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Mono No Aware, Anniversary World Blend 2024 by dekantā —the most international whisky 

The renowned artisanal label has enlisted emerging artist Richard Ford III to infuse his creative vision into their exclusive small-batch whisky.

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Mono No Aware, Anniversary World Blend 2024 by dekantā —the most international whisky 

In 1859 Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911), a Scottish merchant, arrived in Nagasaki, Japan, just five years after the country ended its 210-year national isolation policy. During the period of isolation  development of Japanese arts and culture flourished, largely uninfluenced by outside forces, resulting in many distinctive artistic traditions. After it opened, Japan shared what it had cultivated with the world.


As Japan modernized Glover played a crucial role in facilitating steam locomotive test runs before commercial railways were established and overseeing the construction of a Western-style dock in Nagasaki, which laid the foundation for the city's future as a shipbuilding hub. Glover would go on to establish companies that would become Mitsubishi and Kirin Brewery.

Although Japan is better known for sake, it also has a long history of making fine whiskies. In later years, Glover would have Japanese whisky named after him. With Japan open and beginning to thrive in the industrial world, Masataka Taketsuru, a citizen of Hiroshima, journeyed to Scotland in 1918 to study organic chemistry at Glasgow University. He also enrolled in an apprenticeship at the Longmorn distillery to learn the techniques and skills needed to make top-quality whisky. Despite opposition from both their families, he and Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan married and immigrated to Japan in 1920 and began making some of the best whisky in the world.

Fast forward 104 years to 2024, where dekantā, an esteemed online retailer specializing in Japanese whisky, has crafted a unique blend of the world's finest Scotch and Japanese whiskies. This remarkable fusion, known as their World Blended Whisky of 2024, exemplifies the pinnacle of whisky-making artistry. Run by Makiyo Masa with offices in Tokyo, New York, Singapore, Barcelona, and Glasgow, dekantā is recognized for its curated collection of Japanese whiskies, including rare and limited editions, as well as other spirits like sake and shochu. Last year, dekantā's New York executive team invited Japan Contemporaries Editor in Chief Kyoko Sato to produce manga for their PR materials and create a label for their 2024 anniversary world blend whisky, which can be purchased here. She worked as a producer alongside Liam Hiller at dekantā's Glasgow branch.

For this project, Sato chose Richard Ford III as the artist. An African American originally from Detroit who grew up watching Japanese anime, Ford is now based in Queens, New York. Sato conducted interviews with both Liam Hiller and Richard Ford III about the process of creating the labels and manga for dekantā, exploring the unique fusion of cultures and artistic styles that this collaboration represents.

Kyoko Sato (KS): I am truly impressed by the global impact of Japanese products and culture. With dekantā's specialization in Japanese whisky and Richard's art style being deeply inspired by Japanese anime, I'd like to know: Do you create an anniversary whisky each year?

 

Liam Hiller (LH): Yes, each year we create a unique independent bottling to celebrate our birthday and give our customers something interesting to get excited about. 

 

KS: What is the aim of producing this unique product?

LH: The main goals are to celebrate the birth of dekantā, honor the whisky that the craftspeople in Japan work so hard to produce, highlight some incredible art forms through collaborating with talented artists and to create something amazing for our customers.

KS: Why did you blend Scotch and Japanese whisky for this edition? Is this for the first time that dekantā  has created blended whisky?

 

LH: The world blended whisky category is growing in popularity and from the beginning it has really excited us. The possibilities are endless and it allows us to create some truly interesting whiskies with unique flavor profiles. 

This is our fourth expression in this category and previously we have won awards for our creations. The first one, “The Kyōyū,” saw us named Japanese Independent Bottler of the Year in 2022, while the second release in 2023, “The Shimai,” scored 95 at the IWSC (International Wine & Spirit Competition)  winning a gold award. 

It makes sense for us to use scotch and Japanese whisky given the historic ties between these two nations. 

KS: How did you come up with the title "Mono No Aware"? This aesthetic ideal was central to Heian period (AD 794-1185) literature. Because of this I asked Richard to create a Heian princess for the labels and manga. Could you elaborate on this creative process?

LH: It's a concept I've always found very interesting since I came across it in my reading about Japan. I love the idea of enjoying those small moments in life, and the sadness that follows once they pass and are confined to memory. It's something we're experience regularly when creating and enjoying limited edition whisky. 


KS: You specifically mentioned sakura, cherry trees, to describe Mono no Aware.


LH: Sakura trees are the perfect example of the concept of “Mono No Aware”. They are there for a fleeting moment and you must take the opportunity to revel in it and enjoy the beauty of it, before feeling that moment of sadness as the Sakura falls and disappears for another year. 
Like I said, it's the perfect example of that bittersweet feeling that Mono No Aware represents. 

KS: Richard, did you refer to any artworks from the Heian period for your designs? It's worth noting that the Suntory Museum in Tokyo held an exhibition titled "Mono no Aware and Japanese Beauty" in 2013. (Suntory is one of Japan's leading beverage companies based in Osaka, and it started producing whisky a hundred years ago.)

Richard Ford III (RF): That’s really interesting, as their website was one resource that helped me during my research of the meaning of “Mono No Aware.” Most of my visual inspiration came from the Edo period Ukiyo-e artists such as Hiroshige (In the Kameido Tenjin Shrine Compound: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Tokaido meisho no uchi: Maisaka, 1863), and Suzuki Harunobu (The Poetess Ono no Komachi, 1767/68). However, whenever I am drawing a kimono, I like to use references to make sure it is an accurate depiction. This led to the discovery of the “Jūnihitoe” (twelve-layered kimono) which became my muse for the character on the label and within the manga.  


KS: Your depiction of the Heian princess has a distinct and beautiful interpretation, blending traditional Japanese features with elements that hint at diverse influences. I noticed you used white and pink tones rather than yellow. Could you share your thoughts behind this choice?

RF: Thank you! I chose those colors because of the beauty standards at the time of the “Jūnihitoe” (Heian period), which would consist of face whitening, red lips, painted eyebrows, and teeth blackening.  


KS: Liam, how do you feel about an African American artist from New York creating the label and manga for your special bottle?

LH: Manga is a an art form that is enjoyed all over the world by millions of people and I think Richard’s passion and talent at creating stunning manga artwork was obvious from the beginning. He's a phenomenal talent and it was a real joy to work with him. 

KS: How many bottles of this anniversary whisky will you produce? When will you release it, and how much it will be? 

LH: We created just 260 bottles of this limited edition whisky and it is now available to purchase at dekanta.com. 

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Kyoko Sato, Editor-in-Chief, has written for Art Review City, Shukan NY Seikatsu, New York Standard on Gallery Tagboat and ONBEAT. She founded the Asian Programming at WhiteBox, and served as its director from 2018 to 2021.

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