One of our main reasons in coming to Sendai was to visit the Nikka Whisky MIYAGIKYO Distillery. Let me begin by stating that this is not an easy place to get to by train. It would be best to take a cab or a bus, but keep in mind that it’s a pretty far distance from the city center. We were under the impression that a shuttle would be running from the nearest train station to the distillery. But when we arrived at the Sakunami station we discovered that this is not the case. There was no shuttle going to the distillery, or at least not the day we arrived. Ironically the local slogan is “Sendai & Miyagi, where smiles blossom”. Also the local “mascot” is a rice ball samurai. For real, I promise I am not making these things up. Selena was doing her best to get us a ride to the distillery, but was informed that walking was our best option and was given a map by the smiling station attendant. So with map in hand we decided to make the “20” minute walk from the station. Fortunately the sun was shining, there was a nice breeze and most importantly it was downhill for the majority of the way. We smiled the whole way. The history of whisky in Japan is quite fascinating and there is a great story about the lives of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japan’s whisky industry, and his Scottish wife, Rita. In fact their story inspired a Japanese TV series called Massan after the nickname that Rita gave for Masataka. In the series, Rita is portrayed by a blonde named Ellie. However, the casting of this role was a very big deal here in Japan since it was the first time in history that a starring role was played by someone who was not Japanese. The tour was in Japanese but Brad and I have been on numerous distillery tours in Scotland so this was not a problem. However there is an English guide available online if you are interested.
The most notable difference from other distilleries in Scotland was found in the still room. The copper stills were the same classic shape as their Scottish counterparts. However these stills were all adorned with the same shimenawa found in Shinto shrines. A shimenawa is a straw rope with white zigzag paper strips (shide). It marks the boundary to something sacred and can be found on torii gates, around sacred trees and stones, etc. This certainly adds a whole new meaning to the definition of a spirit still.
The remainder of the tour was pretty much the same as we were just waiting for it to end so we could get to the tasting room.
In our haste to get a taste of the heavenly spirits, we totally forgot to take any more pictures. But I’m guessing that you can use your imagination to fill in the rest of the tour.
Of note was the fact that the whisky we wanted to buy the most was completely sold out and is no longer available in all of Japan. Apparently the success of the TV show is said to be boosting sales of Nikka whiskey in the country in what is best described as the “Japanese Mad Men effect”.
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” ~ Mark Twain