Izu - Oshima Isle Attracts Tourists With Shochu Aged Undersea

Izu-Oshima isle attracts tourists with shochu aged underseaFor those looking for a special present, the answer could be a bottle of shochu aged to delicate perfection by the ebb and flow of the seabed’s gentle currents off the shores of Izu-Oshima island.
It’s one of the many successful niche-tourism projects created by volunteers to attract tourists back to the island that was hit by deadly mudslides almost three years ago.

Izu-Oshima island was struck by landslides caused by Typhoon No. 26, resulting in 36 deaths and three missing in October 2013.

The underwater shochu aging project was the brainchild of the Oshima Diving Conference, a group of 28 diving shops on Oshima that were looking to lure back divers and tourists who disappeared after the mudslides.

Toru Furuyama, the 42-year-old owner of a diving shop, said that after the mudslides, his shop was swamped with cancellations from customers who said they would be embarrassed to enjoy diving in the presence of disaster victims

The conference purchased 300 bottles of treasured "mugi" shochu (spirits distilled from barley), which survived the disaster, from Taniguchi Shuzo, the only liquor manufacturer on the island, and sank the bottles to a depth of 20 meters in the ocean off Akinohama beach.

The shochu aged more mildly underwater than on land, thanks to the stable temperature, muted sunlight and gentle rocking water.

The bottles were left in the ocean in April 2014 and retrieved in November.

The Oshima Diving Conference sold the underwater-aged shochu as “Yuragi” (Swing). Eventually, the conference was able to set up two hot showers and two Jacuzzi tubs from revenues from Yuragi sales.

The conference also offers a service to age any bottle of wine or sake that a customer brings in underwater for six months for a 2,000 yen ($19) fee.

Another project, which began in February 2015, provides free diving services and accommodations for professional underwater photographers who agree to promote the island through their photos in magazines, blogs and social networking services.

The professional underwater photographers also get discount travel fares if they come to Oshima twice a year or more to participate in the project.

It takes about an hour and 45 minutes by high-speed jet ferry from Tokyo to travel to Izu-Oshima island. There are also three airline flights a day connecting the island with central Tokyo.

“With a richness of animal, bird and fish species, and its unusual geographical formations, I never get tired of visiting the island,” said Tamaki Ozaki, a 45-year-old professional underwater photographer who frequently visits Izu-Oshima. “I am soothed by the sea, people, food and space here. I always find it hard to wrench myself away whenever I leave the island.”

Furuyama invited Ozaki to the island as the first photographer for the project.

Ozaki posted photographs of a large school of striped pigfish that she photographed in the seas off Izu-Oshima island on her website.

The number of underwater photographers participating in the project increased to 13 after Ozaki asked her friends to join the project.

Photos taken in the seas off Izu-Oshima island are currently being showcased in a photo exhibition at restaurant “Ryukyu Shubo Saishuya FU-KU” in Takatsu Ward, Kawasaki.

Divers who were inspired after viewing the breathtaking photographs have begun to flock once again to the island, hoping to photograph another beautiful moment in the seas off Izu-Oshima.

“Izu-Oshima island is absolutely fantastic and full of nature,” Furuyama said. “It’s so close to the center of Tokyo. I want many people to visit the island to savor its depth of the very breath of nature.”

For more information, visit the website of the Oshima Diving Conference (http://www.oshima-diving.org/).