yanakaginza.com


The historic Ningyocho district is always a delight to visit. While you’ll find many shops selling the local specialty, ningyoyaki (small cakes filled with azuki bean paste), there are many other interesting stores. On the famous Amazake Yokocho shotengai is Futaba Tofu (2-4-9 Ningyocho), with a variety of tofu products and also the sweet, creamy drink for which this street is named. Hojicha tea is the specialty of Morinoen (2-4-9 Ningyocho), while the long line outside the tiny Yanagiya (2-11-3 Ningyocho) is a testament to the popularity of its taiyaki sweet-bean cakes—considered one of the three best varieties in the city. Ningyocho’s most famous restaurant may well be Tamahide (1-17-10 Ningyocho), renowned for its oyako-don rice bowls. Nearest stn: Ningyocho.


Just north of Kichijoji station is Sun Road, a covered shotengai filled with many small shops. Among the several worth exploring are traditional German bakery Linde (1-11-27 Kichijoji-Honcho) and Meat Shop Sato (1-1-8 Kichijoji-Honcho), which is famous for its menchikatsu and wagyu and which also has a popular restaurant on the second floor, usually with a long line. Okashi no Machioka (1-15-1 Kichijoji-Honcho) will have your eyes spinning with all of the different types of candies, sweets and snacks. In the evening, the Harmonica Yokocho strip is filled with small restaurants that are perfect for a drink and some nibbles. Tecchan is a popular yakitori spot—if you can squeeze in (1-1-2 Kichijoji-Honcho). Nearest stn: Kichijoji.


This popular foodie street in the heart of the city is easy to navigate. The renowned Mamegen (1-8-12 Azabu-Juban) tempts customers with over 90 varieties of flavored rice crackers, including uni, wasabi and curry, but it’s the shio-okaki (deep-fried and salted) that are irresistible. The taiyaki at the extremely popular Naniwaya Sohonten (1-8-14 Azabu-Juban) are made by the shop’s fourth-generation owners. Hasegawa Saketen (2-2-7 Azabu-Juban) has well-selected sake, shochu and umeshu. If you’re craving meat, the yakitori at Abe-chan (2-1-1 Azabu-Juban) will hit the spot. Alternatively, slurp up some soba noodles at Nagasaka Sarashina (1-8-7 Azabu Juban), notably the delicate, white sarashina noodles. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban.

Japanese Knife Shops in Tokyo

Tsukiji Masamoto

Tsukiji Masamoto

There are several knife shops in the market. Some of them are friendlier than others. Fifth generation Tsukiji Masamoto (opened in 1891) has always been on the friendly side and has an English speaking staff on some days. This is where my husband and I have purchased knives in the past and we love the service here. It’s a very busy shop with not only tourists, but also with the fishmongers from Tsukiji. Presdient Hirano-san in the photo below is there most days. The staff that work there are very knowledgeable about knives. Hirano-san has said that when the market moves to its new location at Toyosu that his shop will remain in place in the outer market.

Tsukiji Masamoto

Hirano-san of Tsukiji Masamoto putting initials on a knife

Tsukiji Masamoto 築地正本

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-9-9 中央区築地4-9-9

Tel. 03-3541-7155

www.tukijimasamoto.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Kiya Knife Shop 木屋 *Note – this is the NEW address for Kiya Nihonbashi

Nihonbashi-Muromachi 2-2-1 中央区日本橋室町 2-2-1

Chuo-Ku Tokyo Coredo-Muromachi. 1F

Tel 03-3241-0110

10am – 8pm seven days a week
Closed only on New Year’s Day.

www.kiya-hamono.co.jp/english/index.html (English)

The corner shop, opened in 1792, has a sign in English, “World’s Finest Cutlery” over the door. The compact shop displays a shining collection of knives, pots, pans, and many things for the kitchen. Here you will find graters, pepper grinders, tweezers for pulling bones out of fish, as well as scissors and gardening tools. The friendly staff is patient and will help you to find exactly what you are looking for.

