Guest Posts

Kilt + Kimono = A Love Story

wee kimonoOn my birthday, I finally opened the package that had landed on our doorstep a week earlier. It had travelled many miles across sea and land. Wrapped so meticulously in its brown paper, I hadn’t wanted to open it right away! I placed it on a table where I could see it each time I walked by for a few days. And then it was my birthday and time to open it. Included in the package’s contents was the delightful “Wee Kimono Magnet” (see photo above) made from folded paper. And this note: I know you love Japan, I know you admire brave women and I know you love stories. So, here’s a story to go with the “Wee Kimono.”

Now I am sharing this lovely gift of a story with you…

P.S. NHK, the Japanese television network, has produced a television series inspired by Rita and Masataka. I am so excited to watch it. NHK produces long-running “morning dramas,” with each episode 15 minutes in length. Bill, Natalie and I watched two entire series before our trips to Japan in 2003 and 2004. (This is a wonderful way to learn a language.) Can you guess what this story has inspired me to do? I’ve been saying it’s time to travel back to Japan… This is why I LOVE stories.


Kilts and Kimonos

by Andrew G. McEwan

Masataka Taketsuru & Rita CowanEarly last century, the family of a local doctor in Kirkintilloch, Scotland was in straitened circumstances following the doctor’s death. To make ends meet, the widow took a lodger. He was a young man from Japan, Masataka Taketsuru. He had come to Scotland to study chemistry at Glasgow University, and to learn the whiskey distilling business with a view to making whiskey in Japan.

He and the widow’s daughter, Jessie Roberta (Rita) Cowan, fell in love and, despite strong parental reservations on both sides, they married at Carlton Registry Office, Glasgow, in 1920, and went to live in Japan.


Masataka built the first Japanese distillery, for Suntory. Sixteen years later, dissatisfied with Suntory, Masataka set up his own distillery at Yoichi in Hokkaido. The location was off the beaten track but Masataka chose it because of the similarity of the region to Scotland. Times were not easy but Rita supported Masataka throughout, including financially at times. Masataka’s company, Nikka, is now part of the Asahi drinks group and Nikka was awarded Distiller of the Year at the prestigious International Spirits Challenge in 2015.

Rita is acknowledged in Japan as the mother of the Japanese whisky industry. The main street in Yoichi is called Rita Street.
Rita is acknowledged in Japan as the mother of the Japanese whisky industry.                      The main street in Yoichi is named Rita Street.


One Comment

  • Carolyn Goodart

    I’m hoping to encounter this place on the NHK “Journeys in Japan” series. The last one I saw was about an apple orchard area, which left my mouth watering for apples! I admire the way the farmer would turn each apple so that it would get sun all the way around and be a uniform red. And one place the traveler visited in that region used the apples to dye cloth! The traveler, an Irishman, even tasted the dye! I’m sure he would enjoy tasting Japanese whisky!

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