Shochu 焼酎 – Tantakatan 鍛高譚



As a shochu advisor I wanted to share with readers shochu that are worth checking out. The first shochu I will introduce is very interesting. My first day at work at Nihonbashi Takashimaya in the sake department some of my colleagues took me out for drinks. They asked me to pick something from the store to take along for the group to drink. At the time I didn’t know too much about shochu but was definitely curious so I asked my colleague to select a unique shochu. She selected Tantakatan, a shochu made from shiso. I was definitely curious, not only from the base ingredient, but also what a great name. It rolls off the tongue – Tantakatan.

The aroma of the shiso is present, but not too overbearing. However, once on your palate, it is obvious that this is made from shiso. It’s a great starter shochu for someone curious about this distilled spirit. The alcohol percentage is low, only 20 percent, and as it’s usually combined with water and ice the percentage drops to 10 percent, or less than most wine.

Tantakatan  鍛高譚

made in Asahikawa, Hokkaido

Shiso shochu

20% alcohol

Tantakatan is made with a blend of juice from red shiso leaves, dates, and white liquor (or korui shochu), so this is a unique type of shochu referred to as “konwa shochu“.

Cocktail suggestions:

I prefer this on the rocks with water but other options include:

Including a smashed umeboshi with water (or soda).

Having it with cranberry juice, ginger ale or tonic water.

Garnish with fresh shiso leaves.

Book Review – Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails is filled to the brim with original concoctions with fun names like Oyaji, Salty Hachiko Dog, Bloody Mari-chan and Office Lady. And not only are the names creative, so are the recipes. With drinks based on sake, shochu, whisky and more, this thin book has a cocktail to please everyone, many of the recipes are easy even for the inexperienced mixologist. The Hinomaru is umeboshi in warm sake, while the Samurai Courage combines yuzu juice with hotdaiginjoJapanese Cocktails was written with the support of Suntory, so it includes some recipes based on the beverage giant’s lineup of whisky, Midori melon liqueur, and Kuromaru sweet-potato shochu. But in no way does this detract from the appeal. Author Yuri Kato, a “beverage alcohol consultant,” consistently offers offbeat and appealing drinks. Mixers include chestnut puree, aloe vera juice, steamed milk and even ice cream, while traditional Japanese ingredients range from citrus juices like kabosu and yuzu tomatcha powder and hojicha tea. Kato’s expertise shines in her explanations of shochu and Japanese whisky, in particular on how to properly prepare a mizuwari(diluting with water). If you enjoy mixing your own drinks, or even if you just want to get started, this fun book will be an excellent guide.


By Yuri Kato
Chronicle Books, 2010, 95pp, ¥1,396

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Okinawa Washita Shop in Ginza 沖縄わしたショップ

Okinawa Washita Shop

Okinawa Washita Shop

Okinawa Washita Antenna Shop 沖縄わしたショップ

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-3-9


10:00 – 19:00, no holidays (Japanese)

The Okinawa Washita Shop in Ginza may be one of the most unique antenna shops in the city due to the unique food and beverage culture of Okinawa. The cuisine of the southernmost islands of Japan is very different from what you will find in the rest of the country. This tropical islands are rich with sea vegetables, pork and the local shochu called awamori. The basement is filled with awamori is a distilled beverage made from Thai rice and has a unique funk to it that makes it the perfect partner for the Okinawan cuisine. Okinawa is also famous for the longevity of the Okinawans, which many attribute to the diet and awamori. The smoked skin from a pig’s face is sliced for a snack food. Fresh produce including the bitter goya, tropical fruits and a citrus shikuwasa juice, great for cocktails, shimadoufu (a very dense, rich tofu), and Okinawan tea (sanpincha). I also was so happy to find a Japanese grater called “shiri shiri ki” that is ideal for grating carrots for salads or spring rolls. We had one in our home growing up and used it often. I also like it for grating potatoes for hash browns. I haven’t seen it at any other shop in Japan, just here.

