Amazing Nippon / Japan-Made Whisky, Wine Beloved by Foreign Tourists

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tourists from South Korea taste whisky at Yoichi Distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido.

This is the fourth installment of a series exploring places that attract overseas visitors, allowing them to deepen their knowledge of Japan’s charms.


A stone tower resembling a medieval Scottish castle stands near JR Yoichi Station in Yoichi, Hokkaido. This distinctive structure is the entrance to Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.’s Yoichi Distillery, which was opened in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the man who brought methods for producing authentic whisky to Japan.

The distillery holds free guided tours 12 times a day. The tours have been highly popular since this spring, with reservations fully booked every day. About 20% of the participants are foreign tourists, mainly from China, the United States and South Korea.

Desmond Lee, 53, from Singapore who took the tour in late July enjoys drinking Nikka whisky every weekend at home. He previously loved Scotch whisky, but one day his friend recommended he try whisky made in Japan. The man said he was surprised by its mild taste and pleasant aroma.

He also became interested in the process used in making the Japanese whisky, spurring him to join the tour.

Lee said he understood why Japanese whisky was so good after seeing the meticulous production methods employed, including the distilling process, which uses coal.

The Yoichi Distillery also holds tastings of its products, including those not sold in ordinary retail markets.

Chae Bugeun from South Korea enjoyed several brands of the distillery’s whisky, including Yoichi 10 Years Old Single Cask.

“They’re all delicious, excellent. In South Korea, Japanese whiskies are so popular we need to make reservations to buy them,” Chae, 27, said. “The prices are going up.”

Foreign visitors crowded around a sales counter at the distillery, and various languages, mainly Chinese and Korean, could be heard.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese-made whiskies. Suntory began construction of its Yamazaki Distillery in Shimamoto, Osaka Prefecture, in 1923.

The quality of Japanese whisky has improved with production methods particular to Japan, and an increasing number of Japanese brands have won awards at world-renowned fairs in recent years.

Japanese whisky is now recognized as one of the world’s five major brands, on the same level as whisky from Scotland and Ireland.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the export value in 2022 of Japan-made whisky rose about 20% from the previous year to ¥56 billion. The market for the exported products has expanded to include China, the United States and Britain.

Wine also popular

Japan-made wines have also been praised internationally, and wineries here are actively promoting themselves and their products to foreign tourists.

Major Japanese winemaker Mercian Corp. in June began regular guided tours in English at its Chateau Mercian Katsunuma Winery in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, and at Chateau Mercian Mariko Winery in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.

In countries such as France and Italy, people often visit wine-producing sites to enjoy the local climate, interact with residents, and taste and purchase wines.

Mariko Winery, which opened in 2003, was ranked 38th in the World’s Best Vineyards 2023, which honors wineries with world-class tourism activities. Mariko Winery was the highest-ranked winery in Asia.

It was also the only Japanese winery to be chosen, for the fourth straight year.

“We want to let as many people as possible know the appeal of Japan’s wines and wineries through our guided tours, and we want to use this to heighten the value of Japan-made wines,” a spokesperson for the winery said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The entrance to Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.’s Yoichi Distillery features a stone arch.

Europeans praise Japanese denims

Japanese-made denims are also highly regarded, used by European luxury brands and many other fashion companies. The high quality of Japan-made denim is widely known among fashion lovers overseas.

The Japan Denim store inside Ginza Six, a commercial complex in Tokyo’s Ginza district, sells denim products from Japan’s major production sites.

Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures are among the largest denim production sites in Japan. The store sells products that makers in these prefectures jointly produced with more than 20 fashion brands at home and overseas.

Foreign tourists account for more than half of the sales of the products.

A 52-year-old tourist from France visited the store in July, and examined the texture and other features of pants and sweaters made of Japanese denim. He said they were carefully made and felt good to the touch.

Some foreign tourists go to production sites and enjoy shopping there.

Kimono and yukata made of denim fabrics are popular rentals at a tourist spot in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture.