Rum Guide to Japan 2024

Land of The Rising Rum

Japan is a volcanic archipelago stretching over 3,000 km with thousands of islands along the Pacific coast of East Asia. Part of the active “ring of fire,” Japan is the most seismically active country in the world where earthquakes are frequent. Home to Mount Fuji an active stratovolcano, it’s the highest mountain in Japan, and the second-highest volcano on an island in Asia.

Japan is predominantly mountainous but has more than 400 years of history of commercial sugarcane production in the subtropical regions in the south of Okinawa, the Amami Islands, and the Bonin Islands. Since the beginning of the 1900s Okinawa, Minami-Daïto, and Iejima have been distilling sugarcane and producing white, agricultural, or aged rums.  Okinawa was occupied by the US until 1972 and is now a popular tourist destination. 

Mount Fuji and the Japan Alps

Chūbu Region

This Central region is the heart of Japan, in the middle of Honshū, Japan’s main island.  The area is renowned for the soaring Japanese Alps, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, wooden traditional Japanese farmhouses, and nearby Mount Fuji.

Takata Shuzo 

With origins in 1907, Takata Shuzo launched a Shochu in 1912. Since 2020, Takata Shuzo has been crafting Kumamoto Rum, an agricultural cane juice rum made with naturally farmed, pesticide-free sugarcane grown exclusively in Kumamoto Prefecture. Kumamoto Rum presents a limited-edition bottling is a blend of rum fermented and distilled in 2021.

Find out more on Takata Shuzo 

kansai region

Kansai Region

The Kinki region is the southern-central region of Japan’s main island Honshū. This includes the Nara prefecture. 

Kamiki Spirits 

Kamiki Spirits is making a name in unique cask finishes and dedication to coral reef conservation. Their Minoki Rum, named after an ocean princess launched in 2018 as the world’s first rum finished in Mizunara oak casks, renowned for imparting delicate flavors. It also claims to be the world’s first rum filtered through cleaned, washed-ashore Japanese coral, demonstrating their commitment to protecting these vital ecosystems. This focus on innovation continues with their Minoki Sakura rum, the world’s first Sakura cask-finished rum. Aged for 12 years and bottled in Wakayama, it blends Pacific and Okinawan rums for a complex flavor profile.

Find out more on Kamiki Spirits 

nine leaves

Nine Leaves Rum founded in Nara by Yoshiharu Takeuchi in 2013, may be familiar to international rum enthusiasts. Sadly the distillery closed in 2023, Luca Gargano of Velier acquired the remaining stock, so a limited number of bottlings are still available.

Shikoku island

Shikoku 

Shikoku, meaning “four countries” according to some interpretations, is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. Kochi Prefecture, located on Shikoku’s southern coast, is known for its pilgrimage route, hot spring spas, flower parks, hiking trails, and thrilling river rapids for adventure seekers.

Ryoma Rum

Ryoma Rum 

Kikusui Distillery produces one of the most recognizable rums from Japan internationally in a distinctive black bottle. Ryoma was launched in 2007 and is named after Sakamoto Ryōma, a key figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate, the last feudal military government in Japan.

Sugarcane juice is heated to create sugarcane honey. They use a traditional sake/shochu method for fermentation called San Dan Jikomi. This consists of 3 steps where ingredients are added gradually, cultivated yeasts release more aromas during fermentation which lasts one month. On a stainless-steel pot still, the vacuum distillation preserves flavours. The rum is then aged for at least 3 years in white American oak barrels. They produce two different Ryoma rums. A rum for the domestic market with more pastry aromas and fewer woody aromas, and one created for the European market with more woody aromas. Kikusui Distillery only allows special visits by appointment.

Find out more on Ryoma Rum

Tenjinmura

Tenjinmura

Based in the former Chiyonokame Sake Brewery built in 1716, the brewery produces the world’s first craft rum that can only be made in Ehime. In the Ehime Prefecture, Tenjinmura launched the AOHARA rum in 2020. They have a White Rhum using organically grown sugar cane juice. Aged rum. Their botanical rum is made with Okinawa brown sugar and with several botanicals, the Ehime region is famed for citrus.  It’s the only Rum made from Japanese sugarcane and Sake yeasts.

Find out more on Tenjinmura 

Masado Umayado Distillery

Masado Umayado Distillery 

In Higashikagawa City on the eastern edge of Kagawa, Masado Umayado Distillery says it’s creating a new rum style: Wasanbon Rum. Their Wasanbon Toumitsu Rum 2023 is made using 100% Wasanbon molasses, a byproduct of producing Wasanbon sugar, a traditional fine-grained sugar from Tokushima and Kagawa. The molasses is fermented in wooden sake vats and double-distilled for a unique flavor profile.

