Shochu seen on a Maction Planet Shochu Experience


How better to spend a Friday night in Tokyo than with all-you-can-drink craft shochu, designing your own shochu bottle label in traditional shodo calligraphy style and hanging out with the amazing citizens of, and travellers to, The World’s Greatest Metropolis?

That’s exactly what happened on 13 October 2017 at OnJapan Cafe, one of our favourite places to relax in Tokyo. Managed by the inimitable Yukiko Harada, the cafe opened its doors in November 2014, just off Cat Street in Harajuku, with the philosophy of creating a space for cultural exchange, be it food, experiences or travel, between locals and visitors to Tokyo – an ethos very much shared by Maction Planet.

Our guides for the evening were Christopher Pellegrini on Shochu duties, and Naoki Sakaguchi on shodo.

Christopher needs no introduction to guests of Maction Planet – he is the mastermind behind our highly-popular Tokyo Shochu Tours. Chris is a true ambassador for Japan and its most popular home-grown spirit. Christopher passed the Shochu Sommelier Certification exam offered by the Sake Service Institute and now he is one of the few licensed, non-Japanese sommeliers living here. He is an internationally recognized speaker and has presented at diverse events, from art shows to gigs. Mac, Founder of Maction Planet, was the largest backer of ‘The Shochu Handbook’, written by Christopher, the world’s first ever English-language guide to shochu. He even has the honour of having a cocktail named after him in the book! And speaking of that book, we found a copy at OnJapan Cafe!

Chris was pouring drinks from Tensei Distillery from Kagoshima. Souichiro Takaya from the distillery was on hand to discuss the history of the shochu, which are very unique. Tensei Hyakkei, a sweet potato shochu made with a splash of seawater from the depths of Shibushi Bay, set the tone for the evening. Mugi Hokka, a barley shochu with hints of chocolate and coffee, was a real hit.  

Guests introduced themselves and mingled as the crowd grew to 20 strong. After a few drinks, it was time to sit down and begin the process of designing our own bottle label, led by calligraphy master, Naoki Sakaguchi.

Sakaguchi-san brings a modern approach to traditional shodo calligraphy. He has presented both domestically and overseas, and is a tourist ambassador for the world-famous Miyajima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Sakaguchi-san invited attendees to pick a kanji for their bottle label. For overseas guests, Sakaguchi-san asked for their name. He then wrote down kanji which corresponded to the syllables of their name, and asked them to pick one.

We were invited to practise several times before picking our favourite design and transferring it to a bottle label, with Sakaguchi-san walking around dispensing valuable advice of how best to hold the brush to allow maximum freedom of expression, tips on bringing your kanji to life using asymmetry and dry brush techniques, amongst others.

At times shodo, and the traditions behind it, can intimidate people new to the craft. However, Sakaguchi-san’s attitude put everyone at ease. He stressed the fun aspects of the evening: We were designing a bottle label, not attempting to create a valuable work of art.

After we were all finished creating our labels, they were transferred onto a bottle of Tensei’s flagship sweet potato shochu, Yuuno Kokoro, which we would be taking home at the end of the night. 

Later in the evening we were treated to an incredible ‘calligraphy performance’ by Sakaguchi-san, as he used two brushes simultaneously to create some incredible pieces.  

This was the last shochu event to be held at OnJapan Cafe before the Harajuku venue shuts its doors and they relocate to their new home. Insiders know where that is, but it is not our announcement to make!

Thank you to Yukiko Harada, Christopher Pellegrini, Naoki Sakaguchi, Souichiro Takaya and all at OnJapan Cafe for a wonderful evening.

One of our key goals at Maction Planet is to bring truly local experiences to visitors to Tokyo. Previous guests have described us as “reinventing custom travel” in The World’s Greatest Metropolis. Read our TripAdvisor reviews to see what they had to say about us, then drop us a line. Whatever your interests in Tokyo, contact us at

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