Shiri Shiri Ki

Shiri Shiri Ki

Drinking Japan by Chris Bunting

Drinking Japan

Drinking Japan

Imbibers in Japan, be on the lookout for Drinking Japan, A Guide to Japan’s Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. The author, Chris Bunting, has an impressive website on Japanese whisky:

Here is the link to the book on Tuttle Publishing’s website:


Tokyo Do’s and Don’t’s

  1. Do visit a depachika, the epicurean food floors in the basement of major department stores. My favorites are Takashimaya (both in Nihonbashi and Shinjuku), Isetan in Shinjuku, Mitsukoshi in Ginza, Tokyu Toyokoten in Shibuya, and Tobu in Ikebukuro. An incredible variety of food is exquisitely presented. In particular, be sure to check out the wagashi (Japanese confectionaries) that are edible works of art. If you are hungry, grab a seat at one of the eat-in counters or head to the restaurant floor in the department store. If you are riding the bullet train (shinkansen) then give yourself time to pick up a bento from Daimaru’s depachika at Tokyo station. The sake department also sells small bottles of nihonshu or beer if you would like to have these with your bento. Be sure to ask for some plastic cups. Wait to eat your bento until the train has started moving. You’ll notice your fellow travelers doing the same.
  2. Do go to the New York Bar and Grill. Made famous from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Either have a drink at the bar while the sun is setting and watch the lights come up on the city, or splurge for lunch or dinner. Lunch there is a great buffet of appetizers and desserts while you select your main course. Dinner is a real treat with the city sparkling below you.
  3. Do have sushi at Tsukiji Market. I suggest visiting the outer market. If you insist on going to the inner market, it is best to visit after 9 a.m. and to stay out of the way of the fishmongers as this is their workplace. Most of the Japanese follow these same rules. While here, do have breakfast or lunch, sushi if you are game, if not, plenty of great cooked food as well. Try Sushi Bun or Nakaya for sushi or Tenfusa for tempura of shrimp or anago (eel).
  4. Do try the local sake (nihonshu), shochu, or even the local wine. A visit to Tokyo would not be complete without some local drinks, be it nihonshu, shochu, or the local koshu wine. I like the izakaya, Yamariki in Morishita, as it is where many locals go. It is famous for its nikomi, simmered innards and grilled meats. For wine lovers with time to venture out of the city, consider a day trip to Coco Farm and Winery, just north of Tokyo. There is a tasting room as well as a café overlooking the vineyards. It is open all year long.
  5. Do try as many foods as you can, and be adventurous. If you are willing to try foods you have never had before, you are in for a treat. As an island, Japanese has amazing seafood, much of it never exported so be sure to try seasonal sushi if you can. If you like innards be sure to go to Saiseisakaba in Shinjuku, a standing bar that does amazing raw and grilled innards – perfect with some shochu. If you can, try shirako, sperm sac from fish, notably from the fugu (blowfish) or ankimo (monkfish liver), which is like foie gras of the sea.
  6. Do splurge and have a kaiseki meal. Seasonal cuisine served in courses is a treat. My favorite restaurant for this is Nihonbashi Yukari. I believe dinner starts at about 10,500 Japanese yen. If you are on a budget, go for lunch and request the Yukari bento when you make your reservation (it must be ordered in advance) (about 3,675 Japanese yen). The bento is not kaiseki, but does include several different components of kaiseki in a large bento box. Chef Kimio Nonaga was the 2002 Iron Chef champion. He is very talented and passionate about Japanese cuisine. If you get a seat at the counter you can watch him at work. Tell him Yukari sent you.
  7. Try exploring some of the older neighborhoods of Tokyo like Nihonbashi, Ningyocho, or Asakusa. The charm of these areas can be felt in some of the historic restaurants, some going back several generations, like Tamahide in Ningyocho.
  8. Do whet your appetite for your trip by seeing some great movies like Lost in Translation and Tampopo. If you are into ramen, then check out Ivan Ramen, some of the best ramen in the city made by a New Yorker.
  9. Do try other cuisines than Japanese if your schedule permits it. Japanese chefs do an amazing job with French and Chinese cuisine. In particular, Italian food done with Japanese ingredients is a match made in heaven.
  10. Do plan ahead and do your research. Don’t miss the last train, don’t take a taxi from Narita to the city, don’t travel during rush hour, don’t book a meal at a restaurant that only has seating on the floor unless you are comfortable sitting that way. Try avoid your travel during the major holidays of obon, Golden Week, and New Year’s as many restaurants and Tsukiji Market will close. If you are in the city while a sumo tournament is going on, then do try to see this sporting event live. Summer can be unbearably hot and humid, in particular late July and August. Ideally, come during the cherry blossom season in the spring or in the fall to witness the colorful leaves.