Kamata in Kappabashi

Kamata in Kappabashi

Kamata Knives かまた

Taito-ku, Matsugaya 2-12-6 台東区松が谷2-12-6

Tel. 03-3841-4205

www.kap-kam.com/english/ (English)

Kamata has a large selection of Western and Japanese knives, Japanese wet stones for keeping your knives sharp, and other kitchen gadgets. They will also sharpen your knives here if you live in Tokyo.

Aritsugu 有次

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-13-6 中央区築地4-13-6

Tel. 03-3541-6890

www.aritsugu.jp (Japanese)

Aritsugu has a much larger shop in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. If you are going to Kyoto then you do not want to miss this store.

Be sure to read this short primer on Japanese knives:

Japanese Knives 101

Japanese Knives 101

Japanese Knives

Japanese Knives

Japanese Knives 和包丁 Wabouchou

There is no better place to invest in a knife than Japan. Although they are not inexpensive, if cared for properly, Japanese knives will last a lifetime. A good knife shop will also carry Western-style knives made in Japan that are sharpened on both sides.

Traditional Japanese knives are sharpened only on one side, and Westerners will find that cutting with them can take a bit of getting used to (be sure to let the shopkeeper know if you are right- or left-handed).  Although most knives sold in the West do not rust, Japanese knives made from standard carbon steel rust easily. You may want to ask for a rust-resistant carbon steel that is easier to care for.

If this is your first time to purchase Japanese knives, you may want to start with three basic knives:

Deba bocho 出刃包丁 knife  with a thick, wide surface, primarily used to prepare fish (to filet, to gut, to cut through bones, and to remove the head)

Usuba bocho 薄刃包丁 knife with a broad, thin blade, used to peel and cut vegetables

Yanagiba bocho 柳刃包丁 Long and slender knife with a pointed tip primarily used for cutting sashimi


Other kitchen tools you may find at knife shops:


Benriner mandorin: Japanese-made mandolin, less bulky than French ones

Honenuki: tweezers used for pulling bones out of fish filets

Manaita: cutting board

Nukikata: an implement in the shape of a seasonal motif, much like a cookie cutter, used to cut vegetables

Oroshigane: a grater, ideal for grating ginger, daikon, and other vegetables (Note: graters for wasabi, made from sharkskin, are different from the ones for vegetables)

Otoshibuta: small, round, wooden lids that allow steam to escape while evenly distributing heat and gently cooking ingredients; they should be a bit smaller than the diameter of the pot

Tamagoyaki ki: pan used to make Japanese-style omelet

Toishi: water stone used for sharpening knives

Uroko hiki: fish de-scaler


Where to get your knives in Tokyo?

Tokyo knife shops.

Junko Nakahama – Tour Guide to Yanesen Area

Junko Nakahama

Junko Nakahama

My friend Junko Nakahama is a food and wine writer in Tokyo. She has recently started to conduct Saturday tours of the popular shoutengai area Yanesen (Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi). This article from Metropolis magazine (by my editor Steve Trautlein) interviews Junko on some of her favorite foodie spots in Tokyo.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/table-talk/junko-nakahama/ (text follows)

Some people become food writers because they love to eat, others because they love to write. For Junko Nakahama, her career came about as a matter of necessity. While studying American literature in the US in the mid-’80s, the Hokkaido native fell in love with the Long Island, New York area, and decided she wanted to stay. Her parents had other ideas, however, and told her she would have to make do without their help. So Nakahama supported herself by writing travel articles, then gradually shifted her focus to food and wine. After taking cooking classes and attending wine school, she won accreditation from the Japan Sommelier Association. Now back in Japan, she writes restaurant reviews, winery reports and dining stories for a variety of magazines, with a special focus on the shitamachiarea of Yanesen; she also organizes English guided tours of the neighborhood called Omiyage Concierge. “I respect cuisine and ingredients which express the homeland and craftsmanship of the producers,” she says. Here are her recommendations for tasting theterroir of Tokyo.


