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No: 263
Producer: Nikka
Region: Japan
District: Yoichi, Hokkaido
Operating Status: open

Masataka Taketsuru was born around 1894 and became an employee of the Osaka company Settsu Shuzo. Before the first world war Settsu Shuzo had laid plans to begin whisky production and elected to send Taketsuru to University in Glasgow to learn whisky making. While there he came to the house of one Rita Cowan to teach her younger brother jujitsu. They were drawn to each other and despite the strong opposition of both families in January 1920 the pair were married. The couple went to live in Campbeltown where Taketsuru immersed himself in learning about whisky making and gaining first-hand experience at the nearby Hazelburn distillery. By that November though the couple were in Japan.

Settsu Shuzo had been hit by the post-war depression and had shelved its whisky-making plans. Frustrated by this, Taketsuru left the company in 1922. For a time Rita supported them by teaching English but in 1923 Taketsuru was visited by Torii Shinjiro of Kotobukiya (later Suntory) who was looking for an expert to manage his company's whisky-making project. Taketsuru joined Kotobukiya and within two years had supervised the completion of the company's Yamazaki distillerry near Kyoto. All was not well however and in 1934 Taketsuru left Kotobukiya to found his own company, Nippon Kaju K.K. which was to become Nikka.

Taketsuru had identified Japan's northern island, Hokkaido as being most suitable for whisky production and established himself at Yoichi. Rita joined him in September the following year and celebrated the long wait by involving herself to the full in supporting her husband's business. At this time Taketsuru could only afford one still, considerably complicating the distillation process but he managed and by 1939 was vatting the whisky he had made four years earlier. Japan was now at war with China but nevertheless in October 1940 the first Nikka whisky left the distillery.

The war years were difficult for Rita as she was an 'enemy alien'. By the end of the war she was nearly 50 and had had no children. The couple eventually adopted one of Masataka's nephews. Rita settled into life in Japan, making only occasional contact with her Scottish family. She never returned to Scotland and died in 1961, aged 65. Masataka outlived her by 18 years. Their grave overlooks the Nikka distillery in Yoichi.

Masataka Taketsuru 20/6/1894 - 29/8/1979
Rita Tatetsuru nee Cowan 14/12/1896 - 17/1/1961

Search Dr. Do'g's index for the history of Hokkaido
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