Withdrawing from the corporate world to make aged awamori

Awamori-kan Curator & President
Awamori-kan Curator & President

Akiyoshi Miyagi
Awamori-kan Curator & President

Okinawa's revolving history and unique culture sit condensed in a single glass of awamori. "The longer it sits in a room temperature, the better it gets. Awamori is a liquor with an "ing" form," says Akiyoshi Miyagi, 53.

Aged awamori, or kusu, is not easy to make. Time and place are two major factors - a luxury many distillers cannot provide.

Miyagi's determination, exemplified by the motto "If nobody's willing to do it, I guess I'll have to do it on my own," began some fifteen to sixteen years ago when he was still on the rail as a corporate businessman. He borrowed a huge amount of money from the bank to build his museum, then bought 20,000 bottles of kusu throughout Okinawa.

In August 1995, he opened Awamori-kan, literally "The House of Awamori," singing the motto "Find everything you want about awamori!" The first floor of Awamori-kan houses a variety of awamori and is pretty much similar to a souvenir shop. A few steps down the stairs take you to an awamori cellar that stores thousands of awamori bottles and earthenware pots. In this collection are rare and hard-to-find aged kusu matured for twenty or thirty years. In the tasting room, visitors are welcome to try fine aged kusu while Miyagi gives an educational background of awamori.

A twenty-year aged kusu was smooth and rich to the palate and nose. The next one I tried was only a sip, but sharp to the palette.

"This five-year old awamori that you just tasted is also considered aged kusu. The minute you discover savory aged kusu, your sense of taste becomes extravagant. I can no longer drink awamori at other places and I end up drinking only beer everywhere else!" says Miyagi. "Lately, there's an increase in customers who buy 30,000 to 50,000 yen aged kusu, saying that their wishes have finally been fulfilled." However, Miyagi faces a dilemma whenever a sale is made. "I'm willing to sell, but on the other hand if I don't, then the aged kusu will mature more and become a forty or fifty-year old rare kusu," says Miyagi. A battle between preserving the awamori tradition, business sense and pastime seems to coexist within him.

"Nowadays, I receive inquiries and orders through the Internet"