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.

Kagoshima Yurakukan Antenna Shop in Yurakucho

Japan is a small country, about the size of California, yet each prefecture and region has its own local food and the Japanese treasure these regional products. There is no better expression of the diverse terroir of Japan than its local commodities. Kombu harvested from the rich mineral waters of Hokkaido. The southern prefecture of Kagoshima is famous for its sweet potatoes, which are the base for its heady imo jochu (sweet potato shochu).

Antenna shops act as both stores offering items that are often hard to find outside of the region as well as public relations office offering brochures about the local area. From local beverages like sake or shochu, pickles, sweets and meats, these antenna shops offer great finds and are worth carefully perusing. If you are looking for pottery from a certain region, for example the pastel glazed Hagiyaki from Yamaguchi, then these regional antenna shops are a good place to start.

Some shops will have restaurants featuring local foods, kyodo ryori (郷土料理) and these too are a great way to try food you normally would not have the chance to.

Kagoshima Yurakukan

Kagoshima Yurakukan

Kagoshima Yurakukan かごしま遊楽館

Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 1-6-4, Chiyoda Building 千代田区有楽町1−6−4千代田ビル

Tel. 03-3580-8821

10:00 – 20:00 (10:00 – 19:00 weekends and holidays) (English)

Kagoshima also on Kyushu is famous for its shochu, in particular imo jochu from sweet potatoes, of which the shop has an unusually large selection. The cuisine is rich with kurobuta (Berkshire pork) products, Satsuma age fish cakes and more. The restaurant on the second floor, Ichi nii san, serves up a kurobuta based menu in a variety of presentations including tonkatsu or shabu-shabu.

Kappabashi Gotta Gets

Shochu Cups

Shochu Cups

I love these shochu cups in the winter when I drink shochu with hot water. These have the type of base ingredient written on the cup 芋 for imo jochu (sweet potato shochu) or 黒糖 for kokuto jochu (brown sugar shochu).



These teacups will get lots of use in any home. The cup on the far right has different types of sushi drawn on the cup. The second from the write, the white cup with blue calligraphy, has the popular types of fish written on it, as could be found at sushi restaurants.

Lacquer Bowls

Lacquer Bowls

These lacquer bowls are most often used for miso soup but we also love them for serving ice cream.

Natto Bowl and Chopsticks

Natto Bowl and Chopsticks

For natto (fermented soybean) lovers this bowl and chopsticks are indispensable. Natto is put into the bowl and stirred up with special chopsticks that bring out the slippery and slimy texture of the natto.

Shochu Basics



While I love nihonshu (Japanese sake), my preference is for the locally distilled spirit, shochu. While working at Takashimaya the company paid for those of us in the sake department to cross train in other areas of specialty. As a sommelier (wine specialist) I could choose from nihonshu or shochu and selected shochu, as there was no one that I knew of that time who was writing in English about shochu, and because I enjoyed it so much.