Because I write so many restaurant reviews, I often eat two lunches and two dinners a day. So on a free night, I like to have a light meal of vegetables and fish with a glass of natural and gentle wine. Tabegotoya Norabo is a sacred place for veggie lovers. Chef Makio Akemine visits farms every morning and recreates their scenery in his dishes. I am so happy to fill my body with such healthy and beautiful vegetables. Aizbar is a small wine bar owned by a female chef named Ai Eto who selects wonderful American wines. She has over 80 varieties of vegetables on the menu every night; her signature dish is a salad with more than 30 greens, herbs, root vegetables and traditional Japanese veggies. She prepares each vegetable individually—for example, udo (a mountain plant which produces fat, white, edible stalks) is dipped in vinegared water, and renkon is marinated in champagne vinegar. She offers seasonal fish like lightly grilled mackerel, and her cooked vegetable dishes and risotto are also excellent. Chinese restaurant Wasa is a new addition to my list. Owner-chef Masataka Yamashita apprenticed at well-known Kaika-tei in Gifu Prefecture. You can enjoy a menu full of vegetables and fish here—sautéed horse mackerel with a smoky flavor, sardines with Chinese pepper, eel with green beans and miso sauce. Yamashita doesn’t use artificial seasonings, so you’ll be surprised by the natural flavor and fresh aftertaste of these dishes. I often go to the cozy family-owned restaurant Ocha to Gohan-ya with my non-Japanese friends. The father is a grand chef of fish, the mother cooks vegetable dishes, and the daughter does the desserts and the interior decorating. There are around 15 dishes with steamed rice served in ohitsu (wooden containers), with miso soup, at very reasonable prices.


When I’m having a private dinner, I drink only all-natural wines. Uguisu is the most popular wine bar in Tokyo now. All the wine on the list is “bio,” and you can have most of them by the glass at unbelievably reasonable prices. Makoto Konno, the owner-chef, prepares the traditional French cuisine with a nicely casual taste. His salad with 15 vegetables and couscous is my favorite. La Nuit Blanche is a small wine bar owned by Toshinaga Haba, who introduces each wine by telling the story behind it. The authentic Italian cuisine is much more delicious than wine-bar standard. Yamariki just might be the most inexpensive wine bar in Tokyo. In fact, it opened 58 years ago as an izakaya, but the third-generation owner has trained as a French chef and the manager is a certified sommelier. They have a good selection of natural wines, and the pours are extremely generous (Yamariki is undergoing renovation until December; until then, visit the nearby annex). Méli-Mélo is a cozy restaurant with casual French cooking and an excellent selection of wines. Owner-chef Yasuo Munakata apprenticed in France for five years and selects the wines himself. Bistrot Vivienne, owned by a charming lady named Junko Saito, has a good selection of natural wines, too. The energetic atmosphere is also nice.


Nodaya is one of my favorite wine shops. Kouhei Sato, who runs the store with his parents and wife, has a huge knowledge of natural wines and is a great supporter of Japanese producers (above). He holds a monthly casual wine party with the customers and invites producers as well. It is a wonderful occasion to exchange observations with the person who made the wine. Nodaya also sells traditional Japanese seasonings like shoyu,mirinkatsuobushi, etc. I drop by the delicatessen Atelier de Mannebiches whenever I am tired from work and don’t want to cook. They offer French home cooking like quiche, paté, caviar d’aubergine and delicious desserts. My favorite bakery-cafe is Konohana, owned by a pair of pretty young sisters: Mayumi bakes a variety of breads using natural yeast and organic ingredients, and Megumi is in charge of drinks. I have attended their baking class and enjoy baking by myself now.


