One of Japan's premier Satsuma shochu makers, Kagoshima-based Sata Souji Shoten, has revealed AKAYANE Craft Gin just before Japan gets into our year-end/New Year's holiday period.
The base spirit of AKAYANE Craft Gin ("Red Roof") is actually potato shochu, rather than a vodka like you'll find in many other gins. Interestingly enough it uses only a single botanical: juniper. No telling where this juniper comes from, but on the nose this gin is also supposed to also have notes of wild greenery, lime peel, jasmine flowers, ginger, and musk.
Although they say it works in a gin & tonic, they also highly recommend drinking it cut with hot water and alongside of pinch of rock salt, lime peel, and finely cut rosemary. Hot sake and and hot shochu have been a thing in Japan for a long time -- but hot gin seems like it's catching on in the rest of the world already.
I use the word gin quite loosely above. Japan has no legal definition of gin, so you can more or less distill up anything and call it gin if you like. The recently-announced Masahiro Okinawa Gin, for example, was basically just a flavored awamori as far as I could tell. I'm all for experimentation, but if the makers label something as gin, I expect it to taste like gin. Shochu as a base spirit has some flexibility across its two main categories -- korui and otsurui -- but the end product still often ends up tasting a lot like the underlying ingredient(s). So it can be difficult to call shochu a "neutral spirit." Most of the Japanese gins I've tried have been excellent but they're certainly not all created equally.
In any case, keep an eye out for AKAYANE Gin soon. No word on price but it's bottled at 47% abv and 720ml.
Whiskey Richard is the founder of nomunication.jp, and has been saying he has lived in Japan for ten years for the past four years. He enjoys drinking basically anything except straight-up Campari.