The Beginning of Japan Whiskey (Sake)

The Beginning of Japan Whiskey (Sake)

You may be familiar with Japanese Sake alcoholic beverages, but what about Japanese Whiskey? Japanese whiskey in the liquor world is already known as premium whiskey. However, in the liquor industry especially whiskey and wine, a story or history of a product can be a powerful selling point and maybe one of the reasons why Japanese whiskey is so expensive.


Early Japan Knows Whiskey

At first, Japan knew whiskey at the beginning of the Meiji Period. On July 8, 1853, four warships known as black ships or kurofune (黒船) docked in Japan led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Commodore Perry came to ask to revoke the policy sakoku (鎖国). Sakoku is Japan's policy of closing the country from the outside and restricting traders from the Netherlands, Korea, and China, besides that they are not allowed to enter Japan. In February 1854 Commodore Perry came to Japan again to reclaim his request with a larger fleet along with gifts as a token of respect for the Emperor. On March 27, 1854, two days before their first diplomatic treaty, the Americans hosted a large banquet on the USS Powhatan that began with a performance of cannon fire and then began serving food and alcoholic beverages. It was at this time that Japan was introduced to whiskey for the first time.

sake bottle

Japan's Early Attempts to Make Whiskey

At first, Japanese whiskey was not made in general, which went through various processes from distillation to maturation in wooden barrels, but rather a mixture of ingredients that produced a product like a whiskey in general. Even Japanese whiskey initially had a bad reputation. One day in September 1918 in Hakodate, Hokkaido, two ships carrying about 4,000 American soldiers who were to be assigned over the next two years to fight in Serbia docked at Hakodate Harbor. Major Samuel L. Johnson who had been ordered to go ashore with his companions returned to the ship and reported the bad news, that a bar selling Japanese whiskey called Queen George had 3500 soldiers lying down in fifteen minutes because the whiskey contained heavy metals. (mercuric chloride). Captain Kenneth Roberts and his team are assigned to collect the fallen soldiers and investigate the case. Captain Roberts stated that this happened because of the behavior of the soldiers who wanted to get drunk in a cheap way after the soldiers came to their senses and were disciplined. Finally, the troop carrier quickly left Hakodate and headed for Otaru, Hokkaido. But in Otaru also found Queen George and soon there was a report of an American soldier hitting a Japanese policeman with a bottle on the head for being drunk with the whiskey.

sake table

The Pioneer of Japanese Whiskey

Masataka Taketsuru & Shinjiro Torii

The beginning of making Japanese whiskey begins with the story of Masataka Taketsuru, who was born to a sake brewing family who grew up in Hokkaido. Masataka Taketsuru and his siblings attended a well-known school, but Masataka Taketsuru did not finish his studies at Osaka University and then worked at Settsu Shuzo which at that time was famous in Japan. Masataka Taketsuru is very fluent in English and then intends to study alcoholic beverages from abroad. Initially, Masataka Taketsuru went to America to study wine and then to Scotland to study whiskey. Masataka Taketsuru returns to Japan with his fiancé, Jessie Roberta Cowan, better known as Rita. When Masataka Taketsuru returned to Settsu Shuzo, Masataka Taketsuru's idea of making whiskey was rejected and he decided to leave Settsu Shuzo. Hearing this, Shinjiro Torii took the opportunity to recruit Masataka Taketsuru. Shinjiro Torii was the founder of Kotobukiya which is now known as Suntory. The first whiskey produced by Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii was named Shirofuda which was produced by Suntory at the Yamazaki factory, but the whiskey did not sell well in the market. The loss caused a split between Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii because they had different concepts in the subsequent manufacture of whiskey. After Masataka Taketsuru's contract with Suntory expired, Masataka Taketsuru established his own factory called Dai Nihon Kaju, now known as Nikka, in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Suntory and Nikka are the two whiskey producers who dominate Japanese whiskey until now, even the competition between the two companies is dubbed ryuuko (竜虎 ), which is like a competition between a dragon and a tiger.


As such, whiskey is not native to Japan. Even at first Japanese whiskey had a very bad picture. The nature of the Japanese in developing things for the better can be seen from this history. Even when viewed at this time, the popularity of Japanese whiskey is no longer as bad as it used to be, even now it is very famous, especially in the world of whiskey.