Masataka & Rita Taketsuru

Nikka Whisky, History


Masataka Taketsuru founded Nikka with the inauguration of the Yoichi distillery on the Japanese island of Hokkaido on 2 July 1934. Since then, more than 80 years have passed: 80 years of research, expertise and passionate creativity.

In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru, the son of a family of sake producers, was recruited by the Settsu Shuzo company to produce the first Japanese whisky. A trained chemist, the young man decided to go to Scotland, in order to learn the secrets of whisky-making. A few months after his arrrival, Taketsuru met Rita Cowan, and fell in love. They married, and Rita became his muse.

Two years later, they returned to Japan. In 1922, his employer, Settsu Shuzo went bankrupt following the stock market crash. Taketsuru joined the Kotobukiya group, the Japanese beer giant which later became Suntory, for whom he constructed the first Japanese distillery in 1924

A few years later, Rita encouraged, and inspired him to fulfil his dream of building his own distillery.

Masataka Taketsuru
yoishi whisky japan


It was on the northern island of Hokkaido that Taketsuru found the ideal site for Yoichi, a distillery that was built with rigorous respect for Scottish traditions. For his first distillery, Masataka Taketsuru looked for similar climate conditions to Scotland, where he had learned everything that he knew about whisky.

YOICHI was completed in 1934, in the small village of the same name by the sea, with a rugged, damp climate. The distillery lies 50 km west of the town of Sapporo, known for its Snow Festival and the site of the Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Initially, the local peat bogs were the source of Yoichi’s smoky notes, while the sea air also left its mark on the very characterful whiskies.


Just before the Second World War, Masataka Taketsuru created the Dai Nippon Kaju company, which literally means “the big Japanese juice factory”. For, during the first eight years of operation, while the whisky was ageing in oak barrels, he set up a fruit juice business, supplied by the local apple orchards in Hokkaido. He finally adopted the name of Nikka Whisky in 1952, which is a contraction of NIppon and KAju. His growing success enabled him to open a second distillery in Miyagikyo in 1969, on the island of Honshu.

whisky stills
miyagikyo whisky


Yoichi’s rugged climate was a sharp contrast to the peaceful hills and forests of the Miyagi region, known for the purity of its air, and its crystal-clear water; it was this last feature that, after three years of research, proved to be the deciding factor for Taketsuru. He founded the MIYAGIKYO distillery in 1969, in the heart of this natural, paradise-like environment, from which the whisky draws mellowness, elegance and purity.


Recognized as the father of Japanese whisky, Taketsuru was a genuine pioneer, who had the courage and determination to found a new Japanese whisky tradition, with the love and support of his Scottish wife, Rita.

The master blenders at Nikka have inherited this passion, giving them the inspiration to continue to innovate, while at the same time respecting Taketsuru’s original dream of producing authentic whiskies with popular appeal. In this way, Nikka now offers an unparalleled diversity of whiskies, and constantly reinvents itself, much to the delight of whisky fans all over the world.

miyagikyo whisky

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