In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru, son of a sake brewing family, is recruited by the Settsu Shuzo Company to produce the first authentic Japanese whisky. With a background in chemistry, the young man decides to leave for Scotland, in the aim of discovering the secrets of whisky production. A few months after his arrival, Taketsuru meets Rita Cowan, with whom he immediately falls in love with. Rita becomes his wife, but also his muse.
Two years later, the couple returns to Japan. In 1922, his employer Settsu Shuzo goes bankrupt following a stock market crash. Taketsuru then joins the Kotobukiya group, a beer industry giant later renamed Suntory. However, in 1934 he founded his own distilling company, Dai Nippon Kaju K.K., in Yoichi on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. He believed that this part of Japan was the most similar to Scotland. He later renamed the company Nikka.