Tono, Iwate Pref. – It’s a little-known fact outside the beverage industry that Japan doesn’t import all of its hops, a key ingredient for bittering and aroma in beer making. It’s true that most of the hops used by Japanese brewers are imports from countries like Germany, the Czech Republic and the United States, but about 5% is produced domestically, with the small Iwate Prefecture town of Tono, which has been farming hops for nearly 60 years, contributing the lion’s share.
Like many rural farming communities, Tono (population 26,000) has been impacted not only by an aging population and urban migration, but the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake as well. Around 20 years ago, there were 239 hops farms in Tono, but the number now stands at just 22 and production is down to less than a fifth of its 1989 peak of 647 tons.