Roots of SHOCHU

Learn why shochu tastes so good
by understanding its roots.
Sweet potato shochu, born from a "miracle."

Many are drawn to the pleasures of shochu, but where did it come from?
In this section, we follow shochu's origins to uncover the secret to its great flavor.
We will take a closer look at sweet potato shochu,
born from a miracle and now Japan's most popular variety.
This history may give even greater depth to the delicious flavor of the next sweet potato shochu you try.

Distilling techniques originated in Mesopotamia, and over thousands of years,
that legacy made its way to Japan.

Distillation techniques first emerged around 3000 BC, in the age of the Mesopotamian civilization. According to the writings of the philosopher Aristotle, techniques for distilling wine had already been established in the fourth century BC. Those methods later spread throughout Europe, India, Thailand and elsewhere, and after thousands of years, were finally transmitted to Japan sometime between the mid-14th century and the 15th century.


Shochu, also known as the
"water of life", the "spirit."

Because distilled liquor was also used for disinfection and other purposes, as it spread around the world it took on more divine names in other languages. In the Latin and French languages, it was known as "aquavit" (the water of life), while in UK, it became known as "spirits."

Distilling techniques encounter Japan's unique koji mold.
That "miracle" resulted in the shochu we know today.

Methods for producing distilled liquor using fermentation to produce alcohol were originally divided between Western cultures that used malt, and Eastern cultures that relied on mold. Japan falls into the latter category, but used a completely different variety of koji mold from other countries. This encounter between ancient Mesopotamian distilled liquors and Japan's own koji is the miracle from which shochu was born.

Sweet potatoes, originating in Central and South America, are transformed into sweet potato shochu, today the most popular variety throughout Japan.

When distilling first came to Southern Kyushu, rice and buckwheat were the primary ingredients for shochu. Unfortunately, the earth of the Southern Kyushu region, covered with a layer of volcanic ash, was not well-suited to the cultivation of rice and buckwheat, but it was suited to cultivating sweet potatoes. Indigenous to Central and South America, the sweet potato made its way to Japan after more than 10 millennia. The route it took to get there remains unknown, but this fateful encounter between shochu and sweet potato was responsible for the sweet potato shochu now enjoyed throughout Japan.


The Kumara Lineage

This route saw the sweet potato make its way from South America to Polynesia, eventually spreading from Hawaii to New Guinea, Easter Island and elsewhere.


The Batatas Lineage

This route is said to have originated with Columbus's voyage of 1492, from which he returned to Western Europe with sweet potatoes which were eventually propagated throughout Spain, Africa, India and China.


The Camote Lineage

A route along which sweet potatoes were said to have been propagated by the Spanish in the 16th century, as they voyaged from Acapulco, Mexico to Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines.

Distilling came to Japan;
now Japan offers sweet potato shochu to the rest of the world.