In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru embarked alone on a long voyage to Scotland. In this distant land the secrets of whisky-making would be imparted to this young Japanese man, and here he would meet the woman who would become his bride.
Masataka Taketsuru was born in the coastal town of Takehara (now Takehara City) about 60km from Hiroshima City. The Taketsuru family owned a "sake"(Japanese brew made from fermented rice) brewery that goes back to 1733-- and continues to produce fine sake today, in 2004. Taught early that sake making is a painstaking fine art, Masataka studied diligently and trained at university as a chemist, preparing to carry on the family trade.
However, Scotch whisky captured the young man's imagination, as well as the interest of few other enterprising Japanese of that day. He decided to dedicate his life to whisky.
Given the chance to go to Scotland, Masataka enrolled at the University of Glasgow and became the first Japanese ever to study the art of whisky making. He took chemistry courses at the university and apprenticed at distilleries, learning first-hand from craftsmen and receiving training as a blender. Masataka would later become known as a master blender.
In 1920 Masataka returned to Japan with Jessie Roberta (Rita), whom he had married earlier that year. Later joining a company that aspired to make genuine whisky, he succeeded under its employment in producing Japan's first whisky.
Masataka's vision of whisky was formed by his experience in Scotland, and he knew that the right environment was essential. However, it was becoming apparent that in order to produce whisky as he felt it had to be, he would have to become independent.
Thus in 1934 Masataka established Nikka Whisky, and built its first distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido, which-- though inconveniently located-- he had always considered to be the ideal site in Japan for whisky-making, similar in many ways to the Scottish town where he had studied.
Masataka established Nikka because he was determined to introduce his fellow Japanese to the joys of authentic whisky. In the decades since, as his company developed and the enjoyment of whisky became a fixture in Japan, he remained relentlessly passionate about quality. Never did he allow it to be sacrificed in favor of efficiency.
In that sense, Masataka Taketsuru, Father of Japanese Whisky, sake brewer's son, had never truly left his roots.
The young Scotswoman who, in 1920, embarked with her Japanese husband on a long voyage to Japan, adopted the ways of the distant land.
She steadfastly supported her husband throughout their marriage, as he built Nikka and made it flourish, until her passing in 1961. Rita and Masataka Taketsuru are buried together, in Yoichi.
SKETCH OF MASATAKA TAKETSURU'S CAREER
- 1894 JUN
- Born into a sake brewing family in Hiroshima on June 20.
- 1916 MAR
- Graduated from Osaka Technical High School.
Entered Settsu Shuzo Company in Osaka.
- 1918 JUL
- Embarked for Scotland via America.
Visited wineries in San Francisco on the way.
- Arrived in Scotland and enrolled the University of Glasgow majoring in chemistry.
- 1919 APR
- Apprenticeship at Longmorn distillery in Speyside to learn malt whisky.
- Apprenticeship at James Calder in Bo'ness to learn Coffey grain whisky.
- 1920 JAN
- Married Rita on January 8.
- Apprenticeship at Hazelburn distillery in Cambeltown to learn malt whisky and blending.
- Returned to Japan.
- Left Settsu Shuzo Company since the plan to produce whisky was abandoned.
- 1923 JUN
- Entered Kotobukiya Limited (Suntory) with a 10-year contract.
Directed to build Yamazaki distillery and engaged in whisky production.
- 1934 MAR
- Left Kotobukiya.
- Established Dainipponkaju Co., Ltd. on July 2.
- Yoichi Distillery completed.
- 1940 OCT
- The first whisky "NIKKA WHISKY" launched.
- 1952 AUG
- The corporate name Dainipponkaju Co., Ltd. was altered to The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., Ltd..
- 1963 NOV
- The first Coffey stills were imported from Scotland and set up within Nishinomiya plant.
(The Coffey stills transferred to Miyagikyo in 1999.)
- 1967 JUN
- Kashiwa plant completed.
- 1969 MAY
- Miyagikyo distillery completed.
- 1977 OCT
- Tochigi plant completed.
- 1979 AUG
- Masataka died on August 29 at the age of 85.