TIME food and drink

5 Things You Need To Know About Japanese Whisky

Food Japanese Whisky
From left are Hibiki 12-year-old, Yamazaki 18 and 12-year-old Japanese whiskys at the Rickhouse bar in San Francisco, Aug. 6, 2010. Eric Risberg—AP

A single-malt from Japan has been named the best whisky in the world for the first time. Here's why you shouldn't be all that surprised

The whisky world was shocked on Tuesday, when it was announced that the 2015 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible had named Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the best whisky in the world — the first time the honor has gone to a whisky from Japan. Even more of a shock, particularly to the Scottish who pride themselves on their whisky, for the first time in the 12 years the Whisky Bible has been published, not a single Scotch made the top five.

But perhaps the surprise is unwarranted. After all, Japanese whisky has been a rising star in the spirits world for some time now. So, in honor of the big win, here are five things you should know about Japanese whisky.

It’s The New Kid on the Block — Japanese whisky has been commercially produced since since the early 1920s, when the Yamazaki distillery was first built near Kyoto. Throughout the 20th century, Japanese whiskies were primarily sold and consumed within Japan, yet they’ve become increasingly popular in Europe and North American in recent years.

Production — Japanese whiskies were first modelled on Scottish whiskies — Suntory’s first master distiller Masataka Taketsuru studied in Scotland and wanted to bring the drink home — so they are produced in much the same way, distilled twice using pot stills. Many distilleries even use malted and sometimes peated barley imported from Scotland.

About That Missing “E” — As Japanese whisky has much in common with Scottish whiskies, rather than the Irish or American varieties, its name follows the Scotch tradition and is spelled without an “e.”

Pop Culture Moment — Japanese whisky makes a prominent appearance in 2003’s Lost in Translation. In the film, Bill Murrary’s character Bob Harris is a washed-up actor who heads to Japan to shill for Suntory whisky. Tag line: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”

In real life, it was actually actor Sean Connery who appeared in Suntory commericals in the 1990s.

It’s a Winner – The World Whisky Bible coup isn’t the first time Japanese whisky has been recognized with an international award. In 2001, Nikka’s Yoichi whisky was named the “Best of the Best” in an international tasting by Whisky Magazine. Then, in 2003, Suntory’s 30-year-old Hibiki won the top award at the International Spirits Challenge and Suntory went on to earn awards at the competition for the next 11 years.

TIME Food & Drink

The World’s Best Whisky Has Been Named and Scotland is Displeased

Scotland doesn't even have a whisky in the world's top five

The best whisky in the world is “near indescribable genius.” It scores 97.5 marks out of 100. It is also not Scottish.

That’s according to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, a highly regarded ranking of fine global whisky. Specifically, reports the Telegraph, the top title belongs to Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, from Japan’s oldest whiskey distillery, Suntory, founded in 1923.

What’s more, for the first time in the 12 years the Whisky Bible has been published, not a single Scottish whisky makes the bible’s top five. If that wasn’t bad enough for Scotland, which along with Ireland is the spiritual home of the drink, the best European whisky in the latest edition is English.

The Whisky Bible describes the winning Yamazaki whisky as “rich and fruity,” with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice.” Just 18,000 bottles were made — it is sold out on the bible’s online shop, and it is available in just a few specialist shops in the U.K. for about $160.

American whiskies take second and third prize, including repeat second-place winner William Larue Weller, a Kentucky bourbon.

So what about auld Scotland? A Scottish whisky — the 19-year-old single malt Glenmorangie Ealanta — took the top spot just last year, also getting 97.5 marks.

But the book’s author, Jim Murray, writes that though hundreds of Scottish whiskies were among the more than 1,000 samples he tried from all around the world this year, they fell flat.

“Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?,” he wonders, calling this year’s rankings a “wake up call” for Scottish brands.

Ron Taylor, an independent wine and spirit judge and educator, tells TIME it’s no surprise that a Japanese whiskey took first place in Murray’s list, since Japanese whiskies regularly win prestigious competitions, even in Scotland.

