Bathhouse turned brewery: Osaka’s Kamigata Beer and an upcycling approach to business
Travelling around Japan, one cannot help but notice the numerous abandoned buildings dotting its landscape and standing as a testament to a more prosperous and vibrant bygone era. Indeed, a quick search on google will pull up a plethora of websites on abandoned places, facilities, and homes—the latter termed akiya (空き家) in Japanese—that have become the unintended by-product of Japan’s declining population and increasingly urbanised society.
Bathtub-turned-drinking space for visitors. (Image credit: Kamigata Beer)
While many of these sites have been written off as lost causes and relegated to the memories of an ageing generation, some have been adopted and rebuilt by a younger cohort of innovators looking to restore the value implicit in these classic buildings. One such dreamer is Koji Shikata, founder and owner of Osaka’s Kamigata Beer (上方ビール). Where others saw only a sentōou (銭湯, bathhouse) in decline, Koji saw the chance to reunite a community by creatively repurposing one of its long-standing social centres.
View from the brewery looking up at the bathhouse’s old cold water bath. (Image credit: Kamigata Beer)
Anyone who has visited a traditional Japanese bathhouse will immediately recognise its defining architectural layout. Divided perfectly down the centre by a high concrete or tile wall, sentōou are separated into male and female sides, each completely hidden from the prying eyes of the other.
At Kamigata Beer, this characteristic structure has been retained, giving the brewery a fresh yet familiar appearance to any thirsty Japanese visitor. The former men’s side of the bathhouse has been converted into the brewery, where the delicious beer gets made, while the women’s side has been kept as is—sans water—with the old tubs and steps serving as seats for the customers as they imbibe.
Guests are free to bring food to snack on while they drink frothy craft beers out of glasses repurposed from the classic milk jars found at every Japanese bathhouse in the hands of bathers upon exiting the baths. These are not, however, the only items Kamigata Beer is working to reuse to generate new value with its business. On the brewing side of operations as well, Koji Shikata and the Kamigata Beer team work to eliminate waste by recycling by-products from making beer.
From trash to treasure
Original grissini snacks made from spent grains. (Image credit: Kamigata Beer)
If you have ever homebrewed or are somewhat familiar with the brewing process, you’ll know that there are a lot of used grains leftover following the mash. Many breweries toss these remnants in the dustbin and move on to making the next batch, but at Kamigata Beer, spent grains are donated to a local bakery and upcycled into making new snacks, such as the tasty mini breadstick-like grissini (グリッシー二) pictured above.
Beyond food, Kamigata Beer is also working with a local organisation to recycle grain bags and other items commonly thrown away at breweries into creating new products like tote bags, in an effort both to eliminate waste and help fund people with disabilities. As Koji Shikata sees it, this is just the beginning of what’s possible when you really imagine how to use all the things that already exist around you.
Traditional bathhouse milk jar converted into a beer glass. (Image credit: Kamigata Beer)
While Koji Shikata and the Kamigata Beer team are passionate about craft beer first and foremost, their bathhouse-turned-brewery is only the first step in a much broader plan to make use of the many abandoned places springing up across Japan. They're not sure whether the next site will be a run-down pachinko parlour, unoccupied temple, or closed school, but one thing is for sure: wherever they go next, they’ll do their best to create something new and unique out of the vestiges of the past.
From Osaka Station (大阪駅), take the Tokaido Main Line (東海道本線 Tōkaidō-honsen) bound for Kyoto (京都) two stops to and get off at Higashi-Yodogawa Station (東淀川駅). Exit via the East Exit and walk about 10 minutes until you reach Kamigata Beer.
Kamigata Beer (上方ビール)
Address: 3-15-6 Nishi-Awaji, Higashiyodogawa-ku, Osaka 533-0031, Japan
Nearest station: Higashi-Yodogawa Station (東淀川駅)
Open: Saturdays and Sundays, 12pm—5pm
Header image credit: Kamigata Beer