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Issue 57 - In the shadow of Mount Fuji (Gotemba)

Whisky Magazine Issue 57
July 2006

 

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In the shadow of Mount Fuji (Gotemba)

Gotemba Distillery enjoys special status in Japan. Dave Broom visited it

It is hard for any westerner to understand the role which Mount Fuji has within the Japanese psyche.

The highest mountain in Japan, it is the archetype of what a mountain should look like, rising from a plain in a perfect cone. Yet Fuji is about more than just aesthetics. It is a sacred mountain, a place of spirits, deities and Buddhas. It is shorthand for Japan, physically and philosophically. It is... Fuji-san. It is also home to a distillery.

In Scotland, distilleries seem an integral part of the landscape. Most of them sprang up in areas which had been known for moonshining; they were either former bothies or were close to them.

Japan though is different. Here, the whisky industry is not yet 100 years old. Japanese distillers had to start from scratch to find their sites and with no moonshiners to help them, that could take a number of years.

“It took three years of searching between Osaka to Tokyo to find this site,” says Hideaki Kito, the tall, affable master blender of Gotemba's owner, Kirin.

The criteria? “Water and climate.” Any distillery needs a plentiful supply of pure water and the fact that there are no buildings or industry between the distillery and Fuji means that there are no contaminants in the soil. What's more, the deep lava beds act as a natural filter for the snow melt from the mountain.

As for the climate? Gotemba stands at a height of 620m therefore it is cool – only a shade warmer than Scotland – something which Kito-san argues is ...

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