UNESCO application spurs industry hopes of spreading awamori culture

UNESCO application spurs industry hopes of spreading awamori culture

June 10, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo


Okinawa’s awamori industry voiced its excitement as the Japanese government announced plans to list awamori as an Intangible Cultural Heritage with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


Once registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, awamori can be expected to earn the status of a national spirit, along with sake and shochu. Manabu Sakumoto, president of the Prefectural Distillers Association, said, “It will give people the opportunity to discover that Japan has its own distilled spirit with a long history, like other world-famous spirits such as tequila, whiskey, and gin. We will work to promote awamori to as many people as we can, and find more opportunities.”


Since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, local awamori sales have enjoyed a 35% liquor tax discount. Considering 80% of awamori is consumed within the prefecture, the tax break has been beneficial to the awamori industry. In recent years, however, some have challenged the necessity of the incentive. Sakumoto said, “If we can shift the sales percentage to other prefectures and countries, [the industry] can be self-sufficient.”


Yuiko Morita, Chair of the Awamori Meisters Association, said, “In addition to its complex flavor and cultural essence, awamori is an excellent spirit for its versatility. It embodies Okinawan culture and tradition and is worthy of being an intangible cultural heritage.” She further explained that awamori comes in a wide range of alcohol content, from 16 to 43 degrees, and can be enjoyed with a splash of water, on the rocks, or used in cocktails.


Morita pointed to tequila, a spirit born in a small town in Mexico, which gained worldwide popularity thanks to the margarita cocktail. “The possibilities for awamori are limitless. If we can elevate its recognition and set up a proper distribution network, I have no doubt it will be widely accepted.”


Yoshinori Kyan, chair of the Prefectural Wholesale Liquor Association, said, “It’s wonderful news. If the government is taking action, the registration process should fast track.” Kyan has high hopes that once awamori gains global recognition, the Japanese consumers will take a renewed interest in the spirit. “[In which case] many tourists will want to try awamori when they visit Okinawa. The demand for awamori as souvenirs will also increase,” he said.


(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)


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