Still, Taylor also said that rankings often reflect the taster’s personal preferences. Indeed, Taylor describes Japanese single malts as like a Lexus —“beautifully crafted, no vibration, smooth, consistent and always pleasing” — while their Scottish counterparts are more akin to a Maserati.

“The Scottish whiskeys, they’ll knock you around and slap you around the face a little bit,” says Taylor, who is from Scotland, but calls himself “a non partisan” drinker.

He also notes that Suntory, which makes the winning Japanese whiskey, also produces whiskey brands around the world — including, in fact, multiple Scottish whiskies.

[The Telegraph]

Read next: The Best Whiskey Bars in America

TIME Bizarre

Spice Up Your Morning Routine with Wasabi Toothpaste

When Crest just doesn't cut it.

Crest, the American standard of toothpaste brands, has started to get a little wacky lately. Its Be Adventurous line offers brushers the chance to swap out basic mint flavored paste for “Chocolate Mint Trek,” “Lime Spearmint Zest” or “Vanilla Mint Spark.” Not included in Crest’s lineup? Wasabi-flavored toothpaste.

Luckily, for spice loving fans who crave the idea of adding some sushi flavoring into their daily oral hygiene routine, wasabi toothpaste is coming to Japan thanks to the Village Vanguard shop.

While Seattle retailer Archie McPhee has sold a gag (and probably gag-inducing) wasabi toothpaste for years, Japan is getting the real deal. According to Kotaku, “The toothpaste smells like wasabi, it has a wasabi-like texture, and most importantly, it tastes like wasabi.”

So if you’re looking to put a little hair on your chest while keeping your teeth squeaky clean, be really adventurous and step away from the mint.

TIME Culture

How Japan’s Culture of Apologies Is Teaching Me to Stop Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ All the Time

Crumpled red paper heart with pen
Getty Images

I've caught myself apologizing to a table I jammed my toe on. The table and I are still friends

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I’ve always been the one who feels a knee-jerk need to apologize for everything.

Very often I mean it. When you’ve had a bad day, when something sad or terrible happens to you, when I’ve done something stupid and my actions warrant an apology, you can count on me.

When an actual “I’m sorry” is necessary, you’ll never find a person more willing to gnaw on a piece of your frustration, anger, or sorrow with you. These past few years, I’ve been making a concerted effort to divvy out my “I’m sorries” much more judiciously so that they actually MEAN something. Most people deserve something more than a breathless attempt at smoothing things over.

However, when I’m nervous, unsure, or feeling guilty (whether it’s necessary or not), “I’m sorry” can become my version of “Oops” or worse, “Don’t you think you should say the same?” Ugh, passive-aggressive BS.

Lately, through all the struggles and victories of living in Japan, I’ve found “I’m sorry” popping up more and more in my English vocabulary. Some of it is an attempt at cultural acclimation, some of it is just plain old Default Louise trying to absorb some sort of real or perceived faux pas.

I could spend thousands of words talking about how I got this way — upbringing, social anxiety, people pleaser, self preservation, fear of judgement, blah blah blah — but whatever all of that amounts to, and while I begrudgingly accept this part of myself, it’s a part of me that is at times wholly useless.

For crapsake, I’ve caught myself apologizing to a table I jammed my toe on. The table didn’t care, and neither did all the people who weren’t there to witness it. The table and I are still friends.

I’m fully aware that an onslaught of apologies when I have no reason to be sorry is not only annoying but can be vaguely offensive. No Lou, you’re not sorry when the words just tumble out. What I’m actually saying is, “Don’t blame me” or “I feel dumb.”

I really started paying attention to how I handed out apologies when a dear friend and professional mentor finally snapped at me.

“Louise, cut out the ‘I’m sorries.’ You’re better than that. You don’t mean it, and you don’t have to. Don’t waste your words. Mean what you say.”

