Japan is now renowned for the quality of its whisky. But did you know that on the southernmost islands, and in particular the Okinawa archipelago, which lies below the 30th parallel, the climate is ideal for growing sugar cane, and therefore for rum production! Rum is produced mainly on the islands of Ogasawara, Minami Daïto and Iejima.
Minamidaito Island is formed by a coral reef. Originally close to New Guinea (where sugar cane originates), this reef has migrated northwest to the south of Japan. Minamidaito is certainly one of the most remote of Japan's main islands. It takes 15 hours by ferry to reach it from Okinawa, itself 1600km south of Tokyo. Although the island is regularly battered by violent typhoons, its semi-tropical climate is pleasant, with average temperatures of 23°C. Minamidaito's first settlers arrived around 1900. It was they who transformed the jungle into sugarcane plantations, a tradition that has continued into modern times, so much so that the island's 1,300 inhabitants are all, to varying degrees, involved in sugarcane cultivation.
The Ogasawara archipelago
Ogasawara is an archipelago in the Pacific, about 1000 km south of Tokyo. It is made up of some thirty islands enjoying a magnificent environment and a semi-tropical climate. The first inhabitants of Ogasawara arrived around 1830, mainly Polynesians. Rum first appeared with the first contacts between locals and fishermen (notably from the American continent) who, stopping off on the island, exchanged their rum for foodstuffs. The inhabitants quickly took advantage of this climate to start producing sugar cane, which, along with fruit, became the island's main resource. Ogasawara Rum was born from a distilled molasses-based product that the locals called "awazake", and whose quality improved steadily over time. Rum production was interrupted after the Second World War, when Ogasawara was annexed by the Americans, but resumed when the island was returned to the Japanese in 1968 and began to repopulate.
Ogasawara is an archipelago in the Pacific, about 1000 km south of Tokyo. It is made up of some thirty islands enjoying a magnificent environment and a semi-tropical climate. Iejima Distillery is a young factory, having only been in existence since 2011. It is based on the island of Iejima, to the west of the main island of Okinawa. Historically, this is a relatively poor part of Japan, as the lack of water in these semi-tropical regions has never allowed rice cultivation. Sugar cane, on the other hand, has been grown here since 1630, and it is from this local cane that a former distiller in Awamori produces Santa Maria rum. The factory's policy is very clear: to intervene as little as possible in the pre-distillation stages (no refrigeration of fermentation tanks, for example). The idea is that, by working as naturally as possible, the soul of the island of Iejima will be transmitted to the rum, enabling it to travel beyond the boundaries of the island.