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Kin Temple cave offers cool escape and plenty of awamori

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-07-30

Asami Toyokawa has taken the process of creating awamori to new levels. Trying to improve upon the taste of the awamori her family distillery, "Kin Shuzo", has been making for 48 years, Toyokawa came upon the idea to mature the awamori inside a natural cave, where the cool air remains at an average temperature of 18 degrees centigrade. To avoid sunlight and high temperatures, most distilleries age their awamori inside of factory cellars. Toyokawa realized a natural underground aging system would be much more effective. The idea first came to her after viewing a television program that featured an old tunnel in mainland Japan, which had been converted into a wine cellar. She thought it would be an excellent idea to put her awamori inside a well known cave, located on the grounds of a shrine in her hometown of Kin.

Receiving permission from government authorities, Toyokawa started the process of moving her storage facility into the underground cavern, and in 1988 "Kin Sho Nyudo" was open for business. Although her special aged awamori has been maturing for ten years, Toyokawa wishes to have it aged another 10 years before it will be sold. However, visitors and those interested in Kin Shuzo's aging process can visit the cave for a small entrance fee. You can also purchase some of their original "Tatsu" brand awamori, and have it personally tagged and stored inside the cave, where it will be kept for a minimum of five years. At that time, you will receive a notice that your awamori has reached maturity. You them have three options: it can be kept for another five years, you can come and pick it up, or you can have it sent to you cash on delivery.

"Kin Sho Nyudo" is one of Okinawa's best kept secrets. Recently I was given a personal tour of the cave by Toyokawa. As you enter the grounds, a peaceful serenity takes you away from the traffic and noise of Kin town. A beautiful wooden temple faces the entrance, waiting for prayers form visitors. Next door is a quaint little tea house. Immediately to your right is a beautiful tree grove, where the entrance to the cave awaits all those seeking refuge from the hot sun.

Although the cave is now home to Kin Shuzo's fine awamori, its past is evident as soon as you enter. Stairs help you down to the main cavern, where on your right is the first of many prayer points. "This cave was used by Okinawans during the war to hide and protect themselves. It helped to save the lives of many people, so it is a very special and sacred place.

As we descended the cool air became very welcoming. Reaching the huge floor of the cave, which is about 140 tatami mats, brings you into a different world. Huge vats storing awamori patiently wait for the day they will be emptied and delivered to the outside. Their twenty year maturity period is nothing compared to the long process it took nature to create such a wonder. The cave is constantly dripping from above, echoing the sounds of water droplets. The same water, which helped to form the many stalactites and stalagmites.

Toyokawa lead the way through tunnels, which extend to the very back of the cave. It is approximately 270 meters from the front to the very rear. As we walk through the narrow passageways guided by lights, Toyokawa points out a few more prayer areas. "This one is for couples to come and pray for healthy babies," she tells me. Rows of black bottles are lined up on racks, located on the sides of the tunnels. "This is where we store the bottles for individuals," she said. All tagged with messages of memories and dates, the bottles wait for their owners to bring them out of their slumber. "We have over 5,500 "keep" bottles here. They are from all over Japan and as far away as America," remarked Toyokawa.

After returning to the above world, we sat down and chatted some more inside the tea house. Some tourists were also there, who had just visited the cave. Like so many before them, they were preparing to by a bottle of "Tatsu" awamori, and have it stored inside the cave to commemorate their visit to the island.

Anyone interested in visiting "Kin Sho Nyudo" can do so from 9 am until 5 pm any day of the week. To purchase a bottle of "Tatsu" awamori and have it stored costs 10,000. All orders can be done at the "Kannon Tea House", located next to the temple. To get to "Kin Sho Nyudo" follow Route 329 north towards Kin. After passing the main gate to Camp Hansen, turn let at the traffic light where the road forks. Continue going straight and Kin temple will be located on your left. You can park your car in the lot across the street.

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