And all I wanted to do was say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s an ongoing battle. “I’m sorry” is not a prefix, a suffix, a qualifier, or a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for when I’m uncomfortable. But in Japan, I’m having to negotiate the “I’m sorries” in a whole new way.

From what I’ve observed so far, Japan is a culture of apologies. I’m not saying that Japanese people are insincere or pushovers. Far from it. Rush hour in a busy subway station or negotiating with the friendly but unwavering cell phone salesman over the up front, one year service payment due in CASH, will teach a person that right-quick.

What I am saying is that as a culture that is incredibly polite, sensitive, and gracious, apologizing is part of formal interaction. “Apologize first” is just the way things are done here. Often times when I’m out and about with fluent Japanese speakers, I’ll hear the nugget of a request or question imbedded deep within profuse apologies and slight bows. Yet despite the social requirement, people really seem to mean it when they apologize.

“I’m sorry I’m interrupting you…”

“I’m sorry that I don’t speak English/Japanese…”

“Excuse me, I’m sorry that I don’t know what this purple thing on your menu is. I’m sorry. Thank you!”

You’d think my compulsively apologizing little heart would rejoice! Well, it did at first. Every accident, every mistake, could be cleared with a “sumimasen” (I’m sorry). It was expected, it was welcomed, it was glorious.

But you can imagine the slippery slope this started. The apologies started seeping into my non-Japanese interactions.

My husband would step on MY foot and I’d apologize. A friend from America would call me on Skype two hours late, and I’d apologize. An expat friend would show up unannounced at my apartment, catching me in my full “Today Was Not Human Interaction Day” glory, and I’d apologize.

Since I’ve noticed my compulsion rearing its head again, I’ve been sorting through a duality I’ve never encountered before.

No, there isn’t some feral Louise roaming the streets of Yokohama maniacally apologizing to vending machines and gurgling infants, but this is my first experience immersing myself in a foreign culture and finding the balance between Japan Louise and American Louise is something that requires much more self awareness than I thought I was capable of.

I need to play by Japan’s rules to some extent. There is some pleasure in losing myself in the foreignness of it all, and just doing as I’m expected to do. It’s not always easy, but in the middle of it there’s a lesson in unclenching my ego. Japan doesn’t care if I find their customs “unusual” or “compromising” to my “individuality.” Their definitions of such are different, work just fine for most Japanese people, and have been around a lot longer than me.

When I find myself getting my kittens in a twist, I just remind myself that I don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid but I do have to respect it.

Look at me making discoveries all over the place!

But while I’m discovering all this in the context of my Japan life, I’m realizing that this is not an all-or-nothing situation. I can pass a lot of my Japanese cultural experience through my American filter.

I’m learning that ideally, the basic intent is the same anywhere: Be considerate of other people, and if you’re going to say, something say it with conviction. In other words, mean what you say.

When the Japanese people I’ve met here apologize, it appears as if they are genuinely sorry for having bothered me, that they appreciate that my time is valuable. They say it because it’s expected, but the intent is also expected. It’s not just empty words. There’s an unspoken willingness to start from a place of respect and go from there. I’m making a generalization — I’m new here and probably a little naive, but there is still something to be learned in that kind of interaction.

So while I don’t want to adopt the cultural norm of constantly apologizing, my constant apologizing within the context of my western culture can be quelled by taking a few lessons from the intentions of the people here.

I’m still working at it. There are still times I have to clamp my mouth shut to stop myself from apologizing to my American friends for the sound my nose makes when I breathe, but I’m making an honest effort to live by the mantra, “Mean what you say.”

During this time of trying to learn a foreign language, being keenly aware of every word that comes out of my mouth, I find that it’s worth applying that logic to my mother tongue. English may be easy for me, but it does not have to be thoughtless.

Louise Hung is a writer and theater director.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Japan

The Resignation of Two Ministers Spells Trouble for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japan minister resigns
Japanese Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi resigned on Oct. 20 amid allegations of misusing election funds Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

More ministers could fall as Japan faces political instability at the worst time

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed five women to his Cabinet last month in a major shakeup designed to show support for female empowerment and help smooth the way for an unpopular political agenda. But all that unraveled Monday with the abrupt resignation of two of those appointees—Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima—for campaign spending violations.

