By Dave Broom

A world all of its own

Whisky Live Tokyo has just taken place.Dave Broom tries to make sense of it all
Day 1: Being allowed into Japan isn’t like gaining entry to the United States where you get the notion that there’s an orange jump suit in your size under the immigration officer’s desk. A quick change at the hotel as I’ve to go straight to Inter FM’s studio. The phone rings.“Ready?”“Sure am.”“Wearing your kilt?” “Er... no...” “Oh...” Along silence.“It’s radio,” I venture. “Does it matter what I wear?” Maybe it does. After all, this is Japan. Radio is now probably being streamed into everyone’s eyeballs.The interview is good. Six drams drunk live. DJ Guy is so enthused that he forgets to ask his sidekick for the Japanese translation. It is she who has insisted on the kilt since she’s intrigued by the underwear question. I demur and flash her my sporran cup.That evening is a West Coast dinner with competition winners and MJ, Frank McHardy, Pete Currie, Gordon Mitchell and Richard Pato-san. The wood is polished, the carpets thick, the air respectful. Then the social lubricant starts its insidious work. Longrow 14 year old is voted best on show. Pato-san baptises the carpet, MJ steals Frank’s speech. Tell everyone I’ve sworn off sake this year. As a thank you I’m given a two litre bottle... of sake. Bed.Day 2: It’s early. Yamada-san and I bullet train south west, destination Gotemba distillery. Fuji hangs above us. Gotemba’s approach to heavy and light, grains and malts is unexpected.“We make real Japanese whisky,” says blender Hideaki Kito. “It’s based on Japanese culture, its food, our character.” Discover a bottle of Camp whisky and lime “Whoopee! Yeah Man!” says the label.“Not a success,” grins Kito-san. He tells me the distillery is located between a volcano and a bombing range.Back to Tokyo, into the kilt and off to the British Embassy to present some Scotch Malt Whisky Society whiskies to top execs. One dram reminds me of a smouldering house, but there’s a superb Springbank and a Mannochmore which tastes of pomegranate. Sadly there is no tower of Ferrero-Rocher at the Ambassador’s reception, just pink chocolate balls. Leave to find a bunch of ageing lady-boys soliciting on the opposite kerb, flashing kilted legs at baffled salary men’s cars. There are no takers.Return to the crepuscular bar on the top floor of the hotel expecting to discover Bill Murray cradling a glass of Suntory. Frank wants to buy a bottle of Springbank 15 year old. Pete points out that he’s divided the price by 2,000 and not 200. Depending on whose perspective you take this information is either delivered too early or too late.Day 3: To Omote Sando, to buy pink stuff in Kiddyland.There’s much electronic noise then whistles and drums are added. Step out into a full-blown Shinto festival. Huge, heavy, shrines bob up the road on the shoulders of cheering, sweating men. I walk beside them to the Meiji shrine where my internal organs quiver to the beat from taiko drummers. A demon sits on a picnic chair by the gate. There’s a mobile drum cart, three grinning men playing intricate improvised patterns under a succession of people riffing on shakuhachi. A weird, happy, melding of consumerism and the sacred.Day 4:The fair. Am I getting older or are they all getting younger? Caledon sing 500 Miles and the audience claps along. There’s 23 masterclasses.At a talk-show, three Japanese blenders outline how what we consider the ‘new’ flavours of Japanese whisky are, in reality, the result of a decade’s planning. Ablind tasting final has Caledon as special guests. They crash out in the first round. Walk 500 miles home in shame lads! A correct identification of Miyagikyo wins it. Aremarkable, fun-filled, educational day. On the plane home I watch Everything is Illuminated with its notion of interlinked lives, a jewelled web in which everything is reflected and illumines everything else.This week was local and global, about how placing Scotland in a Japanese context shows how clichés (such as kilts) help to give us our identity. It was about balance: grain and malt, sacred and secular, mountain and plain. I go home but it stays within me. Thank you Japan, see you next year.