Unfortunately this might be difficult for readers to take advantage of, but my favorite chef is Hitoshi Kakizawa, who teaches my Japanese cooking class. Although it is a hands-on class, he sometimes cooks himself and offers a traditional kaiseki course to us. Kakizawa is the second-generation chef of a kappo restaurant named Tsuruju in Toranomon. It closed about five years ago and since then he’s been introducing his technique and philosophy to students. The summer course menu the other day was goma tofu (paste made of ground sesame), hamo-chiri (boiled conger pike served sashimi style), sardines with Japanese plum sauce, rice with sliced sea bream dipped in a sesame sauce, and more. The courses were beyond delicious and made us happy!


  • Omiyage Concierge Tours on Oct 17 & 24. ¥500 per person, includes map. Email jun-nakah@pop12.odn.ne.jp or see their homepage for more info.
  • Aizbar 2F, 2-26-5 Kami-Osaki, Shinagawa-ku. Tel: 03-5434-0117. Open 6pm-1am, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Meguro.
  • Atelier de Mannebiches 1-2-2 Nishi-Kata, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-5804-4242. Open Wed-Mon 10am-8pm, closed Tue. Nearest stn: Kasuga (Mita line).
  • Bistrot Vivienne 4-13-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-6273-2830. Open Mon-Sat 6-10pm, closed Sun & 3rd Mon. Nearest stn: Ginza or Higashi-Ginza.
  • Hitoshi Kakizawa’s Cooking School www.kakizzawa.com
  • Konohana 3-25-6 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3874-7302. Bakery open Tue-Sat 10:30-6pm, café from noon, closed Sun-Mon & 3rd Tue. Nearest stn: Asakusa. http://mayupan358.exblog.jp
  • La Nuit Blanche B1, 7-2-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-6909-9561. Open Mon-Sat 6pm-3am, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Ginza.
  • Méli-Mélo 4-5-4 Iidabashi, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3263-3239. Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm & 6pm-midnight, Sat & hols noon-4pm & 5-11pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Iidabashi.
  • Nodaya 3-45-8 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-3821-2664. Closed Wed. Nearest stn: Sendagi or Nishi-Nippori. www.e-nodaya.com
  • Ocha to Gohan-ya 3-42-8 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku. Tel: 03-5814-8131. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2pm & 5-8:30pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Sendagi .
  • Tabegotoya Norabo 4-3-5 Nishiogi-Kita, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3395-7251. Open Tue-Sun 5pm-midnight, closed Mon. Nearest stn: Nishi-Ogikubo (Chuo line).
  • Uguisu 2-19-6 Shimo-Uma, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 050-8013-0708. Open Tue-Sat 6pm-2am, Sun 6pm-1am, closed Mon & 4th Tue. Nearest stn: Sangenjaya. http://cafe-uguisu.com
  • Wasa 3-6-22 Yakumo, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-3718-2232. Open Thu-Tue noon-2pm & 6-10pm, closed Wed & 1st & 3rd Thu. Nearest stn: Toritsu-Daigaku. http://wasa.main.jp/index.html
  • Yamariki Annex 1-14-6 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-5625-6685. Open Mon-Sat 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Morishita. www.yamariki.com

Here is the link to her Omiyage Concierge site offering more information on the Yanesen tours (at a basement bargain price!). Tell her Yukari sent you.


Harajuku Taproom for Craft Beer

Bryan & Sayuri Baird's Harajuku Taproom

Bryan & Sayuri Baird's Harajuku Taproom

Photo by Keigo Moriyama

Tokyo is filled with many options for beer and food. What makes one pub stick out over the rest is the quality of the beer and the Harajuku Taproom is one place not to be missed for fans of craft beer. This article from Metropolis, written by my editor, Steve Trautlein, introduces readers to the great pub in Harajuku, just off the popular Takeshita Dori and the wonderful beers handcrafted by American Bryan Baird. Bryan and his wife Sayuri-san have opened up their third taproom in Japan. You will not be disappointed.