The distillery is also expanding, transforming a warehouse into a rum tour, tasting room, and shop set to open soon. This will provide visitors with a firsthand experience of Masado Umayado’s dedication to Wasanbon Rum.

Find out more on Masado Umayado Distillery 

Mizuguchi Shuzo famous for the Dogobeer brand makes a Dogo Rum in Matsuyama, Ehime.

Sakurajima Kyūshū

Kyūshū 

Kyūshū is the most southerly of Japan’s four largest islands. Kagoshima is best known for Sakurajima, an active volcano that faces Kinko Bay. At its base, the Nagisa Lava Trail winds through lava fields. This region is the most northernly sugarcane-growing region in Japan. Sugarcane is said to have been grown on the island of Tanegashima since 1872. Tanegashima island is famous for having the best surfing in Japan, its natural beauty, and the Space Museum – it can be reached by plane or a ferry from Kagoshima.

Arcabuz rum distillery

Tanegashima Distillery – Arcabuz Rum

Tanegashima Distillery cultivates its own sugarcane and sweet potato, drawing inspiration from local rum sake it started making rum in 2018. This commitment to local agriculture allows them to produce the only agricultural rum in the region. Their signature rum, Arcabuz, is named after the matchlock guns introduced by the Portuguese to Tanegashima in the 16th century.

The cane juice is pressed within 24 hours of harvest, and fermentation lasts about a week. It’s distilled on a Kothe hybrid copper still. Half the rum is held in stainless steel vats and the rest in barrels; new white oak barrels, Bourbon, and Sherry. 

Find out more on Tanegashima Distillery – Arcabuz Rum

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Ooyama Jinhichi Shoten

Founded in 1875, this area is known as Japan’s Hawaii, the distillery in Ibusuki City produces sweet potato Shochu on turtle pots. They started making rum from Ibusuki City organic molasses, and brown sugar from Kagoshima Molasses or Brown sugar in 2022. The main expression is Acou Rum White, the Acou name comes from the sacred Akou tree in the Miyagahama area where the distillery is located.

Find out more on Ooyama Jinhichi Shoten

okinawa islands

Okinawa islands

Sugarcane has been cultivated in Okinawa for centuries, even predating its incorporation into Japan in 1876. Known as ‘uuji’ in Okinawan, it remains the main crop of the Ryukyu Islands, a chain stretching southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan. Cultivation likely began before 1860, thriving in the region’s subtropical climate.

Traditionally, rice-based alcohols were consumed in Okinawa. However, by the 1920s, sugar and rice were combined to create a unique drink called Kokuto. Rum production followed, with small-scale endeavors using pure rum emerging by 1940. World War II interrupted this progress, but production resumed and peaked in the 1980s. Today, rum production in Okinawa is experiencing a revival.

kikai rum

Kikai Distillery

Kikai Rum Distillery, established in 2021, is a new player in the Japanese rum scene. Located on Kikaijima island, they leverage French expertise and traditional brown sugar shochu techniques to create unique rums. Interestingly, they also incorporate blockchain technology, for production transparency or traceability.

The remote island of Kikaijima has a humid subtropical climate, perfect for sugarcane cultivation. Here, sugarcane reaches maturity during the winter months, making it prime harvest season.

The rum-making process begins with dissolving brown sugar in water. This is followed by fermentation and double distillation in copper pot stills. The rum then ages in a combination of ex Bourbon barrels and ex-Scotch whisky casks, infusing it with complex flavors.

A unique feature of Kikaijima is the “Sugar Road,” which traverses the island’s sugarcane fields, offering a scenic glimpse into the heart of Kikai rum production.

Find out more on Kikai Distillery

grace rum

Grace Rum Cor Cor Okinawan Rum

Grace Rum Cor Cor Okinawan Rum is made on Minami Daito (pictured above), a solitary island south of Kyushu has been making rum since 2004. Cane sugar has always been the main agricultural activity on the island. The harvest is January to April and fermentation is 3 to 4 days. The Cor Cor Green label is made with cane juice, and the Red label is a molasses-made rum. Stainless steel pot distilled; it’s then rested in tanks, not barrels. This brand is one of the few you’ll likely see internationally.

Find out more on Grace Rum Cor Cor Okinawan Rum

IEJIMA Distillery

IEJIMA Distillery 

Iejima Island is west of the main island of Okinawa. Sugarcane cultivation here dates back to 1623. IEJIMA Distillery was set up in 2011 by two friends, Makoto Asaka and Hisato Chinen. They were directly inspired by the pot still distilling of Awamori and Shochu from neighbouring islands. On Iejima, rice does not grow because it is too exposed to typhoon winds.

