Tanegashima Sugar

Staying in a country where you don’t speak or read the language sort of forces you to buck up in confusing situations. And when you don’t know the language, or even how to make the sounds of the characters in the alphabet, confusing situations abound. The first time we drove down the main drag in Minamitane, Cody pointed out of the car window to buildings that looked, to me, like houses or offices, saying “that’s a restaurant, and that’s a restaurant, and that’s a restaurant”. It’s like that a lot in Japan, but especially in Tanegashima. The general collective signage is minimal to begin with, and even when there are signs on storefronts, I can’t read them at all. We kind of had to get used to walking in unmarked, unfamiliar doors and seeing what would happen.

We’d heard that there was a sugar cane processing facility somewhere on the island that invited tourists. But when we arrived we couldn’t really tell if we’d come to the right place. But we gathered our tolerance for uncomfortable situations and pressed on.


sugar cane processing

Aha! Sugar cane. That’s a good sign.

sugar cane chopper

And we kept walking, into a sanctum of steam. At this point we sort of figured that if we weren’t supposed to be there, we’d have been yelled at.

sugar cane processing

This is where they boiled the cane juice down into syrup.

sugar cane dudes

These dudes were mostly unfazed by our presence. Which made for good candids.

liquid sugar

That’s the sugar cane juice after it’s been boiled for a while and reduced.

tanegashima sugar

This place pours out straight reduced sugar cane syrup to make this clear, foldable yet somehow breakable taffy/candy stuff for tourists to taste. Then they take crystallized sugar and add it to the big bowls to help the rest of the batch form crystals. The crystallized sugar is a lot more useful than the foldable stuff, for obvious reasons.

tanegashima sugar

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are given a shard of fresh sugar candy, take it and eat it, but do not chew it unless you want your teeth to be superglued together for 20 minutes.

sugar shards

These guys are stirring the sugar to encourage crystallization (I think).

stirring sugar

And here’s a bag of the finished product. Really nicely textured, richly flavored stuff. It felt pretty special to get to see these people make sugar without the help of a lot of big machinery, almost like going back in time.

crystallized tanegashima sugar

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