Big changes in the popularity of craft brew in Japan have mirrored the enthusiasm for hand-crafted, locally-sourced, high-quality beers around the world. In the mountains of Tokushima, the zero-waste town of Kamikatsu has two outstanding breweries: Rise & Win and Stone Wall Hill. Both of these breweries produce delicious Portland-style beers while practicing the highest levels of sustainable business operations in stylish fashion. In fact, in every aspect of design, planning, and operations, R&W/SEH breweries are great examples of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation in Japan.
Kamikatsu is the smallest town in Tokushima with a dwindling population, yet they have created Japan’s only sustainability-focused accreditation system to maintain honest business operations, and are able to sort 80% of all waste into reuse or recycling. The sustainability measures have focused on local town planning, but in recent years are included embracing tourists. About 3,000 tourists a year seek out the town to learn of the zero-waste initiatives, planning, and management.
Another reason Kamikatsu has so successfully positioned itself to embrace sustainable tourism is thanks to the success of high-caliber products and services like those offered from Cafe Polestar, Ristorante Pertorare? as well as the Rise & Win and Stone Wall Hill breweries. Visiting the waste sorting station is interesting and seeing the famous views around the village or having a hot-spring bath are appealing, but if you can also enjoy a hand-crafted brew in one of two uniquely designed locations in the town, then you have certainly improved the appeal of the town while developing an exportable product.
The design of the Rise & Win facility impresses thousands of visitors to the town each month who visit to learn more about the zero-waste initiatives and leave with a greater sense of sustainable business appeal. The building is a testament to creative, sustainable design. The entire side of the sun-facing building was created by reusing discarded windows and waste materials from abandoned or demolished buildings.
The owner explained how difficult it was for the builders to perfectly fit different sized windows together into a double-pane glass wall for insulation and structural stability. Viewed from the inside, customers can appreciate the surrounding mountain views and big beautiful sky. There is little need for interior lighting, but when it gets dark, the upcycled glass bottle chandelier provides the space with great ambiance.
Bring your own container to fill up with the brew on tap, or pay a deposit on a reusable bottle. Spices and small items can be purchased by weight that you can fill into your own containers.
This may be Japan’s first package-free shop. Anything you buy at the small shop can be packaged in your own bag or container, or you can buy an upcycled newspaper shopping bag silkscreened with their logo. If you’re hungry, customers can book to join a BBQ party for dinner, or order smaller dishes off the menu to enjoy with your brew. They were able to come up with a vegetarian pasta and salad for me, the staff are always very helpful, flexible and friendly.
Kamikatsu has a history of sustainability-minded residents going back earlier than 2003 when they started the first waste sorting and reducing initiatives. The owner explained how he grew up in Kamikatsu and often saw sustainable business practices in use at his father’s company and by other business owners as normal practice. He’s proud to bring these practices back as they are so necessary for our modern lives. He gives a lot of credit to Cafe Polestar owner Azuma-san’s mother for inspiring him and the other young people in the town to think of ways to not only make money but also think about waste management and supporting the needs of their community.
If you are curious to see the behind-the-scenes view and insights in design, operations, and innovation, you should book a tour. If you don’t understand Japanese, make sure to bring along someone who can, or get in touch and I’ll try to connect you with an English speaking guide for your visit. On my first visit, I learned about the sustainable practices in place which Rise & Win are accredited for with the local NPO. On my second visit in 2018, I learned more about the process of building an upcycled building and how every piece of the structure is repurposed waste material, put together into a stylish and purposeful design. I’m impressed by the vision of the designers, planners, and owners to successfully pull off this project. It’s just not what you expect to find in such a small, rural town in Japan. I also booked the extended tour so I could visit the 2nd brewery which had just started operations in 2018, Stone Wall Hill.
The Stone Wall Hill facility does not look as impressive as the Rise & Win building from the outside but may be more impressive inside. It is built out of a disused warehouse and factory in collaboration with the UK design team ASSEMBLE STUDIO. The ‘Indigo Tower’ tasting studio was built from local wood, using traditional Japanese techniques and the indigo dye process famous in the Tokushima area. Sit in the space to taste different craft brews while looking out at the stunning natural scenery. There is a traditional irori fireplace inside and small stools.
The main factory interior has stylish sitting areas, brewing laboratory, offices and the all-important punching bag to release stress from the long-hours of brewing quality craft beer. All of the brews main ingredient is the pure water of the Katsuura river, kept pristine by the zero-waste policies including the ban against burning garbage which is common practice in other parts of Japan.
There is a testament to the zero-waste initiatives in not only business operations but also in the recipe of the seasonal brews that utilize normally wasted citrus fruit to add flavor and depth to their summer beers.
A trip to Kamikatsu is always fantastic, especially if you love good craft beer. If you can’t make it to Kamikatsu in person, you can buy their brews online or at the Tokyo Tap Room. Wholesale is also an option if you are interested in promoting their sustainable innovation and tasty brews. Craft beer is always enhanced by a great backstory.