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Nikka has featured quite prominently in the news for the past few months following the popularity of the NKH morning show Massan about the live of it’s founder Masataka Taketsuru and his wife Rita. It should therefore come as no surprise that interest in visiting the Nikka Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido, which hosts among other attractions a small museum dedicated to Masataka and Rita has gone up. In fact it is currently the second most popular attraction in Hokkaido according to trip advisor, if you are a whisky fan and are in Japan, or if you are planning a trip there, seeing it is a must.
The Distillery itself was opened up in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, it is the first distillery opened by Nikka and Japan’s northernmost distillery, the location was chosen because the climate is most similar to Scottish climate you can get in Japan.
Yoichi still follows the old traditions of whisky making Masataka learned while in Scotland just after world war one. The pot stills are heated with finely powdered natural coal, the traditional method that is hardly ever used today, even in Scotland. The distillery is in the small town of Yoichi, just outside of Sapporo, the location was chosen because of its proximity to clear water, brisk air and rich peat. Many of Nikka’s finest whiskies have been made at this distillery. And it still maintains many of its original stone buildings making it especially pleasant to visit.
Taking a tour
Both guided tours (Japanese only) and self guided tours are available, and whats even better, they are both free of charge. A self-guided walking tour of the grounds takes about an hour and follows the whisky making process from start to finish. Visitors can learn about the different steps taken to produce whisky from English information displays and audio guides. Some of the equipment along the tour, such as the large copper distillation tanks, is still used today. Guided tours are also available but are only provided in Japanese.
Toward the end of the tour is a museum which focuses on the history of the company and the life of its founder. Several interesting displays include photographs and household items of Taketsuru and his Scottish wife, whom he met in Scotland and who moved to Hokkaido with him to help found his business. The tour ends at a tasting room where visitors can sample various Nikka whiskies. There is also a restaurant and a gift shop.
Guided tours (Japanese only) are available every 30 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.No English guided tours are available.
After completion of the guided tour,visitors are welcome to continue viewing the facilities until closing time.
Self Guided tours can be conducted anytime from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. A distillery tour pamphlet will be distributed to visitors upon arrival. Visitors may tour the facilities freely at their own pace while referring to the guide map inside the pamphlet.
How to get there
The Nikka distillery is located in Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern island. If you are in Tokyo the easiest and the cheapest way to get there is to fly in. Japan currently has a number of low cost, domestic airline (for example Skylark) which offer cheap flight to and from Hokkaido.
If flying isn’t your thing then you can take the Shinkansen to Aomori, Honshu island’s most nothern city and take the local train from the to Hokkaido. When in Sapporo you take the train from Sapporo main station to Otaru city and change there for the local train to Yoichi station, the whole trip from Sapporo takes about one hour.
You can also taste the whisky, and of course there is a shop there to stock up on bottles, all in all a visit to Yoichi should not leave you disappointed.