It will soon be a century since the birth of the first bonafide whisky distillery in Japan. Japan's whisky has used Scotch as a model. That's because Masataka Taketsuru, the first chief of the Yamazaki Distillery and founder of Nikka Whisky, studied at distilleries in Scotland. The whisky of Japan remained steadfast during the Pacific War and the tough period immediately following, and it experienced high growth alongside the miracle of the post-war recovery of the Japanese economy. With Scotch as a model, Japanese has secured its place as a standalone genre of whisky, differing from Scotch, American, and Irish, thanks to Japan's unique culture of craftsmanship and omotenashi.
Japan's first bonafide malt whisky distillery was born in 1923. The very first drop came out of the stills at the end of the following year, 1924. In just a few years, Japanese whisky will celebrate its centennial. In preparation, let's take a look back at parts of the journey Japanese whisky has taken over the past century.
Text: Mamoru Tsuchiya, Yoshitaka Nishida
Images: Mamoru Tsuchiya, Hiroshi Shibuya
This article originally appeared in Japanese in Whisky Galore Vol.19 / April 2020.
Who brought the first whisky to Japan?
Who is responsible for bringing the first whisky into Japan? To answer this question, we need to turn back the clock to about 100 years before Japan built its first whisky distillery.
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Mamoru Tsuchiya is Japan’s foremost whisky critic. He is the Representative Director of the Japan Whisky Research Centre, and was named one of the “World’s Best Five Whisky Writers” by Highland Distillers in 1998. He served as the whisky historian for NHK’s Massan and he has published several books such as The Complete Guide to Single Malt Whisky, Taketsuru’s Life and Whisky, and The Literacy of Whisky. He is the editor of the bimonthly Whisky Galore, Japan’s only print whisky magazine.