Awamori’s overseas development: Industry working together to expand exports, increase name recognition

December 6, 2018 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Taichi Hirayasu


A new plan is being put into action to increase the consumption of Ryukyu Awamori, which has seen a recent downward trend in consumption, by promoting exports.

In addition to the “Ryukyu Awamori Export Project,” a public-private venture to support increased sales channels for Awamori, distilleries and companies in Okinawa are working together to export the liquor abroad.

Challenges to foreign development of the good include tax barriers and low name recognition, however some involved in the project have high expectations, claiming that, “Awamori has a lot of potential.”


A downward trend in both domestic and foreign shipments


The gross domestic shipments of Awamori reached a peak during the “Okinawa Boom” in 2004 when a total of 27,688 kiloliters were shipped; the drink has been steadily declining in the 13 years since.

In 2017, the gross domestic shipments of Awamori totaled 17,709 kiloliters, a 36% decline from the 2004 peak.

Shinken Tsuchiya, president of the Okinawa Distillers Guild, analyzes, “Due to a variety of different alcoholic beverages coming to the island, the preferences of consumers has diversified, there is also a downward pressure from women and younger people staying away from alcohol as well as an overall decline in the population of drinkers.”


While the total exports for Awamori have increased from approximately 18 kiloliters in 2011 to 29 kiloliters in 2017, the situation remains one filled with ups and downs, and has not yet lead to solid growth.

Exports only account for 0.2% of total shipments.

Most cases of exported Awamori involve distilleries doing it on their own, and Tsuchiya indicates, “There are many companies that do not have the strength to export, and even for those that do there are limits.”


China & Ireland


In order to expand exports, Okinawan distilleries and companies are building a cooperative framework.

Awamori distillers Binkou HD, Mizuho Shuzo, and Nano Shuhan export to China “Okinawa Shirozake,” the undiluted sake used to make Awamori.

Shirozake, called “Baiju” in China, is a popular type of liquor in China and differs from Japanese sake, so many have their eyes on cutting into this new market.


Three distilleries, Chuko Awamori, Kumejima’s Kumesen, and Zuisen Distillery, are partnering with Blueship Okinawa to sell Awamori in Ireland.

The goal is to raise the level of awareness about Awamori to someday export Awamori to each country in the Western world.

An official from the Okinawa General Bureau, which is involved in Awamori exports, said regarding their expectations, “With the cooperation of a number of companies, we should be able to work towards a model of foreign development in the future.”


Getting the word out to foreign tourists


Okinawan distillers, companies, and governing bodies have banded together and kicked off the Ryukyu Awamori Export Project, where they are exploring options such as pairing Awamori with different food, as well as discussing the expansion of sales channels.

The project hopes to increase the approximately 29 kiloliter export total from 2017 to 100 kiloliters by 2022.


Awamori continues faces challenges such as the steep tax imposed on liquor when shipping abroad, as well as relatively low name recognition when compared to other Japanese liquors such as sake that are widely known abroad.

Conversely, the number of foreign tourists to Okinawa is increasing, and this provides a big chance to get the word out about Awamori internationally.

The Okinawa Distillers Guild plans on surveying these foreign tourists to for a strategy for developing overseas markets.

Tsuchiya stresses, “We can promote the drink from a health standpoint with things like sugar-free and low calorie.

We will continue to make use of Okinawan superiority to tell the world about the greatness of Awamori.”


(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)


Go to Japanese


Previous Article:
Next Article:

[Similar Articles]