On my last night in Kagoshima, I decided to try imo-jochu, a local specialty. I walked out of the place I was staying and went about half a block to the first orange lantern. Orange lanterns can mean many things in Japan but usually they mean an izakaya, which is a traditional Japanese pub.
There were two groups of Japanese people at the bar when I arrived and the bartender offered me the only seat left, right between them. I ordered the drink and she mixed it: about 1 part of a clear alcoholic drink, about 25% abv, and 2 parts hot water. I looked around – this was a small, local pub, the kind of place where you can buy a bottle of imo-jochu, stick a cell phone charm over the top, and they’ll keep it on a shelf for when you return. The group to my right asked me where I was from, and we started talking. They were 3 from the Japan Meterological Agency in Nagasaki, visiting Kagoshima on business. Like me they had decided to sample the local beverage, and when my glass was empty, they refilled it from their bottle.
After several drinks, their bottle was empty and they said goodbye, but not without telling me of their favourite pub in Nagasaki that I now plan on visiting.
Then the group to my left started talking to me. They were 3 locals – the man furthest to my left was the owner of the bar, and the bartender was his wife. She pulled out a DVD and put it on – it was a TV advertisement for imo-jochu featuring both of them! This time, when my glass was empty, one of the other locals refilled it from his bottle. He suggested I try it on ice but I decided not to switch horsemen in the middle of this apocalypse. He also introduced me to the third local – a girl of 25. He said she was a very nice Japanese girl. I told them I already had a girlfriend, in Canada. He asked me if she was a good girlfriend, and when I said yes, they left it at that. I told the girl she was very cute, which may have been true or it may have been the imo-jochu.
Finally, it was closing time. I grabbed 2 bottles of a sports drink from the vending machine and drank them on the way home. It was late enough that the door was locked so I got to use the secret entrance into the inn, which… well, it’s a secret.
Originally written January 28, 2010