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Habu Liqueur is good as nourishment, robust power drink

By: KC

Date Posted: 2001-10-13

Known worldwide as the “Longevity Island” and the “Paradise of the Old,” the reason for Okinawan people’s enduring energy and health is said to be hidden in the Okinawan subtropical green bush and nature. Okinawa is also a paradise for plenty of poisonous habu snakes that grow up with an abundance of nourishment and are active from spring to fall scaring many in Okinawa.

But they do not scare some. There are many stories of people that get along with this animal, and are recognized as famous “habu tori meijin” (master habu catchers). In most rural parts of Okinawa, there are persons who make habu liquor or sanshin (Okinawan three-stringed instruments) using the skin from these reptiles. The sanshin need the habu’s skin to sound right and the rest of the snake is used to add potency and health benefits to local awamori.

It is said that habu liquor has an history dating back some 300 years. Awamori has been around at least 500 years. In the old times the habu liquor was used for medical purposes; it was believed to be effective in healing wounds and preventing the inflammation of lymph glands. It is known from old stories and legends that the liquor was considered a medicine.

Habu liquor was introduced to Okinawa from China. Snakes were commonly used in Chinese medicine for many ailments and they were often mixed in various liquors. They were used as antidotes for poisonings and were said to improve the body’s robustness. To this day, some of the best-known Chinese medications include the character “Hanbi” and can be found in stores selling Chinese medicine in Japan. Those medications made of dried and smoked pit viper, are considered to be an essential ingredient of many Chinese medicines. It is said to be effective for depression and forgetfulness.

The Habu is said to be able to live 450 days without food. Researchers say that the reason is that its body contains eight essential amino acids and other 11 kinds of amino acids. The human body does not produce amino acids, but they are vital for people’s well being. As habu’s body is full of nourishments, it’s no wonder they can live with water only for more than a year.

Also, habu’s mating takes a long time, an average of almost 19 hours. Because of this endurance snakes have became a symbol of a man’s strength and sexuality.

Habu’s saliva is the poison to kill, rot, and digest animals it eats. Its poison contains plenty of strong dissolution elements and it can dissolve an animal body including the bones within only a week.

Original habu liquor had a reputation of having a very strong and repulsive odor making it nearly impossible for both locals and tourists to drink. Subsequently, most of the habu liquor was bought for souvenirs and showpieces. A few years ago, Nanto Shuozusho Co. developed a new method of making habu liqueur. Awamori used for this habu liquor is stored for years in a big cave. Storing awamori in a cool steady temperature over a time will smooth its taste.

Chief of the Nanto Brewery Plant, Hideo Iguchi explains about their method, “In order to remove the bad smell, we take off its poison glands, and all the intestinal tract. This eliminates the smell when you open the bottle.” Even Iguchi admits that, “We do not like to drink habu liquor brewed in traditional ways because of the unprocessed smell.” He also adds that, “Since we have good success with selling our habu liquor, we would like other breweries to also adopt the way of making good habu liquor without the bad odor in order for this entire field to progress and develop.” Nanto Brewery is making a brisk business in marketing its odorless habu liqueur mainly to tourists. The company says that the sales are is increasing steadily every year, and currently totals around ¥160 million. The company has about 5,000 habu snakes in stock at that were mostly caught in Okinawa, Sakishima and Amami islands. A small percentage is imported from China.

Besides the habu liquor, there are other habu products including “habu ko” (habu powder). To make the powder, Nanto dries and smokes the snakes and then grinds its body and bones into a fine powder. The powder contains lots of calcium and proteins, and is said to be especially good for racing horses to energize and increase their running speed. It is also said that junior high school athletes from Kumamoto prefecture used habu powder daily that their coach had brought as a souvenir from Okinawa. As a result they placed second in the national competition for the first time ever.

Prefecture officials have declared October and November as “Protection from the Habu Awareness Months.” At this time of the year, the habu seek a shelter to hibernate, and often tries to get into buildings through cracks in the concrete walls and basements. To avoid this, they urge house owners to inspect the walls and close all cracks and holes that they discover. They also recommend building a fence around yards and trimming the grass. Statistics show that 55 people were bitten by habu this year by the end of August. That is about 30 percent decrease from the same period last year, a trend that everyone can be happy about.

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