Big in Japan

04 Sep 2017

Whisky - Scotland's most popular export - is big in Japan. Young people enjoy it in Whisky Highballs (whisky, soda and ice, served long), as a fun and casual drink.  Older drinkers drink it with water.  

Scotch competes actively with Japanese whisky for the loyalty of Japan's whisky drinkers.  It was from Scotland that Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii - the fathers of Japanese whisky - gained the inspiration, knowledge and passion to develop their own whiskies.  Taketsuru was sent to Scotland in 1918 to learn how to make whisky.  He studied in Glasgow, and later gained hands-on experience in distilleries Speyside and Campbeltown.  By the time he returned to Japan he was married to a remarkable Scottish woman, Rita Cowan, and together they went on to found the Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido (Japan's mountainous, northern island, which in many ways is much like Scotland).  The rest, as they say, is history, and Japan has gone on to develop traditions of both blending and single malts (though, interestingly, their distilleries do not trade whiskies in order to blend, as they do in Scotland).

Yet - despite the success of Japanese whisky - Scotch is a drink about which Japanese drinkers are knowledgeable and to which many remain loyal.  Scotch exports to Japan - in shipment value alone - were £82 million in 2016.  Exports are up around £25 million since 2006.  Japan is Scotch's 13th biggest export market by value.  Of course, it's a market we would like to see continue to flourish and grow.

Which is the reason I joined 14 other chief executives of British businesses on a visit to Japan last week, led by the Prime Minister and Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for the Department of International Trade.  We were each able to promote our sectors with the Japanese business community, and to reassure our counterparts that we are working through the uncertainties posed by Brexit.  We were clear that the UK will remain a strong trading partner for Japan.  Likewise, the British government reassured us that it will seek to adopt the Economic Partnership Agreement (the Free Trade Agreement recently agreed politically between the EU and Japan) between the UK and Japan on the UK's exit from the EU - which will form a sound basis for our continued trading relationship, and which also includes stronger protection for Scotch than we have had before.

So: ganbatte 頑張って (good luck) Scotch, and kanpai 乾杯 (cheers)!

Karen Betts, SWA chief executive