IT’S a long way from north Glasgow to the Far East but love (and whisky) can bridge the gap.

Former Lenzie Academy pupil Rita Cowan left her native Kirkintilloch for Japan when she fell in love with student Masataka Taketsuru almost 100 years ago.

This year’s Kirkintilloch Canal Festival will pay tribute to the spirited couple and their legendary love story.

Rita and Masataka met in 1919, married in 1920 and crossed the globe to set up Nikka Whisky, one of Japan’s most successful whisky-making companies.

Rita became known as the ‘Mother of Japanese Whisky’ and she remains a legend in her adopted homeland. There is a museum which honours the couple’s memory, in Yoichi - including a recreation of their living room - and 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...

The Canal Festival - which is organised every year by East Dunbartonshire Council and a range of partners - will this year include a variety of events celebrating the centenary of their meeting, their story and Japanese culture.

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Highlights include the Rita and Masataka exhibition, which was first staged last year to great acclaim.

Artist Elspeth Lamb worked with participants from East Dunbartonshire Women’s Aid and senior pupils at Kirkintilloch High to create amazing artworks for the display.

Visitors will also have the chance to take part in ceramics sessions and learn more about Japanese poetry and stories.

The programme also includes origami, puppet-making and Manga workshops, and martial arts demonstrations from Zanshin Kai Karate Club.

An afternoon of Japanese culture, including a performance of shamisen music by Hiromi Nakano, will feature traditional Japanese folk songs and dance, performed by Yoshie Campbell while the 2019 Spirit of Alba Gin and Whisky Festival being held in Kirkintilloch Town Hall on Saturday, August 31 - will be dedicated to the life, work and legacy of Rita and Masataka.

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

Councillor Billy Hendry, Convener of Place, Neighbourhood and 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.

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

The Canal Festival is a huge 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 during the event.

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 get the latest information on events and attractions.

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

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