The controversies could not have come at a worse time for Abe. His economic policies are faltering and his Cabinet approval ratings had dropped below 50 percent even before the spending scandal broke last week. Abe faces tough decisions within the next few months on policy issues ranging from restarting nuclear reactors to imposing a second round of tax hikes. He’s also struggling to repair relations with China and South Korea over historical issues and territorial disputes, even as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing next month looms.

“Abe no longer seems the invincible Superman that some had imagined, and that weakens him both domestically and in Japan’s diplomatic dealings,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. “On all of his signature policies — ranging from nuclear reactor re-starts to arms exports, collective self defense and state secrecy legislation—a majority of the public is opposed.”

Trade Minister Obuchi and Justice Minister Matsushima submitted their resignations Monday. They were the first Cabinet members to step down since Abe took office in December 2012—a remarkable period of stability in Japanese politics, where ministers not infrequently are called upon to fall on their sword. It was also a reminder of Abe’s scandal-plagued and inefficient first term in 2006-7, which ended after barely a year. A pension records scandal and the suicide of his agriculture minister during an expense-spending probe, along with poor health for the Prime Minister himself, helped doom Abe’s first go-around.

Obuchi, 40, was accused of funneling campaign money to her sister and brother-in-law and to improperly subsidizing entertainment junkets for supporters. Matsushima stepped down for improperly distributing more than $100,000 worth of paper fans to constituents. Obuchi’s resignation in particular could be a major loss for Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. A telegenic mother of two, Obuchi had been expected to help Abe with the controversial restart of Japan’s nuclear power plants—a wide majority of the public remains opposed to atomic energy—shut down since the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Obuchi’s portfolio includes authority over the nation’s nuclear power plants and her softer image—a young mother, after all—was expected to soothe public anxiety over plans to restart the reactors. Obuchi is the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who ran Japan from July 1998 to April 2000, and had even been touted as a possible successor to Abe somewhere down the road. But the close scrutiny that comes with a Cabinet appointment exposed her as a political lightweight and a product of the LDP machine, says Michael Cucek, a researcher and author of a respected political blog in Tokyo. “She represents someone who vaulted into prominence by the death of a sitting prime minister, taking over the family business without ever knowing much about how the whole machine works,” he said.

And that may not be the end of it. The remaining three female appointees have drawn heavy criticism, or worse, for alleged connections to neo-Nazi or right-wing fringe organizations, or for visiting the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. A 2011 photo of Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi posing with the leader of the National Socialist Japanese Workers Party was discovered on the group’s website shortly after Takaichi’s appointment last month. Postings on Yamada’s blog seem to profess admiration for Adolf Hitler, and videos posted on the website show Yamada and group members wearing stylized swastikas. Takaichi said she was unaware of Yamada’s affiliation when the photo was taken and that it had been posted to the group’s website without her knowledge. She said she asked for the photo to be removed as soon as she learned of it, and that the group complied.

Similarly, a 2009 photo of National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani posing with the members of the far- as Zaitokukai group, which has mounted virulent street demonstrations and hate speeches against ethnic Koreans and other foreigners living in Japan. Yamatani also said she was unaware that her photo had been taken with members of the group or that it had been posted online. She said it was taken down at her request after she learned of it.

On Saturday, all the three of the remaining female Cabinet appointees made formal visits to Yasukuni, where 14 convicted “Class A” war criminals—leaders of wartime Japan—are enshrined. That drew a rebuke from China, which remains deeply skeptical of Abe’s revisionist views of history. That visit will complicate Abe’s efforts to repair relations with Japan’s neighbors—and maybe its citizens, says Kingston. “I think there is a great wave of schadenfreude sweeping across East Asia as Abe’s gathering woes weaken his political standing. The Japanese public, too, are happy to see the Abe juggernaut sputtering as Abenomics fizzles and his culture war to redefine national identity backfires.”

