In 1991, I was working on my two movies based in Okinawa: Umi to Uminchu (The Sea and the People of the Sea) set in the nature of Ishigaki Island, and Umi Sora Sango no Īsutae (Tales of the Sea, the Sky and the Coral), full of sun. Hence, I visited Okinawa more frequently than in other years. Once the filming began, we lived on site for two months. Nearly one hundred staff came from Tokyo and lived together. Naturally, we drank every evening after work. This is when I realized the real power of awamori1.
What does this mean; in order to get drunk in the extreme heat and hot wind of Okinawa, you need to choose your drink carefully. Beer took first place, of course. Awamori came in a close second. Skipping third, fourth, fifth, sixth to seventeenth, whiskey finally came in at about eighteenth place. Then, with more empty slots down to 36th or so, sake and wine showed up. This was a shocking revelation. These results were based on the preference of our staff so the data is neither authoritative nor reliable. But, truth is truth. Moreover, beer holds its glorious trophy only at the beginning. As we cross the line of tipsy, awamori becomes our only choice. The taste of liquor is peculiar, really, and awamori is a perfect match for the Okinawan climate. Tsukimisō, the evening primrose, may be best for Mt. Fuji, but awamori is best for the blue sky (even at night) and sea of Okinawa.
I didn’t even want to look at hot sake. I wished it would be sent away to the other side of the galaxy!
While on the island, a village grandma taught me to drink awamori diluted with milk. Half awamori, half milk, and ice – pretty fine, this is what she meant. I recommended it to my staff and we all kept drinking late into the night. But it must have been weird seeing us from a distance: a bunch of good old men sitting in a circle and heavily drinking milk. That said, the authentic way to drink awamori is to pour it from a karakara2 and sip it slowly. The time passing with the distant and laid-back sound of sanshin while picking at jīmāmīdoufu (peanuts tofu) and sukugarasu (pickled fish), enshrouded in the hot breath of awamori – these are the ultimate pleasures of life in the tropics.
- Awamori is an alcoholic beverage native and unique to Okinawa, Japan. It is made from long grain indica rice mainly imported from Thailand, through distillation.
- The karakara is actually the container from which awamori is poured into cups. It’s designed to release exactly one small cup full at each pouring.