Sep 09

Whisky in the country of the Rising Sun

Nowadays, people from all over the world know the Japanese whiskies. They find drinks from the Country of the Rising Sun as top quality and legendary, but not too many of them can tell the story how this beverage found a new home on the islands lie more than 10 000 km away from Scotland?

On a sunny summer day four American sea vessels under the command of Captain Mathew Perry moored at the door of the Uraga harbour in South-East Japan. After travelling for more than six months to Madeira, Cape Town, Ceylon, and Singapore, the crew finally reached their destination. This seemingly inconspicuous event happened on 8th July 1853. But just like a small pebble is capable of triggering a huge avalanche, the arrival of four vessels gave rise to the sequence of events which thoroughly transformed the Land of Cherry Blossoms. The American Captain’s aim was to hand over the US demands governing their reciprocal relationships to the Japanese authorities. His homeland had just started the process of developing the American coast of the Pacific and they were deeply interested in the expansion of their commercial and political relationships with East Asia, including Japan.

In the subsequent course of events, the authorities of the Land of Cherry Blossoms were forced to abandon more than 200 years of isolation policy. Before that, no foreigner had been allowed to step on Japanese islands, and commercial relationships had been sustained solely with the Dutch, the Chinese and the Korean people via the selected ports. This state of affairs was only changed through the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the USA, which was the first in the series of international agreements signed by the Land of the Rising Sun in mid-nineteenth century. The same way diplomatic and commercial relationships were established with Great Britain, France or Russia, and the process of rapid internal changes commenced.

The Japanese started to open to the world and absorb what it was offering. Foreign products, technological concepts, methods of goods manufacturing and management, or customs reached the islands. Among the latter, the culture of drinking western alcoholic beverages, including whisky, arrived in Japan.

Though the attempts to produce whisky in Japan were made as early as in the 19th century, the first distillery in this country was built as late as in 1924. Its opening was the consequence of Masataki Taketsuru – a chemist – undertaking university studies in Glasgow. After his return to his home country, he used the knowledge gained there and assisted in the process of erecting the first distillery on the islands. Its founding father was Shinjiro Torri who had been intending to start whisky production in Japan for years. Thanks to the meeting of the two gentlemen, the renowned distillery in the town of Yamazaki was established. The Japanese turned out to be masters in absorbing foreign technologies, including that of whisky production. As they were faithful to the Scottish standards and traditional methods of production, they soon started producing top-quality beverages.

For many years, Japanese distilleries produced goods mostly for the domestic market and it was not until the beginning of the 21st century that they were discovered by the whole world. The fame of distilleries from the Land of Cherry Blossoms went around the globe and the beverages produced there started to enthral whisky lovers. Unfortunately, not all distilleries operated long enough to enjoy the golden period of the Japanese whisky. Just take Karuizawa as an example. But… this is another story, which we will tell you really soon. Let’s be in touch.

If you would like to read more stories like this, please leave us your e-mail, and we will inform you about all new texts on our blog.