Read next: Japan Court Orders Google to Remove Search Results

TIME On Our Radar

Issei Suda’s Theater of the Everyday

Ordinary people in Japan often inadvertently become actors in a "theater of the everyday" documented by photographer Issei Suda.

Seemingly oblivious to the presence of the camera, a middle-aged woman sits on a bench, shaded by her umbrella, she takes in the surroundings of Hachimantai Mountain in northern Japan. Nearby, steam rises from hot springs, adding a sense of drama. On the opposite side of the bench sits a young man dressed in black, his back turned to the lens. He gives a sideways glance, almost as if he knows he is being watched. The two have inadvertently become actors in a form of theater of the everyday documented by the photographer Issei Suda.

This 1972 image is typical of Suda’s approach to photography: careful observations of the quotidian, acute attention to framing and formal balance in the image, and an emphasis on subtle gestures. Suda’s black-and-white photographs in square format are deliberate in the sense that his subjects often fulfill a symbolic purpose within the frame. His images can be fleetingly looked at and enjoyed for their aesthetic value, but they can also be studied and analyzed like a sociological project on the complexities of human behavior.

Issei Suda—Courtesy Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York
Issei Suda—Courtesy Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York

Born in 1940 in Tokyo, Suda’s substantial body of work, which ranges from the 1960s to the present day, provides a fascinating window into a period in Japanese history that witnessed radical social, economic and political change. Suda graduated from the Tokyo College of Photography in 1962, and he began his professional career between the years 1967 and 1970 when he worked as a stage photographer for an independent theatre troupe called Tenjo Sajiki led by the widely acclaimed artist and writer Shuji Terayama. At that time in the late 1960s Tenjo Sajiki was at the very heart of a radical underground movement thus proving Suda with access to numerous artists who have, in the meantime, become household names in the Japanese art scene.

An important shift occurred in 1971 when Suda started to work on self-guided photography projects. In the context of Japanese language, this shift can be best illustrated with the subtle but important difference between the English loanword kameraman and the Japanese term shashinka: the former being a professional photographer such as a studio or a newspaper photographer, whereas the latter signifies an individual who pursues photography as an art form. Suda’s progressive development as a photographer also corresponds to an era in which the opportunities of the medium photography were radically reevaluated by the Japanese avant-garde.

Suda’s most acclaimed project, Fushi Kaden which was first serialized in the magazine Camera Mainichi and then published as a book in 1978, is a photographic homage to Noh — a major form of classical Japanese musical drama: the title of the project references a fifteenth-century book written by a prominent director and actor in the genre. Suda’s contemporary interpretation of traditional Japanese theater is produced by a variety of images that depict performers or musicians at local festivals. Theatricality is also referenced more subtly, with several street scenes in which Suda is capturing a form of theater of the banal unfolding in front of his camera.

The pattern established by Suda’s acclaimed work can be observed in photographic projects produced in subsequent years – the majority of which are based in Tokyo. Even though he seeks to make the ordinary look extraordinary — with his work often appearing utterly surreal — Suda’s photographs promote a heightened awareness of the everyday. Clearly influenced by his formative years working as a stage photographer, for Suda the streets have become the stage, strangers have become actors, objects have become props, and the camera a tool to put order into this world.


Issei Suda: Life In Flower, 1971-1977, showing at the Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, closes Oct. 18.

Marco Bohr is a photographer and writer based in the United Kingdom. He runs the Visual Culture Blog and can be found on Twitter @MarcoBohr.

TIME On Our Radar

Eerie Photos of Japan’s Coast

“I remember my parents taking me to the beach,” says photographer Asako Narahashi. “The coastline of Japan is very long and complex. There are beaches and mountains. They all have their unique expressions.”

