Canal Festival to pay tribute to 'Mother of Japanese Whisky'

Thursday, 13 June, 2019

Inspiration for this year's Kirkintilloch Canal Festival is being drawn from an enduring love story - stretching from Scotland to the Far East.Mastaka and Rita

Rita Cowan's fateful meeting with Japanese student Masataka Taketsuru took place at her home in Kirkintilloch almost exactly 100 years ago.

The spirited pair fell in love in 1919, married in 1920 and then crossed the globe to forge Nikka Whisky, one of Japan’s most successful and best-known whisky companies.

Rita - a former Lenzie Academy pupil, who became known as the 'Mother of Japanese Whisky' - remains a legend in her adopted homeland.

The former Strathkelvin District Council was twinned with Yoichi Town Council in northern Japan, where Nikka's first distillery was created.

Kirkintilloch Canal Festival - which is organised every year by the Council and a range of partners, including East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture (EDLC) Trust - will offer up a range of entertainment celebrating the centenary of their meeting, their story and Japanese culture, including:

  • 'Rita and Masataka' exhibition - Kirkintilloch Town Hall from 20 August to 3 October (free, drop-in)

First staged last year, the exhibition celebrates the life and times of Rita and Masataka. Artist Elspeth Lamb worked with participants from East Dunbartonshire Women’s Aid and senior pupils at Kirkintilloch High to create amazing artworks.

  • Ceramics: Give It A Try Raku - 30 August at the Barony Chambers (free, booking required)
  • Bookbug in Japan - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free, booking advised)

Enjoy songs, rhymes, tickles and stories in a special Bookbug session

  • ‘Origami Made Easy’ workshop, by Mari Itoh of Mariko Design Creations - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free)
  • Puppet-Making - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free, booking advised)Rita Cowan

Create your own puppet using Japanese Noh characters (one of the oldest types of theatre in the world) and write your own short sketch

  • Manga Workshop - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free drop-in event)

Chance to create your own manga comic strip and story

  • Stepps Songsters present ‘Songsters Sing Japan’ - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free)
  • Martial Arts Demonstrations from Zanshin Kai Karate Club - including kobudo and karate - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free)
  • Japanese Song and Dance - 31 August at William Patrick Library (free)

An afternoon of Japanese culture, including a performance of shamisen music by Hiromi Nakano, and traditional Japanese folk songs and dance, performed by Yoshie Campbell (free).

For more information on the events and booking details, call 0141 777 3143 or visit

In addition, the 2019 Spirit of Alba Gin & Whisky Festival - being held in Kirkintilloch Town Hall on Saturday 31 August - will be dedicated to the life, work and legacy of Rita and Masataka. The event is supported by the Regional Food Fund.

One of Rita's kimonos and other amazing artefacts are on permanent display at Kirkintilloch Town Hall.

Kirkintilloch Canal Festival takes place between Monday 26 August and Sunday 1 September, with another magical mix of aquatic activities and land-based family fun.

Councillor Billy Hendry, Convener of Place, Neighbourhood & Corporate Assets, said, "This year's canal festival promises to be one of the best yet, with a special focus on the legendary story of Rita Cowan and Masataka Taketsuru - inspired by the centenary of their meeting.

"The Council and EDLC Trust have worked hard to arrange a variety of events which celebrate the couple and Japanese culture. I hope as many people as possible can go along and get involved.

"The canal festival attracts thousands of visitors every year, boosting the economy and the area’s status as a visitor destination.

"It’s also a great boost for the local economy. An assessment of the 2017 festival – carried out by Caledonian Economics – estimated that a total of £283,712 was spent locally."

The 2019 programme will also provide a platform for community groups, hostelries and local shops to get involved.

If you are interested in participating - either as a stage performer, service provider or community event organiser - please get in touch via the website - - where you can also check out the latest attractions.

  • Photo of Rita and Masataka Taketsuru courtesy of EDLC Local Studies.
  • One of Rita's kimonos and other amazing artefacts are on display at Kirkintilloch Town Hall.
  • There is a museum which honours their memory in Yoichi - including a recreation of their living room - while their story was featured in a popular Japanese TV drama - entitled 'Massan' (Rita's nickname for Masataka). There are even reports of a Rita Taketsuru Fan Club.
  • Kirkintilloch Canal Festival is organised by the Council and partners including EDLC, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue, Kirkintilloch Baptist Church, the Regent Centre, New College Lanarkshire – Kirkintilloch, Seagull Trust, Scottish Canals, the Forth and Clyde Canal Society and Kirkintilloch & District Classic Vehicle Club.
  • Once again, there will be smoke-free areas in association with East Dunbartonshire Tobacco Alliance.

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