Until recently craft beer was something of a rarity in Kagoshima. A trip to Tenmonkan for a drink would inevitably begin with a glass of one of the four major brands of beer (or in unfortunate circumstances near-beer happoshu) followed by an evening drinking shochu – the ubiquitous and much-loved local spirit mainly distilled from sweet potatoes. Enter Wakamatsu Tatsuhiko and Dolphin Industry.
Take a stroll out of the main Tenmonkan arcade and down Gonza Street and you will almost certainly see a welcoming sign featuring a tasty looking burger and a pint of beer. Emblazoned with the words “Stay Stoked!” it’s quite hard not to mentally read it in a SoCal surfer drawl. Clamber up the steep steps within to discover the hip, industrial looking Dolphin Industry.
Owner Wakamatsu started his career as a regular salaryman in a local company, but never really felt he fitted in. Thinking that he liked using his hands and being surrounded by cool and interesting things, he decided to open a bar called “Dolphin” in downtown Kagoshima City. Wakamatsu recalls a trip to America as a defining moment in going independent, “I saw all kinds of people from different backgrounds living, but never giving up their own identity,” he says. “That inspired me to live my own life and start my own business.”
A keen surfer, Wakamatsu soon took things a step further moving south to the island of Tanegashima with his family in tow. Life on the island goes by at a relaxed pace, and Wakamatsu could adjust his shift to catch the tides and fit in surfing in between work. Looking for a killer item for the menu, he came up with the Tanegashima burger using local Kurobuta pork, which promptly blew up on social media.
Tanegashima is also home to Japan’s largest rocket launch centre, and scientists from NASA sometimes visited on research trips. One day a group of about 60 scientists came by the bar for a drink. Wakamatsu recalls, “One of the group asked me if we had any IPAs. I had no idea what an IPA was back then but I looked into it afterwards and discovered the world of craft beer.”
Wakamatsu went all the way down the rabbit hole, taking research trips out to the US to learn about burgers and craft beer, and fitting surf sessions in-between. Realising that Tanegashima had a limited audience for his new venture he moved back to Kagoshima City and opened Dolphin Industry.
Dolphin Industry has a good selection of craft beers from abroad as well as some local Japanese and Kagoshima brews, of course best accompanied by one of their famous burgers and fries. For those looking to drink elsewhere (drinking outside is legal in Japan) the second floor below Dolphin Industry houses Stock Yard, selling funkily decorated cans of craft beer to take out or drink in during the afternoon.
Wakamatsu intends to stay true to his motto of “Stay Stoked!!!” and keep enjoying the good things in life – quality brews, good eats, and when he can a bit of Tanegashima surf.