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Heavy rains ravage Japan’s renowned Kuma Shochu distilleries

Heavy rains in Japan this month wreaked havoc on the country's renowned Kuma Shochu distilleries, writes Mari Yasuda.

From July 3 to 14, Japan’s southwestern region, especially Kyushu, was battered by torrential rains. This caused deadly flooding and landslides.  The country’s renowned ‘Kuma Shochu’ distilleries suffered significant damages.

As of July 16, 76 people have died , one suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and eight remain missing.

Due to the heavy rain from the night of July 3 to the noon of July 4, the Kuma River in Kumamoto Prefecture caused flooding for more than 11 hours.

The river is an important source for  ‘Kuma Shochu’ , which is a traditional distilled spirit made from rice grain grown in Hitoyoshi Kuma area, protected under geographic designation.

Photo taken July 4, 2020, shows an inundated street in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, on July 4, 2020, after torrential rain in southwestern Japan. (Kyodo) 

According to a report of the Nishinippon Shimbun (newspaper focusing on the news of western Japan) on July 16, three out of 28 distilleries belonging to the association of ‘Kuma Shochu’ distilleries, were heavily damaged by the flooding. Furthermore, in some distilleries, tanks were broken due to landslides and in other cases, bottling lines were exposed and inundated by the flooding.

Yamatoichi Distillery is one of the heavily damaged distilleries. The water flooded up to three meters above the distillery’s floor, and 20,000 litres of shochu were lost. Many people in the neighboring distilleries and retailers came to assist to restart the operation. 

Kuma Shochu is protected under geographic designation, same as Champagne or Cognac in France.

“Kuma Shochu” has more than 500 years of history , starting from the first half of the 16th century. Much like Champagne or Cognac in France, the spirit is one of the few in Japan that are geographically protected.

It is one of the four Japanese shochus of which the GI (geographical indication) is authorized by the National Tax Agency based on the TRIPS agreement under the  WTO. More information on “Kuma Sochu” in English, can be found here

A WSET diploma holder, Mari Yasuda is a Japanese wine writer and educator.

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