Sakuraco Logo
snack box
about us
account menu button
Sakuraco Logoaccount menu button
snack box
about us
Top StoriesNewsFood & Drink
Food & Drink
Top Stories
Food & Drink


Kyushu: The Shochu Kingdom of Japan

Jenna Wilson

Jenna Wilson


While sake may be famous worldwide, there is another Japanese alcohol that is just as prevalent and popular, particularly in Kyushu: shochu. This spirit, usually made from potatoes, is the drink of choice in the southern island. While there are similar variations in East Asia, it is only just beginning to get recognition in the West.

What is Shochu?

If you travel anywhere in Kyushu and order “sake”, you will likely be given shochu. In Japanese, the word sake refers to alcohol in general, while the rice wine people outside Japan associate with the word is called “nihonshu”. In Kyushu, it is assumed when you order alcohol, that of course you mean shochu.

Shochu is the drink of choice in Kyushu, particularly at izakaya.

Shochu, which means “burned alcohol”, is a distilled spirit made most often from sweet potato, but also rice or wheat, that is heated up during the manufacturing process. Aside from the most common sweet potato version simply known as shochu, the two other styles are kokuto shochu (brown sugar and rice) from the Amami Islands between Kyushu and Okinawa, and soba shochu (buckwheat) from Miyazaki Prefecture.

There are also two classifications of shochu: Honkaku Shochu (single distillation) and Korui Shochu (consecutive distillation). Depending on the region in Kyushu, the local population usually favors one over the other.


Alcohol distillation made its way to Kyushu over 400 years ago through two separate trading routes and it’s unclear which one came first. Kyushu had a vibrant trade with China, Korea and Okinawa (which was the independent Kingdom of Ryukyu at that time). 

Although shochu (Japanese) and soju (Korean) sound similar, the two alcohols are actually different alcoholic drinks.

The word shochu is very linguistically similar to both the Korean alcohol soju and Chinese alcohol shaojiu, however that is where the similarities end as these varieties of alcohol now have different base ingredients and flavors. It is possible however, that they shared the same origins.

The other possibility is that shochu originated in Okinawa and made its way into Kyushu along with sweet potato (imo) as the fermentation process uses a type of mold unique to Okinawa.

Discover Japan’s rich culture via its regional culinary traditions: Sakuraco sends traditional sweets & snacks from across Japan to your door.

sakuraco traditional japanese snack box

How It’s Made

Shochu is made using a type of fermented mold called koji that is usually grown on rice or barley and helps to convert the starches in the sweet potato to sugar, which then turn into alcohol. Koji features in almost all other Japanese fermented foods, such as soy sauce, miso, mirin (Japanese cooking wine) and sake. However, while Japanese sake employs yellow koji, shochu is made with black koji, an ancient mold from Okinawa.

Shochu was traditionally fermented in clay pots.

Traditionally, shochu is distilled in an atmospheric pot, before it is filtered and then aged in a clay pot or even sometimes an oak barrel. Like many distilled alcohols, there is room for experimentation and customization, and even a small tweak in one process can have a huge impact on the flavor. This has resulted in a wide selection of shochu, with each region producing their own unique variety.

Did you know?

In Kyushu alone there are over 500 types of shochu and 5000 registered distilleries.

Enjoying Shochu

Today, shochu is actually more popular in Japan than sake and is widely enjoyed across the country. Compared to sake, which can often have an alcohol percentage of anywhere from 15 to 40%, the most common types of shochu sit at 25%. It is often diluted further with mixers, such as sparkling water, soda, or even just cold water.

Chuhai (shochu highballs) are a popular cocktail in Japan. They can be found in convenience stores in a wide selection of flavors.

An extremely popular cocktail in Japan is the chu-hai (shochu highballs) which are made with a variation of shochu that has a very neutral flavor, making it ideal as an alcohol base. Chu-hai come in many flavors, with fruit versions being the most popular. If you go to any izakaya (pub) in Japan, the drink menu always includes a selection of chu-hai.

Enjoy new Japanese sweets, snacks & tea every month

Discover authentic flavors with Sakuraco

Enjoy new Japanese sweets, snacks & tea every month $32.50 USD

Get Sakuraco package

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

A donburi bowl rice beef and eggs on top.

Donburi: The Amazing Rice Bowl Cuisine To Try!

Everyone in Japan loves donburi (rice bowl dish). Donburi rice bowls are the quintessential Japanese comfort meal. In a donburi, cooked rice is topped with meat, seafood, eggs, and vegetables. However, all sorts of toppings can be used, allowing for countless variations.  As a casual meal, donburi is generally inexpensive, although this will vary depending…

April 16, 2024
A cup of afternoon tea and biscuits.

Afternoon Tea: Five Great Japanese Snacks to Try!

In Japan, afternoon tea is a tradition where friends gather to enjoy tasty Japanese snacks. Here are a few to try.

April 10, 2024
A bowl of maze soba. It has an egg yolk, onions, chives, bonito flakes and chili powder.

Maze Soba: Amazing Soupless Noodles from Japan!

Maze soba, a soup-less noodle dish from Japan! Let’s take a close look at its origin and why it’s so good!

April 10, 2024
A plate of vanilla cookie rum raisin sandwiches.

Vanilla Cookies and Raisins Make the Ultimate Cookie Sandwich!

Rum raisin vanilla cookies are a long-loved Japanese dessert. Keep reading to learn everything about this delightful treat and how to make it at home! 

April 05, 2024
Footer background patternFooter background pattern
Subscription & gifts
PricingUpcoming Month’s BoxPast Month’s Box
Today's Offer
Personal GiftCorporate Gift
Support & Information
FAQContact UsCompare to Bokksu

Be the first to know!

Join our newsletter and receive tasty news and deals

AnIchigo Logobrand.
Copyright © 2024 Sakuraco™. All Rights Reserved.

Accepted Payments

Visa payment availableMastercard payment availableAmerican Express payment availableDiscover payment availablePayPal payment available