The website of Sasakawa Whisky has launched, promising construction of the “Fujisan Distillery” within Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park by Autumn 2022.Details about the upcoming Fujisan Distillery are pretty sparse, but Sasakawa says that it will have wooden washbacks, stills by Miyake, and direct heating. It will reportedly sit at an elevation of 1000m, nearly a third of the way up Mt. Fuji, making it one of Japan’s highest. So, it at least sounds like they plan on actually distilling whisky there, rather than importing bulk crap and bottling it in Japan.
Founder Shohei Sasakawa came into whisky by way of rugby, drawing him to the UK. He went to Scotland and had a “life-changing encounter” with whisky. It’s a nice, relatable story. Sasakawa Whisky and Fujisan Distillery should not be confused with Sasanokawa Shuzo, or Kirin’s Fuji Gotemba Distillery.
BUT Sasakawa-san also namedrops his own family in his introduction blurb: he’s the grandson of Ryoichi Sasakawa. Ryoichi Sasakawa, which Wikipedia lists as a “suspected war criminal, businessman, far-right politician, and philanthropist.” The rabbit hole goes pretty deep, with WP describing the senior Sasakawa as part of “a generation of Japanese ultra-nationalists who allegedly helped to goad their nation into World War II.”
After his release from Sugamo Prison, the senior Sasakawa went on to push the Japanese government to pass the Motorboat Racing Act, legalizing gambling on motorboat races in a sport called kyotei. He also went on to create the Nippon Foundation, which itself is the subject of some controversy.
Now, what does any of that have to do with Sasakawa Whisky, besides having the family name on the bottle? That’s unclear. Founder Shohei Sasakawa mentions that originally–as far back as 1603–his family launched and ran a sake brewery. He wants to return to his “family’s roots in liquor making.”
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