In her latest book, Ever Aftera continuation of her 2008 masterpiece half awake and half asleep in the water – Narahashi shows the geography of Japan from a dreamy, desolate and disconnected perspective. Floating off the coastline, Narahashi lifts her camera just above the water, and makes a photograph. The images that appear are split, at times almost completely in half, with the lower frame practically submerged, while the peak of Mt.Fuji or another far-off landmark rises just above the glistening ripple of a breaking wave.

“When I started this project, I wanted to see and depict Japan as an island,” she said, admitting that at first, she didn’t have any strong attachment to the places she was photographing from afar. But after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, people began to see an eerie tension and trepidation in her waterlogged imagery.

“That was really shocking to me, so I stayed away from taking photos in Japan for a while,” she said. “I didn’t want to take pictures of the water anymore.” She traveled to the Netherlands instead and made images on dry land that continued her photographic exploration of disconnected landscapes, but did not return to the water until friends encouraged her to visit Nojiri Lake, near Nagano, Japan. “It was a challenge getting back to this work,” she said, “but visiting this lake was something of a rehabilitation for me, and allowed me [to find] a way back into photographing in Japan again”

Her photographs, which she had called “happy coincidences,” became reminders of the darker, more ominous side of the natural world, and our helplessness in the face of destruction. That sense of resignation is as calming as it is unsettling in Ever After, as Narahashi’s floating photographs feel listless, but not carefree – certainly not the sort of photos one would take on a leisurely day at the beach. The distance she creates between herself, the camera and the landscapes is powerfully serene and dreadfully solitary.

While not all of the images in Narahashi’s book are underwater, she still manages to creates a distinct sense of separation that makes the viewer acutely aware of just how little we know about the landscapes that surround us. “After the disaster, those words ‘ever after’ were always with me. I found myself repeating them, like the end of a fairy tale,” she said. “The work is more complex now.”


Asako Narahashi is a photographer based in Japan. Her book Ever After is published by Osiris

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale


TIME Physics

Why LED Lights Won the Nobel Prize

Chances are you're using an LED right now

You might have heard that researchers, two Japanese and one American, recently won the Nobel Prize for Physics for inventing blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), but you might not know what LEDs are and why they’re important. With energy-saving light bulbs becoming more commonplace and smartphone use as widespread as ever, there might be more LEDs in your life than you realize.

TIME Japan

Three U.S. Airmen Missing After Typhoon Hits Okinawa

JAPAN-VOLCANO-MISSING-TYPHOON-WEATHER
This NASA satellite image shows Typhoon Phanfone in the western Pacific Ocean on Oct. 3, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

One body was found, the coastguard said

Update: Oct. 6, 6:19 a.m. ET

A powerful typhoon lashed southern Japan on Sunday, churning up high waves that washed three American airmen out to sea and killed at least one before taking aim at Tokyo. Elsewhere in the Pacific, a separate typhoon whipped the Mariana Islands, including Guam, with high winds and heavy rain.

By late Sunday, Typhoon Phanfone was off the coast of Shikoku in southwestern Japan, with winds of up to 144 kilometers (90 miles) per hour after hitting the regions of Okinawa and Kyushu, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Japan

Toxic Gases Force Rescuers to Flee Volcano Death Zone in Japan

Japan Volcano Rescue
Japan's Self Defense Force soldiers carry an injured climber from the ash covered top of Mount Ontake at Nagano prefecture, one day after Japan's volcano Ontake erupted in central Japan, Sept. 28, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

TOKYO — The death toll after a volcano erupted in Japan looked certain to rise to 36 on Monday after rescuers found five more bodies on the ash-covered mountain, police said.

The discovery came just before the 540 emergency service personnel were forced to abandon 10,062-foot Mt. Ontake because of the high level of toxic gases, Nagano Prefectural Police said. It was the first fatal eruption in modern times on Mt. Ontake, which is located 125 miles west of Tokyo. The volcano rained down rocks and hot ash without warning onto hikers.

“I felt a hot wind blast against my back and crouched down to the ground,” one man told NTV…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser