“A MAN, A WOMAN, TWO DISTILLERIES”
This is the story of the life of a
legendary couple intertwined with the
history of one of Japan's best known whiskies.
ONCE UPON A TIME...
“THE VISIONARY” (20/06/1894 – 29/08/1979)
seen as the father of Japanese whisky,
was born in 1894 into a family that had
been sake producers since 1733.
training as a chemist, he was hired by an
Osaka-based company, Settsu Shuzo, which
was planning to produce a Japanese whisky.
The young Taketsuru was therefore sent
to Scotland in 1919 in order to acquire
the necessary technical knowledge and a
minimum of experience. He studied at
Glasgow University, where he learned
about the art of blending and
distilling. He quickly became passionate
about this Celtic spirit, and decided to
devote his life to it. His dream was to
create a malt distillery in Japan.
When he returned to Japan in 1920, he
realised that the project for which he
had been recruited was not going to see
the light of day. And, following the 1922
stock market crash, he lost his job. A year
later, he joined the Kotobukiya group,
for which he built a distillery close to
Kyoto. This is how he became the father of
the very first Japanese whisky in 1924.
In 1934, he decided to strike out on his own.
Masataka Taketsuru remembered from his
experience in Scotland that the
environment was essential for producing
a quality whisky.
He was a
visionary who created the company Nippo Kaju
and undertook the construction of the
Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido. In 1939,
he began his first blends. War broke
out, but this did not stop him from
bringing out his first bottle in 1940.
In 1952, the company definitively
adopted the name Nikka Whisky. His
growing success enabled him to establish
a second distillery in 1969 on the
island of Honshu close to the city of
Sendai. Masataka Taketsuru died
ten years later, aged 85.
“THE MUSE” (14/12/1896 – 17/01/1961)
Jessie Roberta Cowan, a Scotswoman born
in Glasgow, met Masataka Taketsuru in
1919 in Scotland. He was teaching martial
arts to her brother. It was love at first
sight. The two fell madly in love, and
married in January 1920 in Glasgow. They
lived in Campbeltown for a few months –
close to the Hazelburn distillery where
Masataka was continuing his training –
before moving permanently to Japan.
Jessie was warmly welcomed. She changed
her name to Rita and became perfectly
integrated in Japan. She mastered the
language in just a few months.
She was a resolutely modern and determined
woman, and did not hesitate to take on a
job teaching English when her husband
became unemployed in 1923. She also accepted
to live alone for a while when he went to
live in utter poverty in Yoichi to
supervise the building of the distillery.
Throughout her life, Rita provided loyal
support to her husband and his vision to
establish whisky in Japan. She was able
to contribute even more due to the fact
the couple was childless. Later in life,
they adopted one of Masataka's nephews,
Takeshi, whose family perished at
Above and beyond that
catastrophe, the Second World War was a
difficult time for Rita. She was seen as
an "enemy" in a nationalist context, and
was obviously torn between the two worlds.
At the end of the war, she became one of
the main architects of the reconciliation
between Japan and the United Kingdom.
Yoichi and Kirkintilloch, her hometown,
are now twinned.
More than the success of her husband,
her history and personality made her an
extremely popular figure in Japan during
her lifetime. She passed away in 1961,
aged 65, without ever having returned to
Scotland, or even Europe.
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