Shochu should never be mistaken with sake. It is a Japanese distilled beverage which is stronger than wine and sake.
It has quite a long history with its first existence dating back to 1546. It has its origins in Kyushu but can be found all over Japan these days.
Shochu means “burned liquor” in Japanese. It is a rendition from the Chinese Shaojiu. Five hundred years ago, shochu was made from rice and grain. These days, it is typically distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat or rice. Ingredients such as brown sugar, chestnut, sesame seeds and carrots are sometimes added to the mixture. Its origin is quite unclear but basing it on the earliest Japanese historical record, shochu made its appearance far back in the 16th century. There was an incident in which a Spanish missionary, Francis Xavier, visited Kagoshima and reported back that the Japanese drink “Orraqua” was made from rice. This was his reference to shochu.
Another early indication can be found in Koriyama Hachiman Shrine in Kagoshima. It was said that two carpenters who were working on the shrine scribbled graffiti on a wooden plank in the roof stating, “The high priest was so stingy he never once gave us shochu to drink. What a nuisance!”
In the olden days, shochu was produced by common people at home without any government permission. It was only in 1899 when the production of shochu came under government regulation by the Meiji shogunate. After that, there was the need to set up Shochu factories, which would need the hiring of professional and skillful master brewers called “Toji.” From generation to generation, the Toji master brewers would pass their knowledge to the next trustworthy apprentices who then continued the custom for generations.
You can find a lot of skillful Toji master brewers in Kurose of Kagoshima. Wherever shochu was made in the country, these master brewers became of high demand. They would go to the prefecture who needs their expertise help in producing shochu but would always eventually go back to Kurose, where they belong.