Shochu 101 – Part Four

Large ceramic pots for aging shochu

Large ceramic pots for aging shochu

Depending on how shochu is aged will be reflected on the palate. Shochu is often aged in tanks, ceramic pots, or barrels. Aged in stainless steel tanks the shochu will retain more of the base ingredient. As ceramic pots are allowed to breathe the shochu softens and rounds out on the palate. Naturally, aging in a wooden barrel will add tannins and color to the shochu similar to whiskey.

Finally, aging a shochu for a long period will let it meld and come together making it smoother and gives it a longer finish. Ku-su (クース) is aged awamori. It must be aged a minimum of three years, and be at least 50% or more to be labeled as ku-su, and is often aged in ceramic pots.

Shochu is made in every prefecture of Japan, which can’t be said about sake as it is not brewed in Kagoshima. Shochu is so prevalent on the southern island of Kyushu, that in many places when you walk into a restaurant and ask for sake, a generic term for alcohol, you may be given shochu. Similar to learning village names of Burgundy, it is good familiarize yourself with the names of the prefectures of Kyushu.

Kagoshima 鹿児島 – imo (sweet potato)
Miyazaki 宮崎 – soba (buckwheat)
Oita 大分 – mugi (barley)
Kumamoto 熊本 – kome (rice)
Fukuoka 福岡
Saga 佐賀
Nagasaki 長崎
Amami Oshima 奄美大島 – kokuto (brown sugar)
Okinawa 沖縄 – awamori

Shochu Authority 焼酎オーソリティ
Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station, Yaesu Kitchen Street, 1st Floor
10:00 – 21:00, no holidays
http://www.authority-online.jp/html/newpage.html?code=2 (Japanese)

Shochu Authority has one of the best selection of shochu and awamori in the city. There is so much to choose from and the knowledgeable staff can help you find whatever you are looking for. It is conveniently located inside of Tokyo station. It is inside of the station building, but outside of the ticket gate.

Insider’s tips:
• The most important thing to remember when buying shochu, look for honkaku shochu 本格焼酎.
• Antenna Shops will have good selection of local shochu. Check out Kagoshima (antenna shop chapter) and Miyazaki (see Shinjuku).
• Depachika usually carry a selection of the popular brands.

Shochu 101 part one.

Shochu 101 part two.

Shochu 101 part three.

Shochu 101 – Part Three

Sweet potato farm in Miyazaki

Sweet potato farm in Miyazaki

There are two types of shochu:

Kourui 甲類 is made in a continuous still (renzoku shiki). It is very smooth on the palate and is under 36 degrees alcohol. Kourui shochu is typically used as a mixer for cocktails. On its own it does not have any notable aromas and is unimpressive on the palate. This is typically used as a cocktail mixer.

Otsurui 乙類, made in a pot still (tanshiki), are single distillation shochu. It retains the aroma of the base ingredient. The alcohol percentage is below 45 degrees. Otsurui shochu is good for drinking straight, on the rocks, or with hot water. It can also be used as a mixer for cocktails. Otsurui is also called honkaku shochu 本格焼酎. This is the top quality shochu that is worth exploring. If purchasing any shochu, be sure to ask if it is honkaku shochu.

Kojikin 麹菌 (aspergillus oryzae) is a mold that is used to break down the starches in the base ingredients into fermentable sugars. It is what makes shochu different from other distilled spirits. There are three basic types of koji that are used in creating shochu. The type of koji greatly affects the taste.

Shirokoji 白麹 (white koji) creates a very soft, gentle tasting shochu. These shochu are often light-body shochu.

Kikoji 黄麹 (yellow koji) is the same koji that is used for making sake. The resulting shochu is often aromatic with floral tones, and supple on the palate.

Kurokoji 黒麹 (black koji) is famous for making awamori (of Okinawa). Shochu made with kurokoji are often bold on the palate and full-bodied.