Harvest January to April, the fermentation period is 3 days in the summer and 7 days in the winter. They make cane juice rum distilled on a stainless-steel pot still and is aged in white oak. Their range includes Santa Maria Crystal is produced on the island of Ie Jima. Santa Maria Gold is produced on Iejima and aged in American oak barrels; Santa Maria Premium has been aged since 2012.

Find out more on IEJIMA Distillery 

naha 1

Mizoho Shuzō

Mizuho Shuzō is an awamori distillery from 1848 in Shuri near the famous Shuri Castle outside Naha City. They started a project called ONERUM in January 2020 to bring Japanese small-batch rum to the world. The Single Island Series Ie Island Rum is a blend of 8 types of rum made from brown sugar from 8 remote islands; Yonaguni, Iriomote, Hateruma, Kohama, Tarama, Aguni, Ie, and Iheya. Kohama Island Rum is their 5th product created from their own sugar cane farm. Kohama is in the centre of the Yaeyama Islands.

Find out more on Mizoho Shuzo

Tokunoshima 1

Rurikakesu Rum Takaoka Jozo

This rum has been produced by the Kokuto Shochu distillery on Tokunoshima (above) since 1979 in Kagoshima’s Amami Islands. The company claims it’s Japan’s first gold rum. It’s made from brown sugar, and the rum is aged for three years in oak barrels. 

Find out more on Takaoka Jozo

Helios Distillery

Helios Distillery  

Helios Distillery was founded in 1961 by the Matsuda family Today, the 4th generation continues the tradition of rum-making on Nago City’s main island. The production mainly met a high demand from U.S. military personnel based on the island at that time. Helios Distillery produces rum a few different brands, like Tokyo Nights Japanese Rum presented by BBC spirits in France.

Teeda 5-Year-Old Rum is a blend of pot still rums, aged in oak barrels and made from sugarcane molasses. The fermentation of molasses is 30 days, to be then distilled in a copper pot still and aged in oak barrels. Teeda means “Sun” in Okiwanese. Teeda 21-year-old is their oldest expression, distilled in 1998, matured in new American oak barrels, and unblended.

Kiyomi Japanese White Rum is made by Helios Distillery. Kiyomi in Japanese means “Pure Beauty.” It’s produced from fresh cane juice, fermented and column distilled, and then rested in stainless steel tanks for a few months.

Find out more on Helios Distillery 

Taragawa Rum

Taragawa Rum

Since 1948, the Taragawa micro-brewery has been making traditional alcohol on the island of Miyako. Producing their own rum was first distilled in 2018. The island is referred to as the “Hawaii of Japan” famous for its immaculate, white sandy beaches. The drier tropical climate makes growing rice more difficult, so locals turned to planting sugarcane. As a specialist in distilling Awamori (made with sugarcane and rice), rum making came naturally. Sugarcane grows right next to the distillery in mineral-rich soils and a mild climate.  

The sugarcane variety has a high sugar content and abundant stalks, ideal for premium rum and black sugar. Wind-resistant, it thrives in typhoon-prone regions. The cane is harvested and processed into molasses.

The rum is 100% produced on the island of Miyako-jima. Using local yeast, the molasses is fermented for 3 days and then distilled on a hybrid stainless steel still, which was traditionally used for the production of Shōchū. Twice distilled in vacuum distillation, the rum is presented at 50%.

There are two expressions; Taragawa White Rum expresses pure flavours of the region with lychee, pineapple, and mango. Taragawa Bourbon Cask Rum has aged in wood, the semi-tropical climate accelerates the interaction of the wood with an estimated angels’ share of approx. 14%. To visit them you’ll need to make a reservation.

Find out more on Taragawa Rum

Ogasawara Distillery

Ogasawara Rum

This Bonin Island rum was founded in 1992 on the tropical island of Hahajima, part of the Ogasawara Islands, one of Japan’s most remote territories. It’s made from molasses derived from locally grown sugarcane; Mother is a submarine rum that is aged for about one year on the ocean floor of Hahajima. One of the rarer finds in the rum world.

Find out more on Ogasawara Rum

Kantō Region 

Kantō region (meaning east of the border) includes the Greater Tokyo Area, Chiba just to the east, and Tokyo, the capital and the largest city on Earth.

rhum boso

Rhum Boso 

Rhum de la Péninnsule de BOSO is in eastern Japan and is a small distillery that started in 2022. Minami-Boso has a rare microclimate to grow sugarcane, and they produce rum. The cane juice is fermented for 3 days and distilled in a hybrid copper pot still. They short-term age in bourbon barrels, or sherry casks. In 2024, Rhum Boso launched one of the first Japanese high ester rums called BOSO Rhum Mer-Umi- Cuvée speciale – labelled as ‘Estery 2024’ without the ester count. The range includes BOSO Rhum Agricole Blanc Soleil, and Rhum Boso Blanc Fleur.

