Okinawa is made of a set of islands situated in the south of the mainland Japan. Its unique climate and geographical environment have allowed the region to develop its own culture and heritage. Okinawa began trading with China and Korea many centuries ago. After Japan closed the door to foreign contact in the 17th century, Okinawa continued to strengthen its connection with European countries such as England, Portugal, and Spain. Furthermore, this island also developed a strong relationship with countries in Southeast Asia and the Strait of Malacca. As a result, Okinawa prospered as a key location for international trade.
The unique culture of Okinawa is mirrored by the originality of its most popular alcoholic spirit. Japonica rice is generally used for sake making in Japan, but Okinawa uses long grain Indica rice instead. The origin of Okinawa’s sake making is the subject of several theories, the most common one being that sake was brought to the Kingdom of Okinawa (1429 -1879) from Siam (modern Thailand) around the late 14th to 15th century. Thai rice and storing crates were introduced at the same time as well. Eventually, black yeast and Okinawa’s climate contributed to the birth of today’s Awamori.
Awamori consumption rate between Okinawa and other parts of Japan is reported to be 8: 2. What’s more, a bottle sold outside Okinawa has about 25% alcohol, whereas one consumed in Okinawa is 30% alcohol. Some brands have even higher proof, to the point where they are flammable. Unfortunately, Okinawa people’s love affair with Awamori may explain why men in Okinawa have the worst death rate from liver related diseases in Japan, with women ranking in at second worst overall. On the other hand, according to a published report from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the average life expectancy for women in Okinawa is 87.2 years old, the third longest in Japan (The top two in this category are Nagano and Shimane, respectively). The secret of Okinawa longevity may be to enjoy life and relax in the great warm weather, but be careful not to drink too much Awamori!
There are vintage Awamori bottles that are similar to whisky and wine in that time deepens their flavor. Ones that are aged more than 3 years are called Kuusu (Old Liquor), and are particular popular. Cocktails mixed with the famous local pineapple and Shekwasha (sour Citrus fruit) are delicious, and come highly recommended.
Naha Traditional Arts and Crafts Center
3-2-10 Makishi Naha-shi Okinawa-ken
Washita shop Kokusaidori Honten
3-2-22 Kumoji Naha-shi Okinawa-ken