In episode 49, our hosts profile Furusawa Distillery, the only distillery in Japan that has had not just one, but two female presidents. Includes a brief interview with current toji, Masako Furusawa, who is the 5th generation owner.
CHRISTOPHER PELLEGRINI Vermont born and bred, long-time Tokyo resident and author of The Shochu Handbook, Christopher learned about delicious fermentations as a beer brewer at Otter Creek (Middlebury, VT). He now spends most of his waking hours convincing strangers that shochu and awamori are unlike anything they’ve ever tried before.
STEPHEN LYMAN discovered Japan’s indigenous spirits at an izakaya in New York City. He was so enthralled that he now lives in Japan and works in a tiny craft shochu distillery every autumn. His first book, The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Award.
Stephen and Christopher have been to more distilleries than we can remember.
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In 1892, the Furusawa Sadaichi Shoten was established in Odotsu Village on the Eastern coast of Miyazaki Prefecture. This family run koji specialist fermented miso, soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, and sake as well as distilling shochu. The business was so successful they built their current facilities in 1926 and remain there today. On a spit of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Hosoda River, the ocean air and frequent typhoons play a key role in how they make their traditional honkaku shochu even today.
Things got rough during the Pacific War. The family built a concrete bunker into the distillery floor to protect their good in case of an air raid. Fortunately, the strength of the structure was never tested.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 2nd World War when the 2nd generation president died, leaving the business to his daughter, Motoko Furusawa. To our knowledge she’s the first female toji and president in modern shochu history. She incorporated into Furusawa Distillery, Co. Ltd. and began innovating in her nearly 30 years running the company.
Upon her retirement in 1974, her husband, Norimasa, took over. He hit the ground running, creating the now iconic Issho Hanjo Tsubo brand, which is now given to new businesses in hopes of long lasting profitability.
But he was only just getting started. Norimasa would take the brand national as well as consolidate greatly. He stopped the production of all fermented products including sake over his 33 years as president while turning their shochu into a nationally recognized brand. Their first breakout brand, Hitoriaruki (translated “walking alone”), is still a very popular today (if you can find it).
As with Motoko’s father, her husband would also die unexpectedly. Norimasa passed away on October 17, 2007 at the height of the production season. He and Motoko’s daughter, Masako, had been training under him so she stepped in to take over and has been running the show ever since.
As the 2nd female toji at Furusawa Distillery, Masako endeavors to carry on the traditions of her family and hopes to pass this down to future generation. Her big step forward (her mother incorporating, her father taking the brand national) is to begin exporting overseas. Today a trio of shochu from Furusawa are available from Honkaku Spirits in the US.
More to Explore
If you’d like to learn more about Furusawa Distillery, please reach out to Stephen or Christopher.