Find out more on Rhum Boso

train 1

Travel in Japan 

There are big distances between some of the producers, depending on your travel, it’s best to plan and contact the distilleries to check which allow visitors. The main airport in Okinawa is Naha, it’s a 2-hour flight from Tokyo, and there are ferries between the islands. Bullet trains can transport you across the main island, but a rental car is a must on Okinawa. DiDi app is the alternative to Uber if you don’t want to drive and enjoy the rum.

Pro Tip: It’s worth noting Japan’s complex liquor licensing. In Japan, distilleries apply for a licence for each category (shochu, spirits, sake) they make. This licence dictates what can be made. Amami Kokuto Shochu is not rum but is made with sugarcane (black sugar) shochu and rice. Rum pays a higher tax rate hence rum is more expensive than some local spirits. But rum is in demand here. No additives in spirit production predate rum making in Japan, so the rums are naturally natural!

lamp bar 1

Places to Enjoy Rum in Japan

Tokyo has developed a world-class cocktail scene, so you’ll have many options to sip a rum cocktail. Here’s where you’ll find rum: Bar King Rum in Ikebukuro, Screwdriver Bar in Suginami, Tafia Bar in Nishi-Azabu, Trader Vic’s Tokyo, and Bar Lamp in Ginza (above and home to the Japan Rum Society). 

In Minamiboso-shi Chiba, the Chidori Chikura bar and sushi restaurant is a good place to try the Rhum Boso range.

Other rum bar destinations: The Kazan Room in Kobe (pictured below), or Rum and Whisky Bar in Kyoto.

In Okinawa, you can enjoy Taragawa rum in Miyako Island Hilton Okinawa Resort Hotel Rooftop bar YUNAI, RuGu Glamping Resort with its gorgeous sunset views, SANGOYA in Miyakojima City, or at Hatoba Shokudo Restaurant. El Lequio bar, and Oni no Ude bar in Naha you can try a good selection of local rums.

For Japanese rum cocktails try Yuzu Daiquiri, Shiso Mojito, or Sol Cubano; this cocktail was invented by a bartender for a 1980 competition in Kobe. It includes Japanese rum, grapefruit juice, and tonic water.

kazan bar 1

Final Thoughts 

Japan’s rum scene is still young despite a lesser-known history. Losing Nine Leaves in 2023 was a blow to the craft rum here, but, there’s a raft of new distilleries you can seek out and discover. For example, Tanushimaru Rum in Fukuoka since 2022 for instance is planning to release its rum, so keep an eye on the Japan Rum map as producers are constantly updating data.

One thing to note is for Japanese rum internationally. In EU law to be named rum, it can only be made from cane juice, cane syrup, or molasses. We’re unsure whether Japanese brown sugar rums might have to be labelled ‘cane spirit’ – time will tell.

Many Japanese rums are found locally, so you’ll need to travel. Japan is famous for whisky, sake, and shochu but now you can add rum to this. It’s a new era for rum in Japan with new distilleries opening in the last few years. For visits, it’s best to contact the distilleries ahead of your trip to get the most out of your rum adventure. 

When to go? Well, Japan has many festivals related to nature with spring festivals, cherry blossom festivals and New Year are all popular times for visitors. But for rum tours think about the harvest seasons mentioned on the brand profiles as a good guide to see production in action. You’ll find it’s not just the cherry blossom that blooms, sugarcane flowers await your gaze.

Japan is celebrating “Japan-CARICOM Friendship Year 2024” with the Caribbean community countries. It’s the 30th anniversary, and 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. As small countries prone to hurricanes and natural disasters, they exchange know-how, and host cultural exchanges – we’re not sure if rum is included but you’ll find several Jamaica Festivals around Japan from April-June 2024.

Special thanks to Japanese Spirits expert Sayumi Chavrier-Oyama for contributing to this article and ensuring our Japan Rum Map has the correct information. 

Thank you also to Nando Imamura the Bar Manager at Uma Nota Paris, and Mark Williams of Bottler’s Marque who was recently in Japan for their insights into Japanese rum and places to enjoy rum!

To learn more about general advice Japan Travel
For travel planning use our Japan Rum Map

japan rum map 
Image credits to the brands, Canva Pro, and user contributions.

japan sunset

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