Kyushu University Professor Plans Global Shochu Education (video)


Koichi Sakaguchi, graduate school professor at Kyushu University

Promoting Kyushu Island as an integral part of Japanese culture and the economy overall has become more urgent as preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics ramp up with each passing month. But one academic from Fukuoka has been involved in promoting the island’s products and services for several years now, and his guidance is invaluable to “The Kyushu Advantage.”

We were incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to interview an elite university professor involved with this unique project. It is rare to meet a person who has so much knowledge and passion about Kyushu’s culture and industry, and he has managed to single-handedly double the momentum that “The Kyushu Advantage” has been building. Adding to the excitement of the interview was the fact that the meeting place was to be at Kushida Shrine. This shrine has long attracted the faithful as the tutelary deity of Hakata and is the most important shrine in Fukuoka City. Locals refer to it by the nickname Okushida-sama, the god of business success and immortality. Professor Koichi Sakaguchi, a graduate professor at Kyushu University, appeared in front of us fully dressed in kimono after praying to the Kushida Shrine for the world debut of shochu.

Giving back to Kyushu

In the lobby of a hotel close to the shrine, Prof. Sakaguchi began the conversation by talking about the inspiration for participation in several Kyushu-related promotional endeavors. “I want to do something new and unprecedented for Kyushu. That is my motto. Of course the shochu project began from this.” Prof. Sakaguchi took up his position as a professor at Kyushu University in 1996, but he previously engaged in investigation services related to the industry and economy of the Kyushu, Okinawa, and Yamaguchi regions at a private research agency. His sense of “for Kyushu” is particularly strong thanks to this aspect of his professional career.

Professor Sakaguchi was keen to stress Kyushu’s potential in terms of telling the rest of Japan and the world about its cultural and economic contributions to the country. He reported that “close to 93% of all shochu is produced in Kyushu. Furthermore, shochu has a number of qualities that make it Koichi attractive: an identity as a local liquor from Kyushu; variety in the form of a large number of distilleries; the many ways to drink it that provide a sense of openness; and the fact that it is healthy. In a way, it is a treasure that Kyushu can proudly present to the world.”

Shochu on the world stage

Based on this, Prof. Sakaguchi started the “Sho-Chu project” in June 2013 in order to introduce shochu to the world. Unfortunately, honkaku shochu is frequently confused with Korean Soju, nihonshu, or even vodka, so much needs to be done to get the word out about Japan’s national spirit. To that end, the “Sho-Chu project” has already hosted numerous events in Fukuoka City which bring shochu experts, makers, fans, and the media together.

This “Sho-Chu project” is also currently involved with realizing the “2020 World Spirits Olympics in Kyushu.” “There is already a large framework for getting the world to know about shochu, and it has to do with the fact that it is a distilled liquor. I am working hard to create the opportunity for people from around the world who are involved with distilled beverages to come together and meet in Kyushu at the same time as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” explains Prof. Sakaguchi.

The plan is to bring together representatives of the world’s distilling traditions, many of which have been distributed globally for centuries. Spirits such as whiskey, brandy, vodka, and gin have become household names, and Prof. Sakaguchi’s grand plan is to create an event where Kyushu’s honkaku shochu can stand shoulder to shoulder with them. In addition to giving the world a closer look at the pride of Kyushu Island, the event should also provide makers an opportunity to exchange ideas and production techniques. With Prof. Sakaguchi’s assistance, there is little doubt that entities like the “Sho-Chu project” and “The Kyushu Advantage” will succeed in creating greater international awareness of shochu.