The coursework was very intense. First of all it was only in Japanese (no surprise here) and the text was filled with kanji (Chinese characters) that were new to me. While I feel comfortable reading Japanese cookbooks the shochu specific Japanese language was a big challenge. One benefit of working in the sake department at Takashimaya is that we talk about shochu, sake, wine, and spirits everyday at work. Also, we were privy to many tastings at the store, and any good salesperson tastes as much as they can to form their own opinions for different beverages. A good friend at the store also was studying for the shochu exam so we studied together. She taught me the kanji and I was able to teach her about the technical process (from my sommelier training).

The exam was intense, a blind tasting, a multiple choice test, and a written exam on service, sales, and promotion of shochu in both retail and restaurants. I passed and shochu is an integral part of my life now.

This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine and highlights the basics on shochu: (text follows)

As the weather cools down, I stay warm with a hot drink—and it’s not tea. What I do is fill up my teacup halfway with some hot water, then top it off with a nice imo jochu.

Shochu is a distilled spirit that can be made from over 60 different base ingredients, which is one of the great splendors of the drink. Among the many flavors are aromatic sweet potato, funky awamori, or ambrosial chestnut. Shochu has been outselling nihonshu since 2003, and while many people refer to shochu as “Japanese vodka,” they often forget to mention that shochu is lower in alcohol. While vodka is typically about 40-60 percent, shochu comes in at a nice 25-40. When cut in half by adding some hot (or cold) water, the shochu all of a sudden becomes 12-20 percent alcohol, or similar to wine.
Shochu is an easy drink to understand, and the tips below will make you an expert in no time.

• Some of the base ingredients used to make shochu include sweet potato, cane sugar, rice, chestnuts and barley. Other varieties are infused with flavorings such as sesame seeds or shiso.

• There are two types of shochu. One has otsurui or honkaku shochu on the label, and the other has korui. Otsurui and honkaku shochu are distilled only once, and retain the aromas and flavor of the base ingredient; they’re meant to be consumed straight or on the rocks. Korui is used for making mixed drinks.

• There are three types of koji mold that can be used to make shochu: white, yellow, or black. This information is not always stated on the label, but if it is, consider it an indicator of the kind of drink you’ll get. White koji (shiro koji) is the standard variety and creates a softer, lighter, easier-on-the-palate shochu. Yellow koji (ki koji) is the same mold that’s used for making nihonshu; shochu using the yellow variety are floral on the nose and also lighter on the palate. Black koji (kuro koji) makes a big, brash, bold shochu that lingers on your palate.

• Familiarize yourself with the names of the prefectures in Kyushu, which is the heartland of shochu (so much so, in fact, that when locals says “sake,” they are often referring to shochu, not nihonshu). Names to look for include Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Oita, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Amami Oshima and Okinawa.

• Some prefectures are associated with certain base ingredients. Okinawa is famous for awamori made from Thai rice and black koji. Amami Oshima is known for sugar cane or brown sugar. For sweet potato shochu, look for Kagoshima, and for mugi (barley) try Oita.

• How to drink shochu? There are no rules, and this is where you can have fun. Enjoy it on the rocks, or with some water, soda or fruit juice. If you are interested in shochu but aren’t quite ready to start drinking it straight, consider mixing a shochu cocktail. Try some tonyu (soy milk) with some goma shochu (sesame shochu) on the rocks.

• My appreciation for shochu has grown dramatically over the last 20 years. First of all, there is a much wider variety available at the shops around town these days. Shochu is also very food-friendly and often finds its way to my table. And, because it’s distilled, shochu will keep for several months after the bottle is opened. Invest in a bottle, try it several ways, and see if you, too, will become a fan of shochu.

If this whets your appetite, check-out the website, which offers the best information on the topic in English.

Shochu cheat sheet

白麹 shiro koji
黄麹 ki koji
黒麹 kuro koji

乙類 otsurui
本格焼酎 honkaku shochu
甲類 korui

Base ingredients

米 kome (rice)
麦 mugi (barley)
黒糖 kokuto (black sugar)
芋 imo (potato)
そば soba
泡盛 awamori