While Japanese whisky is rising in popularity throughout the world, the distances between the Asian nation and whisky’s traditional heartlands in Scotland, Ireland and the U.S. can, at times, feel very large. The language barrier in particular can make it hard for international whisky lovers to get a true insight to trends, developments and unique aspects of the Japanese whisky world. This article aims to explore who is who in the world of Japanese whisky, looking in to corners of the industry that often go overlooked, from whisky research to wood management and design. Learn more about some of the figures behind the spirit that has the world talking 100 years on from its foundation and more. Looking for a more basic introduction to Japanese whisky? Have a look at our Japanese Whisky 101 Guide.
Akiko Furusho, In House Designer at Suntory
Design in Japanese whisky is a huge topic, with Japanese craftmanship a significant feature in each and every release. Suntory, owner of leading Japanese whisky brands such as Yamazaki and Hibiki, put their precious spirit in Akiko Furusho’s hands, trusting their In House Designer to create bottles and packaging as special as the liquid itself. In the course of her time at Suntory, design at the company has changed markedly, from initially aiming to appeal to domestic markets through to today, where the company’s global success marks them as a symbol of Japan to audiences around the globe.
Read more about the relationship of whisky and art in Japan in our Japanese Whisky and Design article.
Nobuyuki Odawara, Director at Ariake Sangyo
Japan's only cooperage is a place in great demand, with the growth of the industry reliant on Odawara’s casks to mature their incredible spirit. Without at least three years maturing in wood, whisky would be little more than moonshine.
Odawara is behind the "Taruski" project, encouraging the use of indigenous wood species including Mizunara to Japan's spirits industry. This is something that is key to some of the best-regarded Japanese whiskies in recent years, such as the Yamazaki Mizunara release. It has, however, also gone far beyond Japan, with distilleries in Scotland and Ireland also experimenting with Mizunara and other native Japanese woods. This has led to the popularity of releases such as the luxury Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura or the exploratory Irish Method & Madness Japan range.
Yumi Yoshikawa, Brand Ambassador at Chichibu
Chichibu is the darling of the ji-whisky movement, famous for their tradition-informed yet innovative approach to whisky making. Yumi Yoshikawa is Global Brand Ambassador for the distillery, responsible for bringing the story of Chichibu to the world. Yoshikawa’s whisky journey started, however, not in Japan, but in Scotland!
With experience working at the legendary The Highlander Inn and Bruichladdich distillery, she honed her whisky knowledge and communication skills with international guests, making her the perfect person to now share the story of Chichibu through master classes, guiding visits to the distillery and attending events. In previous interviews, she has discussed her dream to one day open her own distillery, turning the region near Chichibu in to Japan’s answer to her previous home, Speyside. Read more about this distillery in our Chichibu article.
Mamoru Tsuchiya, President of the Japan Whisky Research Centre
An independent voice advocating for Japanese whisky, Mamoru Tsuchiya has seen the industry go from ruin to international success. Mamoru is a foremost expert on all whiskey, with experience across history, writing, TV and more. If that wasn’t enough, he is also the man behind some of Japan’s biggest whisky events, bringing global attention to the spirit.
2023 is the centenary of Japanese whisky. This year, the Japanese Whisky Festival is aiming to look at the history of whisky in Japan, and how that can help motivate people for the next hundred years of whisky. A key goal of Mamoru’s is to set high standards and ensure that Japanese whisky is truly Japanese going forward. While this may sound obvious, it follows a rocky history of lack of regulation in Japanese whisky, which resulted in the common industry practise of blending Japanese and Scotch in the past.
Yoshitsugu Komasa, Master Distiller at Kanosuke
Kanosuke Distillery was launched by Yoshitsugu Komasa, CEO, Founder and Head Distiller, in 2018, one of a number of exciting new ventures in the rapidly growing Japanese whisky scene. Yoshitsugu comes from a family of Schochu distillers, owners of the Komasa Jyozo company, and has certainly used his knowledge from Schochu to influence his whisky making and even the spirit itself: maturation in Schochu casks has excited whisky lovers, among whom a focus on terroir is a key trend currently.
Earlier this year, global drinks giant Diageo announced investment in the young distillery, a bright endorsement of both Yoshitsugu’s work and Japanese whisky overall. Kanosuke is certainly one to watch.
Kanosuke Artist Edition, featured in our June 2023 auction.
Japanese whisky is still relatively young in terms of the centuries old history of the spirit. Many more people will no doubt leave their stamp on the spirit, taking it in new and diverging directions in the next century of its life. From early attempts to emulate Scotch at Suntory a hundred years ago through to innovation with ji-whisky today, our auctions allow whisky lovers around the world access to a history of Japanese whisky every month.