Another tip regarding shochu is to ask if it was distilled under high or low pressure. Genatsu 減圧 is distilled under low pressure, these shochu are often softer on the palate. Joatsu 常圧 is distilled under regular pressure creating more expressive shochu.

Shochu 101 part one.

Shochu 101 part two.

Shochu 101 part four.

Shochu 101 – Part Two

Packaging Shochu in Miyazaki

Packaging Shochu in Miyazaki

There are many base ingredients that shochu is made from providing a wide variety of flavor profiles. The most commonly found are:

Imo 芋 – (sweet potato) is highly aromatic, can be smooth, and also slightly sweet on the palate. There are many varieties of sweet potato all contributing their own characteristics. Kogane sengan is one of the more popular potatoes used.

Mugi 麦 – (barley) is roasty, toasty, and often dry. Can be aged in barrels making it fuller on the palate and reminiscent of whiskey, but lower in alcohol.

Kome 米 – (rice) is light, crisp, and very food-friendly. This is a good shochu to start drinking as it is very smooth on the palate.

Soba そば – (buckwheat) buckwheat aromas are strong and it can be round on the palate.

Kokuto 黒糖 – (brown sugar) is sweet on the nose and on the finish. Kokuto jochu is only made on the islands between Kagoshima and Okinawa. This is also a good starter shochu as it is slightly sweet on the palate.

Awamori 泡盛 – (Thai rice) is full body from the black koji. This pairs well with rich and well-seasoned foods of Okinawa where it is produced.

Other base ingredients are:

Kuri 栗 – (chestnuts) can be slightly sweet and aromatic like marron glace.

Goma 胡麻 – (sesame seeds) has a nutty aroma and a round mouth feel. Try this mixed with milk on the rocks for a unique cocktail.

Shiso しそ – (perilla leaves) has the undeniable aroma of minty shiso leaves.

Shochu can also be made from a variety of vegetables, sake kasu, kombu, and much more.

Shochu 101 part one.

Shochu 101 part three.

Shochu 101 part four.

Shochu 101 – Part One




Shochu, the distilled spirit native to Japan, is made from a variety of base ingredients including sweet potatoes and barley. Shochu has the misnomer of “Japanese vodka”. Vodka often is 45 degrees in alcohol but shochu is typically 25 degrees. It is made using koji kin (a mold) that gives it a unique aroma, and the different base ingredients create many different flavors. Shochu can be consumed straight, on the rocks, with hot water, or as a mixer. It is the base for a popular cocktail chuhai. Chuhai comes in a variety of flavors as it is mixed with fruit juices, is sold in cans like beer, at about half the price. Shochu can also be pronounced jochu when referred to as imojochu (sweet potato shochu) or komejochu (rice shochu).

The famed distilled spirit of Japan that has outsold nihonshu (sake) since 2003, is one of the beverages that is still not available much outside of the country, as it is only exported to a handful of countries. Shochu is often consumed mixed with water so the alcohol drops from 25 degrees to about 12-14 degrees, which is comparable to a glass of sake.

Shochu can be mixed with hot or cold water, both resulting in different profiles and impacts on the palate. On a cold winter’s day, nothing warms the body like a cup of hot shochu.

Perhaps the most interesting part of shochu is the variety of base ingredients that it can be made from. Sweet potatoes (imo) can be funky, chestnuts (kuri) may be aromatic like roasted chestnuts and there is even a Japanese basil (shiso) shochu that is easily recognizable by its minty aromas.

Okinawa is famous for its local version of shochu, awamori, which is made only from Thai rice and specifically with a black koji mold that gives it an earthy and heady aroma. There are three types of koji mold used in making shochu. Black gives it an earthiness, white creates a softer shochu and yellow brings on floral aromatics.

Shochu 101 part two.

Shochu 101 part three.

Shochu 101 part four.