"Whisky making is an act of cooperation between the blessings of nature and the wisdom of man." - Masataka Taketsuru
Shinjiro Torii founded Kotobukiya (now known as Suntory) with a focus on importing port wine. He was not satisfied with the success, so decided to embark on a new venture into Japanese whisky. There was great opposition initially, but he was driven to make Japanese whisky for the Japanese people and so partnered with Masataka Taketsuru. They built the first Japanese whisky distillery in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, renowned for it's excellent water. Taketsuru later went on to create his own brand (now known as Nikka) and open his own Yoichi distillery.
Japanese whisky was first created to deliberately mimic Scotch whiskies, with Taketsuru hired by Torii because of his intense study of Scotch whiskies. Even up until recent times, these two distilleries are still producing whiskies that closely resemble scotch whiskies. In 2014, Whisky Magazine organised blind tastings that included some Japanese single malts among the mix of scotch whiskies. Unsurprisingly, they weren't out of place and even scored higher than the Scottish counterparts.
There are currently 8 active Japanese distilleries, with Suntory's Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries arguably producing the finest Japanese whiskies.